A recent Wall Street Journal headline recalled “Vacation-Planning Before Google Maps,” with great Throwback Thursday memories of the traditional American family road trip. But more than the AAA TripTic has vanished. The family road trip is largely vanishing, as well. Living history museums—even the biggest and best like Colonial Williamsburg—are suffering in attendance. Families seem to prefer the Disney World interpretation to the real thing.
When I was a child growing up in Texarkana—pretty close to the geographic center of the country—most families took two big road trips while their children were growing up: one to the East Coast and one across the Rocky Mountains to Grand Canyon and California. Mama spent months, perhaps more than a year, planning our trip East. I was 12. In three weeks we covered all the eastern states except Maine, along with Quebec. The goal was 400 miles a day. I was given hard choices. In Illinois we only had time to stop at one Abraham Lincoln site. In Washington, it was worse; I had to choose between the White House and Mount Vernon.
That’s when I fell in love with maps. I became the family navigator. We never drove West because Mama grew hysterical on mountain roads, and Daddy absolutely refused to drive across the Rockies with her. However, they eventually compromised, and we took the train to Colorado Springs and Denver when I was in college. We didn’t cross the Rockies, but we saw them.
Their curiosity about the bigger world aroused my curiosity. I’m afraid that Lev and I didn’t do the long road trips either—except for one imminently forgettable drive to Carlsbad Caverns and Santa Fe. (From Corpus Christi it is a LONG drive just to get out of Texas.) But we often flew to a destination city, where we rented a car to explore—New England, Colorado, parts of California, the Northwest and the Southeast. Now, as a widow, I am having to let go of my dreams of driving in areas of the country (and the world) that I haven’t yet explored. I loved being the navigator. I don’t like being the driver. Interstate driving is stressful, even when it’s familiar. I won’t be driving to see the Grand Canyon or the Black Hills of North Dakota or the Dordogne in southwest France. I am not quite ready to sign up for the senior citizen bus trip, but how else will I see the hard-to-get-to places still on my bucket list?
What’s your solution?