The scorching road trips of my youth

ImageToday, the WordPress Daily Post posed a writing prompt that I could not resist: If time and money were no object, what car adventure would you go on?

We’ve taken a few car adventures, and I’ve loved them all. Even three sweaty, bickering kids packed in the back of the van with 40 DVDs and a bushel of fattening snacks can’t quell my joy. I adore the open road. Stopping for scenic roadside views. Poking through tiny museums where the docent is so bored they’ll give you the personalized, two-hour tour.

We’ve hiked the Badlands, and trails in Glacier National Park. Taken the Montana Dinosaur Trail. Trooped across the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

But if I were to take the ultimate car adventure, there is no doubt what it would be. I would recreate one of the scorching trips of my youth.

My father grew up in Arizona, so our final destination was always in the middle of the desert, and because he was a university professor, we had to travel in August between summer school and the start of the fall semester. It was hot. Really, really hot. And we had no air conditioning in our station wagon. That did not stop us.

We’d depart early in the morning and bomb across the boring, flat states like Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas (sorry neighbors), then we’d slow down a little. We’d hike through the Utah canyons, including my favorite, Mesa Verde, where we got to walk through the ruins and climb ladders to go down into the kivas. We’d visit Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all come together, and each stand in a different state for a family picture. Perch at the edge of the Grand Canyon, my mother far back from the railing convinced one of us was about to pitch to our death.

Then, because we lacked air conditioning, we’d make the last leg of the trip through the desert at night. I can still remember the warm breeze, and the hum of the pavement as we sailed along in the dark.

Once we reached our destination, we’d explore early in the mornings before it go too hot. Climb sand dunes and tour territorial prisons. Take a day trip into Mexico and barter for the interesting little trinkets that my grandmother called “cochinada,” which she roughly translated as little, (expletive deleted) things.

I know there were long, boring stretches of highway. Beautiful canyons that my sister and I could not be bothered to view because we were too busy playing cards in the back of the station wagon. Bouts of car sickness. Remote areas where all we could tune in on the AM radio was “Song Sung Blue”. We listened to it for hundreds of miles.

But I think travel is worth a few unpleasantries.

I have not been able to convince my family to make this trip. My own children are Minnesota-born and bred and they melt when the temperature exceeds 85. Spoiled by all that air-conditioning, no doubt! And to be honest, they are a little sick of my 3000-mile extravaganzas. This year we are opting for the quiet, “up north” vacation typical for our region. It will be a nice break, but I intend to use it to plan next year’s vacation.

Which will be another epic drive. Where shall we go?

Four business rules to use when you travel with kids

In the past four years, we’ve driven over 6500 miles with our kids. Sound like a living nightmare? Strangely, it’s not. My kids are good travelers. But I’ve also put some rules in place that make things go a lot more smoothly.

  • Have an agenda. Kids don’t like ambiguity. Actually, neither do most adults. I always map our route and make our hotel reservations in advance. Even though it takes some time upfront it’s a great relief to have a plan when we get in the car and I’ve found it contributes greatly to marital harmony. (Of course you don’t want to talk to me in those days I’m making arrangements. Crabby.)
  • Use a repeatable process. Years ago I decided I couldn’t pack for five people.  I made a list (yes, it’s in Excel) that we use every year when we pack. I hand the kids the list, they gather their stuff and I give it a quick check before they put it in their suitcases. During the trip, I keep note of things we could’ve used and things we forgot and add them to the spreadsheet when we get home. That way I’m ready for the next trip.
  • Give them a budget. I don’t know about you, but my least favorite part of the trip is the begging. You know, for every piece of junk or trinket they see along the route. I no longer want to police their purchases. Nor do I want to feel like a human ATM machine. I put aside an envelope with cash in it for each child. Once we’re on the road, they’re free to spend it on whatever they like – but once it’s gone, it’s gone. It usually takes one episode of buyer’s remorse for them to get the hang of it, but once you get through that it’s a great system.
  • Make a two-year plan. This is my best tip of all. If you can, have your next year’s trip in mind while you’re on the road. We typically travel the same way (west) which makes it easy. Along the way, I pick up maps and information on interesting site and activities. When we get home I have a folder full of stuff for my next year’s planning.

We’re gearing up for another trip in August. And I’m planning to enjoy it.

Have any tips for travel? Send them to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.