On the Road Again: Why Kids Today Don’t Know How Much Fun a Roadtrip Can Be

roadtrip (1) With the advent of summer comes a rite of passage in many families: The Summer Roadtrip. When kids today bemoan the horror of an impending car trip, those of us who are now of parental age are quick to remind our offspring that we spent our youths crammed into the backseat of a station wagon with none of today’s vehicular luxuries.

In the interest of determining who had to endure more (because there always has to be a winner), I thought I thought I would compare the two experiences.

1. Space

Under current state laws, children today must sit in a car seat with straps that resemble those worn by astronauts being hurled into space at 17,000 miles per hour.  Until they are 30.  Conversely, our parents discarded the death traps that passed for car seats in the 70’s by the time we were 2.  Thus on road trips we were able to climb around the car like spider monkeys on amphetamines, usually ending up in the way back completely prone in sleeping bags. With nary a seat belt in sight.

Advantage: Us

2.  Entertainment

Our entertainment primarily consisted of one thing: annoying the shit out of the poor sap who shared the backseat with us – our sibling.  Sure we played the license plate game, the alphabet game, 20 Questions, and cards (sitting up in the way back of course). But let’s be honest, 90% of the time, we were hovering our fingers or faces one fraction of an inch away from our sibling until they screamed “MOOOOOOOM! SHE’S TOUCHING ME!”  To which we replied, sweet as sugar, “I am not!”

Then the real fun began.  How close could you get without indeed touching?  Turns out, VERY close.  This was, naturally, accompanied by the melodious refrain “Not touching! Not touching! Not touching!”  This game would go on for hours.  Or until your brother reached out and smacked you.  And then of course he got in real trouble.  Man that was fun. Today’s kids, with their in-car DVD players and handheld electronic devices, know nothing of this joy.

Advantage: Us

3. Meals

Hands down, THE best part of roadtrips was getting to eat fast food.  And inevitably you could con your parents into getting you something they never would otherwise because it was the least offensive choice.

“Mom can I have a Coke?”

“No dear.”

“Okay – I’ll have the Super Sugar Orange Rocket Fuel then.”

“Coke it is.”

Today, parents are so organized and meticulous that they have coolers packed with organic fruit, homemade quinoa granola, and kale chips, along with reusable water bottles filled with filtered water, for snacks at regularly planned intervals.

Advantage: Us

4. Directions Between GPS navigation devices and smartphones, NO ONE gets lost anymore.  But when we were growing up, it wasn’t a real roadtrip until you got lost.  Because do you know how we figured out where we were going?  We used fucking maps.  If you were lucky, you had one of those giant atlas books but, more often than not, you had one of those fold-out maps with the entire east coast on an 11×17 sheet of paper.  Trying to figure out your exit in a split second with a magnifying glass is not as easy as listening to the lady on your phone chirp “In 500 yards, take exit 235.”  I hate that lady.

You might think this lack of technology was a bad thing.  But when your parents get lost going over the GW Bridge at 2am and end up in a burned out section of Harlem, well, that’s when the real fun begins.

Advantage: Us

5.  Conversation

Today, kids are too busy watching the DVD of Star Wars for the 85th time to even remember how to form words, let alone have conversations.

But we did.  After your parents finally put a stop to the “Not Touching” massacre, and you tired of 20 Questions, you would inevitably get around to just talking to each other.  Without the distractions of work or laundry or homework.  Stories about the summer vacations your parents took with their parents, tales about their crazy college antics, discussions about books, speculation about who had a crush on whom.  With the windows rolled down and the Rolling Stones on the radio, conversations about everything and nothing  rhythmically swirled around the car until you fell asleep on each other’s shoulders.  With the seat belts unbuckled.

Advantage: Us

6. Gas Stations

There were no 24 hour gas stations.  Hell, there were no gas stations where you could pay at the pump with a credit card.  It was full-service only.  And barely any of them stayed open after dark.  There was nothing like the exhilaration of driving on the interstate at night, wondering how long you could coast on fumes until you reached the holy grail of all roadtrips – the truck stop.  The people at a truck stop in the middle of the night were more entertaining than any movie ever made.  Plus, the only drink available was Super Sugar Orange Rocket Fuel.

Game.  Set.  Match.

So don’t be too jealous of kids these days.  They don’t know what they’re missing….



  1. As your older than your father uncle I would add that we two boys drove vast distances with our parents without air conditioning. This was the era of the front window vent that when deployed blew a firm stream of hot air directly on passengers and served as an exit option for cigarettes that did not require rolling down the window.

    There was no FM radio, only hard- to- tune- in local AM stations featuring sermons, on-air yard sales and country music.But at night, it was magical to tune in the AM dial and pick up WABC in New York City, WLS in Chicago, the official Grand Ole Opry broadcast from Nashville and WOWO in Fort Wayne. Try it with your kids…it still works the magic later at night when bigger city stations are allowed by the FCC to take advantage of atmoshperic conditions to transmit full strength across the country..

    Motels were mostly roadside cabins with pay black and white TV within walking distance of a greasy spoon. Holiday Inns were new and rare in the South but driving all night to lodge in a city hotel was a treat too: room service, room telephones, swimming pool, bell men and a restaurant.

    Your father and I misunderstood when a parent would say we were stopping to stretch our legs. We thought we were to “scratch” our legs, which they allowed us to believe for several years. The car would stop and out we went furiously scratching our legs.

    Your cousins B and Dan were taught to play Botticelli, a car game that kills highway miles much faster than 20 Questions…Ask your dad.


  2. This is so hilarious. I obviously don’t have kids, but I can provide some commentary as an “in-betweener”, late 20-something. I spend a lot of time driving up and down 85/95/64 and I inevitably – at least twice per hour of driving time – see at least two Toyota Sienas playing Frozen or some such variety from that nifty suspended television (you know, the one that folds back up into the roof when finished). And I can see at least two kids nestled safely in their vehicle strait jackets/space contraptions, and dad is usually following the Garmin while Mom reads an iPad or dozes in the front seat. This is a stark contrast even to our trips even 15-20 years ago….I remember my parents driving the three of us plus Mamis from Norfolk to Wilmington for Bernie & Katie’s wedding. We spent the first three hours or so playing those games you mentioned. We were finally allowed to turn on the TV to watch the movie Good Burger on a 10-inch TV w/ VHS; the TV sat on the floor between the two front bucket seats. We had to wait at least three hours to turn this on so that the cigarette lighter could actually charge the TV. Or at least that’s what Mom told us. For what it’s worth, Mamis laughed the entire movie, and we had fun recounting some of the funnier moments once it was over.