Archived Story

Family roadtrips: An American tradition

Published 12:00pm Friday, June 21, 2013

I can still remember now, sleepily dragging my pillow to the car – not even the sun had risen from its nightly slumber.

Dad would be shuffling in and out of the house with the family’s luggage. Mom would be attending to my sister and me, urging us to go to the bathroom one more time before we got on the road.

Right before we shut the doors on our red Lumina van (which we affectionately called The Egg), the Dramamine would kick in hard. These chalky pills were the only thing that kept my younger self from spilling the contents of my stomach with every sharp turn and bump in the road. We often kept a bucket in every car I frequented growing up.

For the next few hours, I would drift off to sleep, eager to be at my destination but too tired to keep my eyes open.

This is how most summer road trips began for me.

The annual cross-country journey was a tradition for my family, perhaps born out of necessity as we are 12-plus hours from both my dad and mom’s families. We would usually visit Buffalo, N.Y., where my mother grew up.

This trip was always a much-anticipated part of summer. While it would surely take less time to fly, in the interests of economy we would always make the trip on four wheels.

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, I have been thinking about all the things that make this country great and what it means to be an American.

And in my opinion, there are few things more American than the notion of a cross-country road trip.

It is steeped in the sort of spirit that was embodied by the early pioneers, who loaded up in their covered wagons and hit the Oregon Trail. Our 14-hr air-conditioned van ride, however, is admittedly less adventurous than the trip these early Americans set out on.

A plane ride, while fun it its own right, doesn’t quite feel the same. The road trip is about being independent and striking out with your family in search of a good time.

It’s as much about the journey as the destination. Every new state offers its own sights and smells, and you just can’t experience that from 30,000 feet in the air.

The road trip, for our family, was also a chance for us to spend some quality time together.

Even during the summer, it was often rare for all of the Nelsons to end up in one place. But for those hours in The Egg, we were locked in close quarters for better or worse. Sure, there were the occasional spats and frustrations that often accompany such extended family contact. But these trips were what forged our togetherness as a family.

There are faster ways to travel, and though rare, it can occasionally be cheaper to opt for a round-trip flight. But it is my sincere hope that the family road trip doesn’t fade away as gas prices keep climbing.

I know at least that one day, when I have a family of my own, we will load up the van and head off into the rising sun with hopes of keeping the spirit of the Great American Road Trip alive.

Nelson is news editor for The Outlook.