Are We There Yet? The Road Trip, Revisited.

Growing up in a large family in the 70’s meant that any vacations we took were done via large vehicle, driven for hours on end by my caffeine fueled father. Mom packed a cooler full of sandwiches, baggies of grapes, Oreos and the usual 70’s snack fare. We’d pile into the “maxi-van”, a huge vehicle that my dad had outfitted with a platform bed in the back and and an extra fuel tank, and head north to our family cottage in Door County, Wisconsin.

We left at night and dad powered though till we reached our destination around 6:00am with the help of his thermos of coffee. There were no Starbucks in those days, and with the added fuel tank, we didn’t need to stop for gas anyway. Looking back, I think the “all nighter” was my parents solution to keeping a van-load of kids quiet. Typically, we slept the whole way.

Rest stops were our only reprieve on the 8-10 hour journey (each year we took a summer and winter sojourn to our cabin and winter drives took longer due to the weather). Then the countdown of kids ensued before we got back on the interstate on our journey to the ferry dock, where we loaded the car onto the ferry and made our final leg of the journey to our ultimate destination to Washington Island, Wisconsin.

With a family of eight children, having a vacation home was really the only way we could travel. There were no ski trips to Vail in those days and trips to Disney did not happen until many of my siblings were up and out of the house and we younger ones got to go to Anaheim (aka home of Disney World) while dad attended a trade show.

Back then, vacations meant weeks spent exploring the woods, the rock beaches and the quaint town of Washington Island. In the summers, we swam, boated and walked around the town. My brothers shot “clay pigeons”. In the winters, we snow-mobiled, cross-country skied or stayed in by the fire and played board games. Often we brought friends along – at that point, we’d be taking two vehicles or my brothers would fly one of our small planes (the Island has it’s own landing strip). Looking back, it was pretty idyllic. Time slowed down. There were no iPhones, internet or videogames, yet we kept ourselves occupied.

Fast forward about 40 years. I’m now  the mother of two adult children with a collection of vacation photos from four Royal Caribbean cruises, several trips to Vail (still barely affordable with two kids) and numerous other “fly to” destinations.

We have taken some driving vacations over the years, but in general my kids have a much different view of what makes a family vacation than what I experienced growing up. Vacations have become a whole new thing. Exotic locations, exciting excursions and glamorous adventures are the focus now. Back then, it was more about just getting away and relaxing. Nothing fancy.

When we started discussing where we should go for this years Spring Break, we almost didn’t go anywhere. Taking a vacation at this time wasn’t required, wasn’t necessary and certainly wasn’t going to happen if we couldn’t agree on a place. One wanted a beach, the other wanted a trip to Yellowstone. I wanted to take a family trip during my son’s spring break and before my daughter started graduate school.

We had just gotten a new puppy and although I have a very trustworthy dog-sitter, the “vacation committee” mandated that we take Louie along so he could continue bonding with our family. No judgment here for as pet-owners know, we all go above and beyond for our beloved pups.

So, a driving vacation it was. And a destination that welcomed pets was a must. After much research (this is where google is a life-saver) we settled on Colorado Springs (14 hours drive time) and the Broadmoor hotel, where for a small fee, your dog can join you in luxurious surroundings (I know, not exactly roughing it).

For a family of four tall adults and a rather large, and growing puppy, none of our vehicles seemed up for the task of transporting us and all of our luggage across four states. The solution: rent a suburban. How we made it from Illinois to Wisconsin with a family of ten in a “maxi-van” is still beyond me.

Day one: load up the rental car with our luggage (which included and extra bag of “just shoes”) Louie’s necessities (dog food, leash, toys, blanket and “doggie playpen”), snacks (because even though we do stop at Starbucks, it’s ingrained in me to pack food, in this case; fruit, granola bars, pretzels, chips and fancy water). We make sure we have our phones, laptops, iPads and a dozen or so chargers. Sunglasses, check. Wallets, purses, check. GPS set and we’re off.

IMG_4012Louie the dog has the entire third row to himself.  It turns out that he’s a fantastic traveler. He settles in and either naps or looks out the window most of the way. Every two or three hours, we stop for bathroom breaks (for Louie and ourselves). All in all, its going great. We stop at a pet friendly hotel in Salina, Kansas. Thank you La Quinta Inn. Free breakfast and pet friendly, what more could we ask for?

