Traveling Long Distance With Kids

I am currently traveling to the merry land of Disney for a family vacation, so we are getting plenty of “quality” time in the car on the trip there. Quality, of course, is a loose term to describe the periodic calm between the kid’s grumpy phases from so many hours in the car. I really have nothing to complain about, and I have a new appreciation for what my parents went through.

These days we have electronic crutches to help get us through the long distance drives with kids. Sure, we still deal with repeated “how much longer” and “are we there yet” whines from the back seats, but creating quiet distractions is much easier these days. We have the portable DVD player and a video iPod to keep the two middle kids distracted. The youngest has been better than we could have dreamed for such a long drive.

This makes me think back to what it was like 25 years ago when I was as young as some of my kids.

First, we drove a 1974 Toyota Corolla station wagon that my dad paid $500 for used and we did a little work on it to get keep it running. This was the compact style, so no backward seats in the rear (thankfully). Because there were three of us siblings, that meant we were packed in the rear set, and someone had the “hump.” You know what I am talking about. Knees shoved up high and uncomfortable, or spread to the side causing constant complaints from your brother or sister that you are in “their space.” My family today drives a Dodge Grand Caravan, meaning plenty of seat space, room to spread out the legs and plenty of storage for the luggage.

Next was the temperature issue. I have some discomfort where the AC is currently not hitting the back of my legs, but overall it is a pleasant 70-75 or so in the car while 102 degrees outside the car. No complaints here. Sure, we had AC in that car as a kid, but of course, dad didn’t turn it on. No, back then the AC took too much power from the engine, cost too much in gas, and in general could cause the engine to overheat if we left it on too long. Thus the phrase was often coined, “we have 4-40 AC”¦open up all 4 windows and go 40.” So, this meant we sweated our”¦well, let’s just say it was hot and miserable. Long vacation driving trips in the summer were usually dreadfully hot. Along with the heat, with the windows open driving 60 was also loud and headache forming. I am sure we contributed to the headache factor in other ways as well.

Here is one to add to that whole mess. I remember as a kid going on a scouting trip that required a few vans to transport kids and gear. I happened to be in a van that was not only sans-AC but also had problems overheating when going up long hills. The only remedy was to turn on the heat, full blast when going up the hill. That’s right, on top of the already sweltering heat from outside, we had to turn on the heater to pump it away from the engine directly into our hot box. Needless to say, we looked like a bunch of dogs with our heads out the window and tongues out traveling down the road.

Now back to the distraction topic. My kids get the luxury of surprise toys, games, books, and some added electronic time wasters; they have it easy. My parents did the old fashioned car version of just some books and homemade travel games to keep us occupied. I have nothing against what they did, in fact, we still throw those in the mix, just that they didn’t last all that long. Halfway into the trip, if we were lucky, all that was boring and we were looking for something more to pass the time. We still deal with the kid boredom, but I swear by the ability to show movies; it simply just passes the time. Definitely a luxury. Definitely just plain awesome.

Here ‘s another big difference, the speed limit. I know that 65 and 75 mph is not as fuel efficient as the old standard of 55 mph. Guess what, even the semi-tree hugger that I try to be I’ll give up a little fuel economy to get to the destination faster. Shaving off an hour or two from a long trip makes a huge difference. Don’t believe me? You must either a) not have kids, or b) have kids much older now and your memory is failing!

Here’s one difference that is admittedly “better” in the sense of safety, but was nicer before seatbelts. We are stringent enforcers of our kids (and us) always wearing our seatbelts. It’s simply not worth the risk. Back as kids, we were much looser on this necessity. We wore them, but we also took breaks while traveling to stretch out or get things out of the back. My wife remembers driving in the family VW Vanagon on long trips where kids would take turns sleeping on the floor. Now that could be nice, but I can’t bring myself to loosen up the seatbelt rules to let it happen.

Ever had sick kids in the car? Now that is a joy of all joys. Avoiding the gory details, along with a whiney, upset kid, car sickness is a mess that we would all be happy to pass on. Nothing beats the persistent odor of spew permeating the car for hours after the event as well. We have gained some wisdom from past experience and include a “sick bag” near the kids”¦just in the case; especially when traveling anywhere winding roads.

At this point I have to give myself a virtual pat on the back; there is one way I am different from the “old” generation of guys. I can handle taking frequent stops to make the ride more do-able. Jeff Foxworthy, among many comedians, has a great bit about guys and their need to make record time from point A to point B. I like to get to the destination as quick as the next guy, but I also am willing to sacrifice a little time in the interest of empty bladders and happiness. We plan strategic park visits along the way for kids to stretch their legs and work out the wiggles. See, we men can learn some things.

These are just a few differences I can remember between traveling in days past and now, but I am sure there are many, many more. I am thankful for the improvements, believe me. What can you remember from days gone by that was pain or simply unbearably difficult?

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