The recession has led some families to hit the road in a car stuffed with suitcases and kids—a mix of fun and frustration, nothing bonds like the road trip.
We have four kids. Four. Okay, so we aren’t the Duggers, but four is enough to make the cost of some vacations entirely out of reach right now. We won’t be taking the kids to the French Riviera or any other Riviera, for that matter. They won’t be basking on the beaches of Fiji as long as their mother and I are paying for it – not these days. Money is just too tight. The recession has taken its toll on us in many ways, vacations notwithstanding.
We have been reduced to the last bastion of the American middle-class family on vacation, the road trip. Before airfare was generally affordable, and time seemed more available, the road trip was the standard of the North American holiday. Now that families feel the squeeze of recession, and airlines have bumped up prices, a new generation is discovering America through their windshields. According to a 2018 U.S. Travel Association air travel survey, frustration with air travel resulted in 41 million fewer trips by air in the preceding 12 months. The same study indicates that travelers see little hope for “positive change shortly,” and 76% of us took our leisure trips by car.
I harken back to my childhood in the dark ages before mp3 players and 3D handheld video games. Back then, we’d put the third row of seats down in the family station wagon, and my sisters and I could play board games, stretch out and even lie down while dad drove and mom navigated. Of course, this was before the laws of physics were vigorously enforced. Today, we would never allow our children to ride without their seatbelts. We’ve traded Monopoly and Parcheesi for Nintendo and PlayStation in the name of safety. It’s a fair trade.
Last summer, we loaded the crew into the trusty Buick and headed to my wife’s home state of Pennsylvania. The twelve-hour journey was filled with “Mom, make him stop touching me!” and “I have to go to the bathroom again,” but it was also rich with new experiences and family bonding (albeit forced). We drove through plains and mountains, ate at Big Boys and local joints, and stopped at state parks and Hershey Park. In short, we did and saw many things we would not have had we taken our usual flight to a beach resort.
Searching for fossils in an Ohio riverbed, my middle son said, “This is the best day of my life!” It was probably an enthusiastic exaggeration, but he was pleased with the moment. It’s a mental photograph I’ll have forever.
We are planning another road trip to Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands this year.
Our economic situation looks a bit more promising. We could probably start to plan another cruise or beach resort vacation for next year, but I don’t think we will. My kids have never seen the National Mall or the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.