Road trips are kind-of a tenet of my family. From 1990 until 2005, all 7 of us would pile into our conversion van at the beginning of Christmas break and drive to Florida. Straight through, the trip can be as short as 16 hours. But realistically, it takes more than 20.
We had traditions. My mom would put the back seat down and make a huge bed that four of us could sleep on at a time. We would start the trip sometime after dinner and began it by popping The Princess Bride into the VCR. The TV was small but mighty and we would quote the movie and giggle until my dad would stop at Wendy’s for late night Frosty’s.
The night was a festival of noises: snoring, burping, laughing, my mom harmonizing along with her favorite Mennonite hymns, the kids yelling at each other, and of course the occasional sleep-fart. We would wake up in the morning completely un-rested and head to Cracker Barrel for breakfast.
Today, if all goes as planned, I’m sleeping after a fast and furious road trip from Pennsylvania to Colorado. I don’t expect I enjoyed the driving, but I’m sure I valued the quality time. And my sister and I will have plenty of it. Without further ado, what I know about road trips:
1. Mattie Suzanne (my sister) is the worst road trip partner in the history of the world. She is physically incapable of driving for more than 3 hours at a time and spends 90% of all road trips sleeping in the front seat next to the driver. Her singular selling point is that she has the loveliest of singing voices.
2. I, on the other hand, am the best person to road trip with. I have a super-human will to be as efficient as possible. This plays itself out as a ridiculous need to drive through the night and not waste any time on stopping to sleep. Another bonus: deep down inside, I am 250 pounds with a bottomless stomach. I view road trips as the best reason to eat. Small towns have the best pie and I plan on eating all.the.pie on this trip.
3. Speaking of food, I know this website is necessary for all road trips. If you plug in where you’re going, it will map out a route for you so you can hit every restaurant along the way that has been featured on a TV show. There is a show called “Best Thing I Ever Ate” so naturally, those are the restaurants that you should go to.
4. Music is essential. If there are no good tunes, then what is the ever-loving point? I suggest Michael Jackson and NSYNC for the beginning of a trip, when the windows are down, the sun is setting and time is flying by. Moody artists like Mumford & Sons or Iron & Wine (or anything else with an ampersand in the title really) are perfect for 2:00 am just before you feel exhausted and just after your sister begins snoring. You’ll need some singalong songs from Adele and/or Britney Spears for the second wind around 4:30 am. But push through because you’re going to switch to the radio for the Top 40 on the last leg of the trip.
5. One thing I DON’T know about road trips. Is it more disgusting to brush your teeth in a nasty sink at a rest stop or just skip the tooth brushing all together? If you do go with the grimy trucker sink, then what do you do with your wet toothbrush? Surely it can’t just go back in your make-up covered toiletry bag. And certainly not in the cupholder next to your gas station coffee. Someone help me with this one.
6. The measure of success for a road trip is the quality of the musk you leave behind. The best trips leave a scent reminiscent of french fries, gasoline, sugar, and farts. The worst ones smell like kale chips and water.
7. The traditions my family kept changed as the years went on, but they mattered to me. That drive to Florida was the highlight of my year. It was about being together in that ridiculously small space and just seeing what would happen. Forced community and togetherness—my favorite kinds of both. For the past 10ish years, we’ve either driven ourselves or flown separately, and though I still love the trip with my family, I miss the way it started. I hope my nieces and nephews all get to experience the magic of a 20-hour trip with their siblings. There’s just nothing like it.