by Janice Celeste
Every summer we’d take a road trip in my parents’ Chevy Impala from Philadelphia to visit my dad’s family in Pensacola, Florida. In the car was my mom (who didn’t drive), my dad, my little brother, and then there was me. From age 16 on, I’d help my dad with the driving.
What I appreciated the most about this trip was the relaxed way my dad made every mile an experience. Unlike many stories from my friends, the drive was never rushed and the vacation started with packing our car for the trip. There was a method to dad’s packing madness. The small cooler was strategically placed in the middle of the back seat between my brother and I, within easy reach and also a fighting barrier. This was genius because it gave us both our own space. My mom had a big paper bag in the front floor of the car, full of our favorite snacks and the breakfast sandwiches she made with toast, cheese, eggs, and sausage wrapped in aluminum foil to keep them warm. We’d always get to eat them once we got on the main highway. And then there was the music. I got my appreciation for oldies music from my dad who always made a travel mix-tapes of non-stop hits as we rolled down the highway.
At every state line, we’d stop at the welcome centers to pick up a free map. This was before GPS devices. Map reading skills are now threatened to become extinct due to Google Maps.
Welcome centers are some of the best kept secrets of crossing state lines.
If it was close to lunch time, we’d take advantage of the welcome center’s picnic areas and eat lunch there. Welcome centers are some of the best-kept secrets of crossing state lines. These are great places for families to stop: they often have freebies they give out to visitors from bags of peanuts to promotional goodies, have the cleanest rest areas with clean restrooms, better views than most places, better security, pet walks and nice picnic areas that hardly anyone ever uses. We always stopped, and we always had a blast! The rest areas became some of our favorite travel memories. It’s the little things, right?
Once we got back on the road again, we’d search for landmarks like the Maryland House, Havre De Grace bridge, Lake Hartwell, the big Georgia peach water tower and rediscovering rivers named after songs like the Suwannee River that I only knew from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, or just having fun trying to pronounce names like Chattahoochee. There was cheering for every state sign we reached. We’d stop at road stands for pecans, souvenirs and photo ops. And we stayed overnight halfway to our destination at a Holiday Inn. What made it fun was that we never rushed.
Once I had my own children, we continued this tradition to visit my mom who moved to Pensacola after she laid my dad to rest there. I made the road trip via various routes as a single mom with three little girls, Ozzie the dog, luggage, the must-have cooler, and three bikes strapped to the back of my hatchback Hyundai. We followed the same traditions of cooking the family breakfast sandwiches and making a big deal about rest stops. I added Colorforms, reusable static stickers, that I stuck to the back of the car windows for the girls to play with and to keep them busy.
Our favorite stop became South of The Border at the state line of the Carolinas. At the time, we were ignorant about how this resort perpetuated a cultural stereotype. For us, it was just an inexpensive place to stop with rides. The children got to eat and sleep for free and they allowed dogs. Today, I wonder how this resort ever got away with those billboards that stretched for miles on both sides of Interstate-95?
The funny thing is, I asked my adult daughters what were some of their favorite road trip memories and their answers were the same as mine as a child: reading the road signs and maps, stopping over to sleep at a hotel/resort, the dog and the music. I still take long car trips, not as much as I use to but I still plan them and enjoy them in the same way my dad taught me. My mixed-tape is an iTunes playlist and my map is by Google.
If you’re going to take a road trip, you might as well make it a fun trip all along the way. It will become a tradition that your children will pass on to their own children. Don’t make your destination the point where the vacation begins. The memories start with your planning.
@JaniceMCeleste | Editor-in-Chief