Road trip. Those two little words conjure visions of a big car with luggage strapped to the top. The windows are down. Mama, Daddy, kids and a floppy-eared mutt are laughing (or, in the latter’s case, happily barking) down the highway off on a grand adventure for family fun.
Maybe your vision is more Route 66 or a little “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Maybe it’s “movin’ right along in search of good times and good news with good friends you can’t lose” like The Muppets. Maybe you’re thinking back to college and a midnight decision to pile six people into a Ford Bronco II and drive four hours to see the sunrise at Gulf Shores. Admittedly, that just might be me.
The point is that when you hear the words “road trip,” you probably don’t anticipate feeling like you’ve been shot out of a cannon of cars and construction as you hurdle, hell-bent on leather, down I-75 toward Tampa. You probably don’t picture feeling greasy and queasy from too much fast food and caffeine. You probably don’t plan on screaming at your significant other to watch out for the other crazed drivers as said significant other screams back something about which blankety-blank exit is it — A, B, C, D or E? — and you turn down the radio so your partner can “concentrate on driving,” and the radio is turned back up to 11. You most certainly don’t picture everybody on the road suddenly slamming on brakes, causing you to sit dead still for two hours wondering if you can drive down the shoulder or will you get in trouble and can you hold it until you ever get somewhere where you can just stop the dang car and breathe just for one minute or will you have to run up the hill and go behind a tree.
Doesn’t sound much like good times and good news, does it? But that’s exactly the situation my husband and I found ourselves in about 10 years ago on a trip to Sarasota. That’s when we got off the interstate — for good — at the very next exit.
We decided then and there that we would take the old adage to heart — half the fun of any trip we took would be getting there. We would travel only on state highways, county roads, and whatever else was paved and avoid the interstate at all costs. We would bypass fast food in favor of locally owned restaurants. We would stop and see the sights along the way or pull over just to enjoy a rainbow or full moon. And we would allow extra time for travel so we could do all this and arrive at our destination relaxed and ready for even more fun.
Among countless other adventures, we’ve been to Weeki Wachee where the mermaids live. We’ve driven miles off the highway to eat at a shack in the middle of nowhere that claims to have the best fried fish ever — they did. We’ve seen deer, eagles, a fox, hawks, llamas, emus, a zillion cows and one alligator. We’ve passed school buses with the tops cut off so they could haul watermelons. We ate barbecue in Ocilla, Georgia – the birthplace of Dave Prater of Sam and Dave. We visited the graves of Duane and Gregg Allman — may they rest in peace together again. We’ve seen where Abraham Lincoln was born, Jimmy Carter, too. Oh, and we saw Jimmy and Rosalind Carter walking down the sidewalk in Plains. (I thought it was a nice, older couple and their much larger and muscley grandsons. My husband realized it was the Carters and their Secret Service detail.)
Even more important, however, than the sights we’ve seen and the many, many meat-and-three plates we’ve devoured, is the time we’ve enjoyed as a family. We’ve had long conversations and long stretches of quiet contemplation as the scenery slides by. We’ve played word games. Music and podcasts have entertained us – as a family, not on individual devices. We’ve researched and explored sights to see along the way. We’ve stayed at bed and breakfasts and roadside motels. We’ve stopped to smell the roses — literally.
And we’ve arrived at our destinations with our arms around each other instead of at each other’s throats.
This summer, I encourage you to get in the car with your family and get on the road (not the interstate.) Bring some snacks and some toilet paper too. Pack your devices – in the trunk. Roll down the windows and look out of them. Go the speed limit. Stop to read the historical markers and take pictures and get ice cream. Play word games. Let the wind blow through your hair. Sing silly songs at the top of your lungs.
And I promise that as the road disappears into a setting sun, you’ll find that all the fun of a road trip is getting there — wherever you go.
Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog folkwaysnowadays.com.