We’ve taken quite a few road trips in our family: Florida, Cross Country and Back, Florida, Kouchibouguac National Park, Florida, Cape Breton, Florida, Outer Banks, Florida… Short or long, they’re always interesting.
Some notes before we begin: You may find my list light on stories about kids fighting in the car. That’s mostly because our kids are (a) girls (b) seven years apart in age and (c) have always been great car travelers. (Well, minus the fact that one of them was prone to motion sickness and used to vomit on car rides around town). Also, I don’t drink coffee…at all. All Starbucks stops are for the girls and my husband (though he prefers Dunkin’).
- Elation: So you’ve planned the trip, prepared your playlist and packed the car. You’re so excited you could pop. It’s about this time that you determine that you have the coolest family in the world. The voices in your head sound something like this, “We are so awesome! We are going to drive to California and back in 32 days, in a four-door sedan. What could possibly go wrong?!”
- Compulsive Snacking: Beginning the very first time you pull off the highway, every stop provides an excuse to buy snacks, even though you have a cooler full of sandwiches, fresh fruit and granola bars. Before long, you’re up to your knees in candy wrappers and crumpled potato chip bags but no matter how much you’re body cries out for protein or fresh fruit, you keep fueling up on m&m’s, funyuns and Starbucks. Which reminds me…
- Shifting Priorities: You schedule your stops based on the locations of Starbucks, McDonald’s, Panera Bread and gas stations…in that order. And rest areas, of course, which probably fall somewhere between Starbucks and McDonald’s on the priority scale. Because honestly, if you didn’t stop at Starbucks so often you wouldn’t need so many rest stops, now would you?
- Rest Room Trauma: Speaking of rest stops, you probably begin your trip on a snappy interstate with rest rooms full of self-flushing toilets and automatic faucets, but somewhere in South Carolina or Nebraska you have no choice but to stop at Harry’s Handi-Mart and use a unisex bathroom which hasn’t been cleaned in six months and you hope your 10 year old daughter didn’t read the vending machine above the toilet, because they weren’t selling candy bars…or even tampons, for that matter.
- Germophobia: At which point, you Google communicable diseases transmitted via toilet seats, buy a gallon of hand sanitizer and slather it all over your bodies, cell phones and the steering wheel, while beginning to think that a full body immersion Purell bath isn’t a bad idea, after all.
- Someone ends up going a little stir crazy: (Christina?) Which leads to things like speaking in a British/Scottish/Australian accent and inventing roadside taco stands, which take online orders and catapult the tacos through your car window as you drive by. (She doesn’t even like tacos…)
- GPS Fail: The GPS leads you down a street in say, Arkansas, which turns into a dirt road and then no road at all but more of a rock quarry and you have to drive a mile in reverse to get back to the main route at which point you’re screaming, “No, Michael Scott, the machine does not know!”
- GPS Fail Fallout: This leads to a fight between you and your husband, in which he demands you punch in the alternate route faster than he can drive to the next turn because he doesn’t know which way to go; at which point, you not so quietly suggest he pull over and wait a flippin’ minute, and then he snaps something like, “You’re not a very dependable co-pilot.” You immediately resolve to never help him with directions again. Ever.
- Someone cries: Someone always cries. Especially if your family is 75% female.
- Discouragement: You find yourself wondering, “What is our problem?! Why can’t we get out of a hotel room in the morning without wanting to gouge each others eyes out?” You conclude that your family is the most dysfunctional family in the world, you’re the worst parents to have ever lived and you’ve completely destroyed any hope of your children living normal, well-adjusted lives.
- Defeat: You vow to never take another road trip again. Actually, you may give up vacationing with your family altogether.
- Crazy Dance Parties: You manage to nod your head like yeah and move your hips like yeah, do the Cha-Cha Slide and act out Thriller, all while buckled in a seatbelt and driving down I-95. At first, the blaring music, loud singing and dancing are expressions of your joy and excitement. On the last night, they’re an expression of the fact that you’ve decided to cancel your hotel reservations and drive 16 hours so you can sleep in your own bed and you’re just desperately trying to stay awake.
- Construction: Then you read a sign warning you of construction on the other side of the GW bridge. Of course, this sign appears after you’ve entered the GW and can no longer turn around to take the Tappan Zee. Once you’re off the bridge, traffic stops and you see another sign suggesting you use alternate routes. The sign is conveniently posted ¼ mile beyond said alternate route. Helpful.
- This leads to what we call “Road Trip Despair”: One minute you’re a mere two hours from home, the next, you find yourself parked on I-95 between four 18-wheelers and no coffee in sight, so the only thing keeping you awake is the fact that your bladder’s as full as a July 4th picnic water balloon. The only food left in the car is a handful of three-day old fries. If you haven’t cried yet, you do now.
- Delirium: Exhaustion overwhelms and you finally enter the slaphappy stage. At such times, a parent might be heard calling to her teenage daughter across a rest area parking lot in a Swedish accent: “Yoo-hoo! Leetle gel in de blue sho-orts! Vare are you going?!” (But not you, you would never embarrass your children like that.) This is also about the time that even the smallest jokes make you laugh until you cry.
- Some call it determination, others, stupidity: A couple hours behind schedule, you refuse to stop. Who pays for a hotel when you’re an hour and a half from home? Not you, that’s who. Even though you’re occasionally experiencing double-vision and have resorted to running the air conditioning on full blast to keep from blacking out.
- The team rallies: You enlist the support of your family, who sings Don’t Stop Believin’ with you at the top of their lungs, dances with you and feeds you chocolate to help you stay awake.
- Victory! Or something like it: Sometime around 2:00 a.m. you arrive at home. Why is it always 2:00 a.m.? After dragging yourself into the house, collapsing on the bed and falling asleep, you wake up the next day, look at your photos and souvenirs and think, ok, maybe we aren’t the worst family in the world. Maybe…maybe we’re just normal. Hey guys, what should our next road trip be?