Summer Road Trips

“On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk—times neither day nor night—the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.”—William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways: A Journey Into America (1982)

Summer vacation in our household always meant one thing — ROAD TRIP! Once the crops were in the field and growing strong, our family loaded up the station wagon and set out on adventures far and wide. Like other things in our household, these trips were a combination of exceptional planning and whimsical free-wheeling. Each year, the vacation had a specific theme or destination in mind, carefully chosen to balance fun and education, new experiences and landscapes with manageable adventure. But if we saw someplace fun to stop or a roadside attraction worth a look, we took the time to stop and enjoy the moments the road trip provided for us.

Take, for example, the summer we decided to tackle Civil War battlefields. Not content to sample just one or two, summertime that year was an in-depth historical journey across the eastern and gulf coast map of the major Civil War events.

Civil War Battlefields

Gettysburg, Bull Run and Fort Sumter rolled into Andersonville as we headed to our southernmost destination of New Orleans. It was there that I rode in my first taxi, forever remembered because I left a treasured shirt, hand-painted by my mother, in the back of it, only to find it returned to the hotel later by a very kind taxi driver. New Orleans also marked the first time I ever tried to eat a lobster served whole instead of just by the tail. The kindness of strangers came through again as a very patient waiter took extraordinary amounts of time to teach me how to break apart the thing, as well as the parts to avoid!

On our way back north to home, we stopped for one night at a hotel in Vicksburg. As we were loading up the car the next morning, I went exploring in the parking lot and stopped when I saw a familiar license plate. In our small town, cars changed quicker than license plates, so I grew up learning to remember plates not vehicles. My parents were unconvinced that life could be so random as to have two families from the same small town happen to stay in the same place hundreds of miles from home. I stuck to my guns, insisting that my parents ask at the desk, and I was right! We had a quick breakfast together and caught up on local news we had missed while on the road, then headed out onto separate ways, the start of their vacation and the winding down of our trip.

Some of our other memorable excursions included a long journey to the southwest, complete with my brothers scaring my mother at the rim of the Grand Canyon, a dust storm in New Mexico, and visiting Carlsbad Caverns. One year we headed northeast to New England, another west to California, and yet others to the vast open spaces of the Dakotas or across Canada.

With four kids across a thirteen-year age span, my mother was a genius at making sure our vacations went as smooth as possible. Each child started the vacation with a large paper grocery sack full of wrapped packages, one for each day on the road. At some point each day, at a time of our own choosing, we could open a new present, something she had picked especially for each of us, to entertain us. Silly and small, these daily surprises kept us entertained and engaged, whether it was an egg full of Silly Putty, a new coloring book, or a book to lose ourselves in as we covered the long miles each day.

In order to prevent arguments over money, food, and souvenirs, each child also got their own daily allowance of money to spend. Mom’s rule was pretty easy – each child had a set amount to spend, we could spend it however we wanted, but when it was gone, that was it, we were done. If I wanted that “I-have-to-have-it-or-I-will-die-right-now” item, it was mine as long as I was willing to sacrifice that amount of my budget. I still remember one of my brothers carefully guarding his daily expenditures to indulge in a very large steak for dinner one night on a trip through Texas. And if my sister wanted a hamburger for breakfast and eggs for dinner, so be it. It was her money to spend.

I learned a lot across the miles on those summer road trips — patience, cooperation, budgeting, the sheer pleasure of the open road– hanging over the back of the front seat, map in hand, navigating the blue highways over and around the miles, and finding adventure where we could.

Thinking back on those great summer road trips makes me want to head out on a summer road trip adventure.

Any suggestions?



Filed under Life

99 responses to “Summer Road Trips

  1. I, too, have fond memories of summer road trips. My mom always made it look easy — except when our Pinto invariably overheated between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Routinely.


  2. Sounds so fun! What did you think of the Dakotas? My husband and I love crossing the border over to Wyoming…

    • I was amazed by the open spaces and couldn’t believe how far we could go without regularly seeing lots of cars, people, and stores. I’d love to go back!

  3. Enjoyed the post!! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Brooke

    Love your post. I can identify with much of it. My husband and I love to tour thru civil war historical sites when we can get to the east coast. Thanks for sharing…enjoying reading thru your blog.

  5. Fantastic post! When I was a kid, we used to go on road trips all the time as well. Since our country is so large (I’m Canadian), I’m so thankful to my parents for taking the time to really show us how beautiful it is by taking road trips with us in the summer.