I should back up and say that the scenery from Illinois to Colorado (most of it being Kansas) has not really changed much in the 30 plus years since I made the trip back and forth when I attended college in Boulder. However, this time I really noticed the beauty of the plains. Sure, it’s flat but something about the wide openness and the sprinkling of cows and farms along the way has it’s own appeal. It’s normal to yearn for beaches and mountain scenery when living in the Midwest, but its also important to appreciate the the unique prairie landscape.

Driving (or in my case riding – since my husband likes being behind the wheel) for long hours also has the effect of calming the mind, not unlike meditation. I always get a lot of thinking done while driving/riding in the car. Which is not to say that I didn’t also check my email, scroll through facebook and make a dent in my latest kindle read. But since I tend toward getting a little queasy when reading in the car, I spent most of the time just taking in the sites of Missouri and Kansas.

Day 2: after the complimentary  breakfast at La Quinta Inn in Salina, Kansas, we loaded up and continued West to our final destination of Colorado Springs. Today’s driving time was shorter (a mere 6 hours – plus stops). At a travel oasis in eastern Colorado, there was even a dog park. As it turns out, we are not the only people who insist on traveling  with their pet.  In fact, everywhere we stopped there were dogs, dogs and more dogs.

Side-note: I suppose we were trend setters back in the day when we brought our beloved family dog, Phantom (a mixed breed pup we adopted from a family down the block) along in the aforementioned “maxi-van”.  Don’t ask how we pulled that off. Scenes from the iconic Chevy Chase film  “Vacation” always come to mind when reminiscing family trips.

It may surprise some people to learn that the first time I flew commercial was when I was in the eighth grade, the afore-mentioned trip to Anaheim. Being from an aviation family (quick history: my dad started an aviation business which included an airport and several private planes) I flew in small private planes on a regular basis, but we never took the airlines. I now understand why. Imagine trying to wrangle eight kids onto a commercial flight. Even now, seeing what people with small children go through in airport gives me the jitters.

Back to present day. We arrive to unseasonably warm temperatures in Colorado Springs. We check into our two adjoining hotel rooms, complete with dog bed, bowls and treats for Louie and proceed to have a very nice four days hiking, sight-seeing and enjoying the property.

For those who haven’t been to the Broadmoor, I highly recommend putting it on your travel list. The property itself is nestled up against the mountains and surrounds a beautiful man-made lake and golf course. The amenities are wonderful and it’s obvious that they take great pride in their service. We were there in sort of an “off-season” but with record high temperatures we were able to enjoy the beauty of Colorado outdoors to the fullest. Well worth the splurge.

Then, as often happens in Colorado, a weather system rolled in. A snowstorm was predicted to hit the day we planned to leave. Several inches of snow and severe winds across eastern Colorado. We cut our trip a day short and headed back to Salina to beat the weather, stopping again at the dog friendly La Quinta Inn. Since this trip was taking place during March Madness, we were also able to listen to several of the NCAA tournament basketball games on Sirius radio (another amenity not available on my childhood family road trips). We also witnessed a semi truck blown over by the wind.

Day 2, return trip: we were all travel weary at this point but with the help of a few trips to Starbucks we powered on and my husband made it as the sole driver for this journey. The suburban we rented had a huge gas tank (not unlike the double tank we had on the maxi-van”) so we didn’t need to refuel after leaving Salina, however we did coast into Champaign on the reserve tank.  Joel assured me we had plenty of fuel to spare.. We also hit some thunderstorms as we made our way trough Kansas to Missouri which made me thankful we were driving instead of flying.

Arriving home, exhausted, we unloaded the suburban, said hello to our other dog (Dash,  who doesn’t travel well and had a dog sitter instead) and proceeded to reacclimate to our home. Laundry, mail, grocery shopping all awaiting attention.

This was the family road trip revisited. It was different than the road trips of my youth. Things are more convenient now and instead of ten of us, there were just four plus the dog. But some things are the same. The family time spent talking (or in some cases arguing), hours on end spent in a small spaces building “togetherness”, the relief of finally “getting there”, the enjoyment of seeing new things and experiencing the beauty of nature together, watching  the puppy just being his cute puppy self..  and just being a family.

Over time I’ve come to realize that family trips and the memories they create are so much more valuable than “stuff”. And I mean any kind of family trip. Doesn’t have to be fancy or exotic, although I wouldn’t turn that down. Some people like to rough it. Others like to be pampered. The point is, getting away and spending time with the ones you love, and with any luck, you’ll still like each other when you get back!

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