With fuel prices expected to be at their lowest since 2009, more families than ever may be hitting the road for vacation. "This could be the year of the summer road trip, with lower gas prices motivating millions of people to travel," AAA spokesman Avery Ash said in a statement. "Many drivers are likely to save hundreds of dollars this summer as gas prices remain more affordable than in recent years."
For some families, the choice to drive might indeed be fueled by low gas prices, but I've grown up taking annual road trips with my family. Ever since I turned three, my parents would buckle my older brother and me into the backseat of a minivan so we could drive from our Pennsylvania home to the Midwest to visit relatives.
Even today, my friends' eyes bug out when I tell them how I'd sit in a car for two days to go to a small town in Iowa. But the long rides never felt like a big deal to me, and I think they've helped me learn patience and the virtues of boredom. Sure, my brother and I used to get antsy and whine, "Are we there yet?" but I like to think we were being a bit ironic when we mimicked the common backseat expression.
My brother and I got pretty good at finding activities to do while contained in our three feet of legroom. When 6-year-old me suggested my family swap our car for one with a TV installed, my parents respectfully ignored my request. At the time, nothing sounded better than hours upon hours of cartoons, but I'm thankful my parents didn't let me have my way. Instead of vacantly watching a screen, I mastered the art of entertaining myself.
My parents enforced a rule about no entertainment until we hit the turnpike, which amped up the excitement during the first 15 minutes of our 13-hour first day on the road. Leading up to our trip, my parents would buy me a few issues of my favorite magazines, and I could barely control myself from cracking them open before hitting the highway. As soon as we were cruising down I-80, I gleefully broke into my backpack of road trip goodies. Between doodling paper, magnetic "paper" dolls, and string crafts, I was good to go for hours. Once the sun went down and it was too dark to see anything, I enjoyed staring out the window and watching the scenery pass by. Even as a small child, I appreciated the chance to get lost in my thoughts. I might not have contemplated life too deeply, but I liked making up stories in my head.
I used to envy my friends' fun-filled vacations to the beach or Disney World — at 11, I was probably the last of my friends to visit the most magical place on Earth — but eventually I learned to appreciate the simple nature of our trips. When I was little, a high-energy, activity-filled trip sounded ideal. But as I got older I discovered the appeal in a low-key destination. Vacations are meant as a change of pace, and I prefer to slow my pace down when I can. When the most exciting sites in a 15-minute radius are a dollar store and a few thrift shops, vacation can truly be an escape. Working and parenting don't allow much time for curling up with a good book, or even the freedom to catch a catnap whenever you want, so a place where both are encouraged can be the perfect retreat.
With an increasingly busy schedule and more responsibilities, I've had to skip a few of my family's visits to the Midwest, and I never thought I'd miss it as much as I do. Thankfully, this summer I'll have the chance to experience that road trip again for the first time in years. It's not the most glamorous getaway, but I'm incredibly excited to climb back into my parents' minivan. I'm looking forward to a journey that's sure to bring back childhood memories as we create new ones as a family.
Marissa Laliberte is an Editorial Intern at Parents magazine who loves running, baking, and drinking coffee. Follow her on Twitter: @mjlaliberte
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Image: Young girls going on road trip via Shutterstock