    Thanks for sharing your memories…loved it. 🙂

  6. Great post – Thanks for sharing. I love Road Trips – recall the ones growing up and now the ones I take as an adult. My spouse and I did a major road trip in March – Nevada to California to Arizona and back to Nevada – gone about 9 days and probably about 2000 miles – a great time:) Congrats on being FP!

  7. Yay! Thanks for the inspiration, I’m leaving in two days to drive across the country….I need to find a theme.

  8. I love your post! With family spread out all over the west, I grew up as a road trip kid too, and as an adult I still love them. I’m passing along my love for road trips to my 7 year old daughter, too. We just returned on Monday after a 10 road trip from San Diego, CA to Bend, OR and back; stopping along the way to see all kinds of cute towns and beautiful scenery.

    I do love a good themed road trip, we’re thinking of making our next one “ghost towns of AZ and NM.” Someday I want to get over to the other side of the Mississippi and do some civil war trips and colonial history trips.

    Get out there and have fun!

  9. What a great post. My wife and I are doing a road trip this year. Arkansas up to upstate NY with stops on the way. Can’t wait. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  10. Van

    I’ve never really had a fun summer road trip, but it sounds like something I would like to do in the future. Every time we did go on long rides, it was to move cross-country. Great post!

  11. nice. I have never been on a roat trip. Sounds inspiring.!!

  12. sounds like you had great summer vacations and a awesome mom!

  13. it’s odd…my family never really took road trips. i was a competitive gymnast, so we sometimes drove to neighboring states, but my mom and sister would always stay home if it was far. my mom wasnt’ really down for driving…she was a fan of flying. now in my older age, i appreciate a good road trip and the fun that can be had.

  14. Sounds like you have a lot of great memories. It’s funny how your destinations change once you have kids. I now have 2 little ones and our latest trip was to the beach and then to Sesame Place. (A family theme park.) Although it wouldn’t be my first choice if I didn’t have kids, seeing how excited the kids were made it worth it. We ended up having a great time!

  15. Very well-written, I think the idea of packing little surprises for you and your siblings was ingenious. I also liked how she provided you with a set daily budget to which you decided how it was spent, or saved up for something “bigger” down the road.

  16. My suggestion would be to go to DC if you haven’t already and visit all of America’s most famed monuments. You’ll feel proud to be from America.


    • well I’m proud of america, but I can’t say my needs have been met. What is anyone doing aabout the homeless? Nooo, they’de rather spend 30,000-200,000 on college.

      Thank god for a halfway house – but if you lose your wallet and don’t have an ID good luck because you’re worse than dirt, they wont let you stay. It only takes a week outside and you’ll be lookin bad shape bud.

      How much are your parents willing to help you? You’re friends willing to help you, for a day, a month? and better yet when your 600 miles away…do you really think they care that much, Id say most do. But it makes you uncomfortable just to think about doesn’t it my friend and that is why some people DONT TRAVEL. It’s crazy when you see the extreme bad and injustices, but this is only for the few. In sum, be careful where and who you are with. It’s easy to have friends when every things going good.

      • Phylo

        Gawd, Why would you want to deprive anyone of a moment…or a week… or a month of happiness? I hope you are not that sort of person who thinks….’well if I can’t have , then NO one SHOULD HAVE IT’. I live in a little island called ireland and lately we have been going through some bad things. But how can it add to my contentment, my pleasure in living, if I resent anyone else who has ‘more’ than me or was reared by parents who had better parenting skills than mine had? I think it would benefit both me and all my children/loved ones if I embraced, was open to, learned from, the lovely ideas that others had, to make a life more happy.and give more pleasure to than others.

  17. I would like to try a road trip one day. You make it sound like so much fun. Great Post!

  18. How absolutely delightful! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  19. oh that must have been wonderful. Thank you for sharing those memories.

  20. Sounds like wonderful times and your family made learning so much fun.

  21. Ahh I LOVE road trips…..which reminds me, this is the perfect time for one…just as summer winds to a close

  22. wao i would love to go there.. i am a doctor and such refreshing trips are very good for your mental health. i really liked your story.. doctors have less time to spent for their activities because of their obligations but i will try to spare some time for my good health. thanks for the post.

  23. Love road trips! One of my favorites was from Montreal all the way to Savannah…NC, SC, Charleston, Beaufort, Oriental…lots of back roads. The Blue Ridge Parkway is well worth a visit.

