Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Always Reliable Road Trip

I'm convinced that a young family can rarely go wrong cobbling up a road trip vacation. While the prospect of packing two adults and two or more kids into a car for a few hours may seem like Chinese water torture for some, I suspect that most families would find such an idea appealing. Of course, I bring my own nostalgic memories into my perceptions of the American Road Trip. My older brother and I used to sit in the back of our Dodge Coronet (and later, Honda Accord) and play games ranging from "Licence Plate Bingo" to "The Picnic Game" while listening in on a AM/FM radio cassette player which we would use to scan the airwaves for Top 40 music. My brother's imagination knew no bounds, so he's make up games in the backseat which would invariably leave us cracking up laughing. If the cliché is "getting there is half the fun", I'd have to say they might have undershot.

We spent this Spring Break taking a trip to San Antonio, partly because we want to leave no attraction within driving distance of our home unchecked (I partially addressed this in an earlier post), but we also wanted to do this three hour trip as "muscle-builder" for a longer ten-hour trip we'll take this summer. I'm happy to say that all of us had a blast.

San Antonio, I've learned, is really the tourist destination for anyone going to Texas. Houston and Dallas are much larger cities and have their share of things to do, but when it comes to the greatest concentration of attractions in any given metropolitan area, it's tough to beat San Antonio. The Riverwalk is great for all ages, and also within walking distance are the Alamo and a couple of Ripley's Believe it Or Not! museums. The Witte Museum, SeaWorld, Natural Bridge Caverns and Six Flags Fiesta Texas are short drives away, so there's always plenty to do. We went to most of these places during our four day trip, and we had a blast.

The road trip has changed over time, however. With minivans with fancy entertainment systems, kids in the back are no longer forced to come up with their own entertainment armed only with their imaginations. Instead, there's constant pleas of putting in X DVD or Y Book on CD and arguments over who should get to listen to what. It's not all negative, and in fairness, my wife and I did regulate the amount of "entertainment system" time we allowed the kids. I think it's just a microcosm of the broader change in how our kids are raised, entertained, and even taught. Imagination, paper-based and outdoor activities have lost ground to Internet-connected tablet and smartphones. But when it comes to kids experiencing new things, like a fresh exhibit at a museum, a lively city or a new landmark, the allure of electronics fade away just for a moment, and they have that same look of wonder that their parents had as kids many years ago.

There's still a lot to like about the American road trip. The spontaneity of finding a place to grab a bite and the camaraderie forged with shared experience still prevails. Good memories forged by new sights and sounds and family debriefs around "what did you like most about today?" are worth cherishing. All of the "side stuff", like starting our days by making waffles at the free hotel breakfast buffet and closing our nights with competitive games of charades at night - you can't ask for a sweeter four days than that.