Almost every year for twenty-five years, my family has traveled to Florida for vacation. The tradition began in 1998 when we loaded our first minivan and traveled down I-75.
We started this when our kids were small and have continued it as our family has grown and changed, to where I am now the shortest one in the vehicle.
Recently we’ve been forced to cancel, as most travelers were, thanks to the pandemic. But finally, we’re headed out on the road again! Florida, here we come!
Without a doubt, family legends, recurring themes, catchphrases, and adventures of a lifetime happen when we hit the road. And many times, it’s the travel portion that stays with us over the actual vacation.
We drive “straight through.” We live in the upper Midwest, so this is a twenty-hour family odyssey.
Some people consider our marathon drive nuts. They helpfully point out that these new things called airplanes take you across the country in five minutes. True, but it is on these cross-country drives that our metal is tested as a family. It is also forged. Close quarters with limited supplies turned boys into men and moms into moms with more wrinkles.
It’s on these trips that we’ve strengthened our family bond by getting to know each other on a different level. Spending twenty hours strapped in a van forces the issue.
For example, early on, we learned that one of our children has the ability to slow his metabolic rate to near zero. He enters a stasis mode that keeps him suspended in a sleepy land of nod until we enter the parking lot of a Waffle House. At this point, he awakens, wide-eyed with clown hair, emerges from the minivan, eats a frightening amount of waffles and syrup, and then reenters the van and his suspended animation. He can do this for as long as it takes us to get where we’re going. The ability showed itself at age six and has only gotten more powerful with age.
We learned that everyone in the van must know our exact drive-through food order before my husband gets to the speaker. Must. Or you will be held in contempt, forever. Forever.
Like most loving families, our conversations while at home center on the nitty-gritty of surviving the mundane. Do we need milk? What’s wrong with that neighbor who fires up his leaf blower in the predawn hours of a Saturday? Where’s the remote?
On the road, the conversation shifts to a deeper understanding of each other, our hopes, and our dreams. We’ve even learned one of us frequently misinterprets common phrases. The weirdo thinks the phrase is “mine as well,” not “might as well.” He will not be moved from this wrongheaded stance.
One year my husband and I planned a budget strategy for a home renovation. On another trip, we debated which X-Men was our family’s favorite. This discussion revealed that our youngest thought that Washcloth was the name of one of the X-Men.
We laughed at him through Kentucky. But then engaged in a difficult conversation outside of a Knoxville-area Waffle House. It’s Cyclops, son, not Washcloth. If it weren’t for that car trip, he’d still be telling people Washcloth has laser vision. Plus, the teasing he endured from us toughened him up for the snake pit of elementary school. Same kid, by the way, who thinks it’s “mine as well.” I’m now wondering if he’s ever had an ear exam.
A family road trip forces you to prioritize what’s important. We don’t have to wait until Christmas to be reminded about the sanctity of a handheld gaming system and proper charger. This isn’t entertainment. This is the instrument of peace.
The twenty-hour car ride prompts introspection, too. There comes a time, in the dark of the night with a full moon above you and a long stretch of Georgia highway before you, that you look inside your soul and ask: Can I wait for forty-nine miles until the next rest area, or do I have to go now?
I strongly advocate the long family car trip, but only on the way to your vacation destination. You need to fly home, preferably, in separate planes.