    I’m also Canadian and my Dad and I, when I was 15, drove from Toronto to B.C., dipping into North and South Dakota on the way to attend Indian pow-wows where we pitched our tent. Every person visiting woke up to find a welcoming gift of a bag of sugar and a steak in their tent doorway. Unforgettable!

  24. Yes! Long live the road trip. I’m a big fan of the West Coast, especially in Oregon. The Portland end of the Columbia Gorge is just stunning, especially at sunrise or sunset, and a hike up to Multnomah Falls is a must along the way.

  25. Excellent stuff. I love the blog layout too, very smart and sophisticated. You should read Jack Karouac’s “On The Road”…

  26. A truly beautiful post — congratulations for being Freshly Pressed.

    All of this talk about trips across the country with family makes me wistful for those few but precious summer trips I took with my parents and brothers. Lovely how time tends to erase unpleasantness and leave behind the good stuff! 🙂

    Had my father been more keen on travel, I’d like to think we’d have covered as much ground as you and your family. Instead, we tended to stay somewhere along the gulf coast — each beach indistinguishable from the others, all of the salt water, the smell of that coconut-scented lotion mom slathered us with…

    Thankfully my partner enjoys road trips as much as I do. Finally I can take off and see parts of the country I daydreamed about whilst sitting in the backseat, broiling in the summer sun.

  27. elbodans

    What an amazing experience your family gave you and your siblings! I love the budgeting lessons, and the bag ‘o gifts! I’m setting out on my first ‘real’ road trip the day after tomorrow–your post has made me even more excited about it! Thanks!

    Oh–and as for suggestions–we’re going up the Maine coast and on to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI. I think the theme is ‘water, sailboats, and lighthouses’. I can’t tell you yet if it is a good idea or not, but I sure am psyched!

  28. I used to give my kids each a “stop” card. I had three kids who wanted to stop anywhere and everywhere and of course they rarely agreed. So, each kid was allowed to use their stop card once a day and we would stop where they said, and nobody complained because they each got a turn. I set parameters on money and stuff ahead of time. It worked great. Terrific post.

  29. Awesome post! When I was young, my family didn’t really do road trips but after I got married that was a different story. I can remember one Friday evening he picked me up from work and we drove from Texas to Nebraska for the weekend, just because. Our next road trip is going to be the mother of all road trips – driving from Central Texas to Alaska!

  30. I read Blue Highways many years ago..I sure liked it!

  31. kissthelibrarian

    We love road trips…it’s the only way I want to travel. I’ve done the west from Ohio (to Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota). My most favorite was an impromptu driving back from South Carolina when we decided to take our time and go down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just beautiful. We wound up in Blowing Rock, finally, when it just became too late to keep going, at a quaint little old motel where the woman on duty was even willing to throw our jeans in the laundry with a load of sheets because we had no clean clothes left to get us home. My son, who was 11 at the time, just fell in love with that. That’s the good stuff….

  32. I noticed the front cover of “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon on your post. I met this guy who was picked up by William Least Heat-Moon when he was hitchhiking in Missouri back in the 1970s. “Blue Highways” is a very good book.

    “Hitchhiking Stories”

    “A Ride in Nebraska, Blue Highways and William Least Heat-Moon”

  33. The conversations that happen in the car on the road trip are always the absolutely best ones!
    and all the stuff one learns, of course!

  34. Great post, thx for sharing.

  35. Thank you for sharing the information, trip road sounds exciement.

  36. road trips are so much fun..thanx for sharing.. 🙂

  37. Very well-written, I think the idea of packing little surprises for you and your siblings was ingenious. I also liked how she provided you with a set daily budget to which you decided how it was spent, or saved up for something “bigger” down the road.

  38. Thank you for the great memory. We took our first road trip a couple years ago, with our then 9 year old daughter. It was the best vacation I have ever had. We clocked 47 hours in the car together. We traveled from Central California, through Oregon, followed the Columbia River, crossed into Washington, and took the Pacific Coast home. The trip was filled with new adventures, beautiful sites, unexpected findings, a visit with old friends, and quiet relief when home was in view. There is something very special about road trips, and every memory is indeed a blessing.

  39. You should really take a road trip to Sweden. But we havent had that nice weather we use to have!

  40. Road trips are awesome. Last summer I took a month off to celebrate my 50th to travel cross-country via back roads. Truly a memorable experience. Given your Civil War battlefield tour you might be interested in my post about the Little Bighorn Battlefield:
    Take care.

  41. I forgot to leave a suggestion. Have you been to Craters of the Moon in Idaho? It’s as close as you can get to outer space without leaving Earth.

