By Heather Mullinix
I didn’t care for road trips when I was young. It was so confining to have to sit in the back seat, staring out the window for hour after hour, hayfield after hayfield. And when you’re a kid, time doesn’t pass like it does when you get a little older. Just the trip from Jamestown, TN, to Crossville, roughly 30 miles, felt like an eternity!
Then there’s the tiny bladder kids often have, or the inability to use the facilities at the pre-planned stopping points. Nope, I would wait until about 20 minutes down the road, usually with no exit in sight, and proclaim, “I need to potty!” This caused no end of trouble because it delayed the itinerary and annoyed the driver.
This was also back in the day when kids didn’t have to be buckled up in the back seat. You could spread out and sprawl out. Of course, if you had a sibling, as I did, this led to the backseat wars of the early 1980s. Seems some siblings thought they deserved a bit more terriroty than their younger sister simply by virtue of being born first. This, of course, was flawed thinking on the older sibling’s part and would lead to a counter-attack. Within about four maneuvers, the United Nation of Parents would have to intervene with a stern, “Don’t make me stop this car!” and each backseat passenger would return to their side, with an imaginary line drawn down the middle. The next 100 miles would be spent daring the other to cross it.
My parents didn’t care for the road trip when I was a kid, either, though I suspect the fact that “Are we there yet?” would begin about the time we hit Clarkrange and continue probably every five or 10 minutes until we rolled into Memphis had a little something to do with that. They made the trip regularly, but I seemed to find myself shuttled off to the grandparents for many of those trips.
As I’ve matured, I’ve learned to love the road trip. I think it’s great to drive as many places as you can. I think that because I don’t care for flying and because I like to drive.
Unfortunately, my schedule rarely allows for a leisurely drive across the highways and byways of the nation. I don’t have time to get my kicks on Route 66. I can’t stop at every roadside attraction and get my picture made beside a building shaped like a coffee cup. My road trips have destinations and timetables. I have only so long away to enjoy a vacation, and the less time spent on the road, the better. Sitting on a beach under a sunny sky enjoying a frosty beverage is far more relaxing to me then navigating my way around unfamiliar towns, fighting traffic and looking out for those speed traps that sometimes befall out-of-town drivers.
That’s why I have become very efficient in my road-tripping. I only want to stop if gas is needed. At that time, food and drinks can be purchased, but they’ve got to be taken along. This is not the time to stop and enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet. Get the fast food and get going.
As cars become more efficient, it can be more difficult to time your stops so well, so try to go for at least two hours between stops. Why is this so important? While a person on their own on a road trip may be able to stop and get back on their way in a matter of minutes, that time increases exponetially with each passenger added to the mix. In the end, you’ll be lucky if a half hour is enough time for everybody to stretch their legs, get their Diet Dr. Pepper, grab a Payday candy bar and get back on the road.
Directions are also good to have with you, but a map of some sort will also be needed. There’s bound to be a detour, road construction or traffic back up. Sometimes, the exit your GPS demands you take no longer exists or the road it thinks is there hasn’t been built yet. If you have a map or a smartphone with maps, or even just a willingness to stop and ask directions, you can often avoid those slow downs and direction disasters.
It’s also a good idea to start early or start late, as in late at night. Driving while kids are asleep can help those of you with children avoid the chorus of “Are we there yet?” and “Mom, he’s on MY side of the car!” Driving while most other motorists have stopped for the day also means less cars on the road, which means less cars on the road and less congestion, therefore, less headaches for the driver.
Of course, there will still be construction zones. In fact, many states pave at night, while many drivers are asleep, and you’ll need to be on the lookout for these strange lighted work areas. A speeding ticket is never pleasant (trust me on that one), but a speeding ticket in a work zone is going to put a big hole in your vacation budget and put some serious points on your driver’s license.
It’s also good to have some kind of distraction. I don’t care if you’ve got 200 hours of music on your iPod, you’re going to get tired of music after a few hours. Conversation will stall from time to time. Kids will get restless. That’s why road trip games were invented. Play some License Plate Bingo or the Alphabet Game and watch the time fly.
I hope one day to be able to sit back and enjoy a cross-country road trip. I think it would be great to check out some of the interesting places I often pass while getting from here to there. Until then, I’ll plan my road trips and make the most of my time away from home.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published each Tuesday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.