    • I found it by accident one trip when I just needed a place to play between two long days of driving. It is among the best documented parks from the introductory movie and diorama to the information on the short trails. Each short trail explores a different facet of the geology and botany. I have returned once and intend to again.

  42. Lohas!!! this is the life I dreamed. I am appreciated for your sharing.

  43. Hey! Check out my Blog for ideas of places to go and things to do on your roadtrip. My whole blog is dedicated to roadtrips and adventures!!! Feel free to post your adventures on my blog.

  44. greenwood11

    I love the spending money rule. We have just begun this practice with our own daughter & it’s so great to see her understanding money, commerce and how much things REALLY cost.
    We are packing for a short weekend trip right now to make some more of these awesome memories road trips bring!

    • I like the spending rule, too! Teaches kids responsibility for budgeting. When I was a teenager, my younger sister was in elementary school and often tagged along with me when I went out. I’d set give her a fixed amount for her to spend depending on what kind of shop or mall we went, too. She learned quick at a young age how to budget her shopping allowance.

  45. Family trips as a kid are one of my best childhood memories. I’m from the UK and we’d usually head across France, sometimes getting as far as Italy or Spain. I still do it now with my own kids. Great post.

  46. Congrats on FP and thanks for the nostalgia! As a child I benefited from frequent road trips, and as an adult I have continued to love them. (Not a guarantee, though. My brother, who also had the childhood experience, now votes for stay at the beach type vacations.) Another thing has prompted me to choose driving over flying: now that I am over 62 I have the pass to National Parks that is good me and those in my car for the rest of my life.

    I wish I had had the bag of gifts and budgeting ideas when my children were young and traveling. I did similar budget ideas in other areas, but didn’t think to apply the allotments to trips.

  47. Really enjoyed your post (love your writing style). Just finished a fantastic road trip with my kids through 5 National Park Service Areas in Southwest Colorado and I hope it provides them with lifelong memories like your childhood trips did for you. Love the Blue Highways, bag of gifts, and budget Ideas – I am going to incorporate those into my future road trips – plus I just think I added another book to my reading list. Thanks.

  48. jmsimpson

    LOVED your post. Been there, done that, as they say. We did the same, but I don’t think we were rich enough to go FAR away EVERY year. You site is wonderful … I wll take a ride back here soon!

  49. Receding Waters

    I enjoyed this post very much! Your family sounds amazing. To have had those family experiences is awesome. The quote at the beginning is just fantastic, too. I’m going to have to find that book. I haven’t read through the comments to see if someone posted it, but possibly checking out national or famous state forests would be fun. Happy trails!

  50. Pam

    Really great post! Makes me want to plan our next road trip! Oh wait I just did! Thanks for sharing! Pam @

  51. you were busy bees on your trip. I usually do mine alone. Can I tell you how boring it usually is?:)

  52. I just spent my summer on a road trip as well. I totally know what you mean about learning more on patience and cooperation. 🙂

  53. I just did a road trip from Los Angeles to Chicago (to move) and I highly suggest getting an AmEx Platinum or traveling with someone who has one. Their concierge service is top notch and will find you a hotel+restaurant in the most obscure of places! I wrote all about my 5 day excursion on my blog if you want to check it out 🙂

    Oh, and check the weather before you leave!

  54. I LOVE what your mom did. The thing with the presents is so amazing and adorable 🙂 Seems like you’ve had many good times. I have never been on a road trip, but I hope one day to be. !!! great post!

  55. Quite interesting indeed. Glad I stumbled upon your site.

    I remember very similar trips growing up as a snot-nosed American child. Aww, nostalgia.

  56. For me those road trips always were like a torcher :/

  57. This is a very evocative description of the road trips of childhood, and certainly deserves the ‘freshly pressed’ feature.
    My parents always took us on road trips. For me the very best part was the morning we left home. On those mornings, anything seemed possible.

  58. liz

    Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.
    ——that’s it.Sometimes,in that period of time ,we need patience, cooperation, budgeting, the sheer pleasure .

  59. Great post.

  60. why'd i come in here? (kbean123)

    Loved it! Our road trips as a kid were always Dallas to Amarillo to Taos and back… ugly til right outside taos. At least we had Dairy Queens. Next theme for you -PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES maybe the narrow gauge train in Chama, NM then a stop in and around Pagosa Springs, CO to watch the antique car show, ‘The Great Race’ come through town and then to Durango, CO for the Silverton train ride. Take the morning train’s open car up the mtn for great pictures and the closed car down the mtn (afternoon COLD rains). Ride a glider up air currents and land on the grass while you’re in Durango. Throw in Mesa Verde as well? And then there’s always the San Fran-Golden Gate/Chinatown/Pier 39 to Napa/Sonoma to Yosemite to Sequoia.

  61. sandy kachurek

    Your mother was lovely, both a disciplinarian and sentimentalist with her non-nonsense budget and gift-a-day treasures. The rest of the memory conjured up my own childhood vacations, especially the ones where I groaned, “Oh, Dad, not another war museum!” And now, those groaners have become cherished snapshots, remember-when conversations and, though I still hate to admit it, educational experiences.

  62. I’m heading on a summer road trip next week across Europe, Can’t wait. Love the post and congrats on FP!

  63. Loved your post. You know, I’ve never thought about it that way before, but road trips are really a very American thing, aren’t they. The wide open road, the endless expanse of land. You backpack through Europe, breezing through countries and languages, but you go on long quiet roadtrips through America. It’s a very different midset, a very different experience. I remember loving roadtrips as a child, though looking back, I have no idea how my parents dealt with all that driving–plus whiny children!

  64. getting off the car in the midst of such road trips in the great loneliness, with nature and us being alone will take our breath.

  65. livinglearningeating

    I’m so excited for my fall in Europe 🙂

    Not quite the same, but hey – it’s all Wanderlust.

  66. gotchanews

    I love writing and road trips combing the two is great.

  67. I’ve always wanted to go on a road trip like that. So far, I’ve only been able to go for short one or two day excursions.

    Thanks for sharing! I’m enjoying reading this blog that I just stumbled upon.

  68. i need a holiday now! great blog page tooooooooo

  69. I don’t go out that much any more, been so busy with my own business…and my arts are the only avenue I take when I want relaxation …perhaps I should schedule one now.

  70. What a great post! I went on a road trip last year. It was a big circle that took three of us from Colorado, to the Redwoods, the Tillamook cheese factory, Powell’s Bookstore, Seattle, across WA, and almost to Yellowstone before we had to return. (We ran out of time, so no Yellowstone.) Aside from nearly running out of gas in sparsely populated southern Oregon, It was a great trip. And surprisingly, the cleanest gas station bathroom (or Restroom’s as the sign said..) was in Nevada. They got points even if they weren’t grammatically correct. 🙂

  71. trips!!!!!!!!! i haven had any trip in 2 years god

  72. It’s a happy thing to have a trip with our families!I feel so sorry that i spent few time with my parents and brother since i worked far away from home.Looking forward to traveling with them next time!

  73. This looks so fun! I have never been on summer trips (the timing of holidays is really different here), but I have fond memories of end-of-the-year roadtrips, driving for full days to get to different states of the country.

    Thanks for sharing!

  74. Nice Blog…i like it!

  75. You are a good writer! I like reading your blog….

  76. It seems to be so much of fun and you said that right…a balance between fun and education. Interesting!!!

  77. Reminds me of my family road trips though ours were a bit less organized but created, like yours, wonderful memories!

  78. Pingback: Monday Moments: Photographs & Memories | Second Memory

  79. Jackie

    Road trips are great! I’m about to go on my first one as a free adult which is extremely exciting!

  80. My fondest Spring break was I drove what was left of Route 66 a few years back camping all along the way. Some of the best days of my life.

  81. charikinya

    Take a road trip down Sub Saharan Africa, you will love the weather. It is always sunny in AFRICA.

  82. S.A

    And this is exactly why I wish I was growing up in America! No roadtrip holidays in the UK… 😦
    Great post!

  83. I enjoyed reading this post… Great report.

  84. Pingback: Summer Road Trips (via Second Memory) « aquithyst

  85. Love the post and congrats on FP!

  86. Well this is refreshing! Congrats on FP. My summer road trips consist of long, drawn out 9 hour road trips to home and back to school. At first, I thought it was all bad but, after seeing Discover the Gift, i’ve really looked at everything in my life in a different angle, from a different perspective… I get a lot of time to myself and get to sort out whatever I want .. If I want to develop a story more, I have 9 hours to myself, if I have to think about something that happened to me and better integrate it into my everyday… I have the time.. It’s not so bad if you look at the positive. Discover the Gift is a really great doc and positivity is just a tenth of what it has to say. I really recommend it… Hopefully one day I can have a legitimate and adventurous road trip! Thanks for sharing!

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