Taking Road Trips With Kids: Then & Now

As a writer and Gen Xer, I'm truly fascinated by how different things are for our kids' generation, and I often find myself pointing out the ironies in the gap. For instance, the road trips I remember as a child were so very different from the way they are for my kids today. Sure, there are a few similarities -- we elbowed our siblings, rolled our eyes at our parents as they blared their oldies, and asked "How much farther now?" more times than the Smurfs on their way to visit Father Time. (How many of you were with me for that reference?)

And yes, my kids have to go to the bathroom the second we hit the highway, the same way we did, but that may be where the similarities end. Here's proof:


THEN: Wow, were our games complex. There was I Spy, Make the Trucker Honk His Horn, The License Plate Game, GHOST, Mad Libs, those Yes & Know invisible ink pads, the Wave Game, which was played in desperate times and consisted of you and your siblings waving at people in passing cars and then fighting over who got the most waves back (it was hard to really tell who they were waving at, but you were always convinced it was you) ... and of course my Dad's favorite, The Quiet Game, which earned you a whole nickel (no it wasn't wooden, I'm not that old).

NOW: My kids wouldn't even understand most of the paragraph above. For starters, they'd say, "Mad Libs is an app, right?" and the one time I showed them a Yes & Know Pad at a rest stop -- they oohed and ahhed like I'd shown them a stuffed horse head on a stick, "This is what you did for fun in the olden days?"

THEN: We brought our Sony Walkman and a box of mix tapes that were a compilation of songs we'd taped off the radio -- well half songs I should say -- as we were never able to hit the "record" button fast enough. We had those football and baseball "video" games with the dots that blipped across the field and, eventually, Gameboy, which gave me Tetris nightmares and had me looking at shelves at rest stops with the intention of mentally maneuvering all the Twinkies and Tasty Cakes onto the same shelf.

(PS: All of the above ran out of batteries halfway to your destination, as there were no chargers and the adults actually used the cigarette lighters to, well, light cigarettes ... I'm pretty sure 90 percent of the adults I knew smoked.)

NOW: Kids pile into the car with 500 DVDs, multiple sets of headphones, Sony PS607s, Kindles, iParaphenalia (pads, touches, etc.) with a thousand apps (the use of a cellphone as a hot spot), and enough adapters to fill every car lighter. (My kids, by the way, wouldn't even know the original purpose of those things.)

THEN: We fought relentlessly over what seat we got ... and there was a hierarchy: The BEST spots were the window seats. As fresh air was essential, being that you'd spend much of the ride in a cloud of Salems, or Pall Malls (well, in my case, a mix of that and pipe smoke). Of course, if you had a hatchback, you all go the best spot -- in the trunk with seats folded forward bed-style! The worst spot? The hump. Half the time the hump didn't even have a seat belt. Who am I kidding, seat belts were merely a suggestion back then anyway. If the secondhand smoke didn't kill ya, the lack of seat belts certainly didn't help your odds of survival.

NOW: Well, there's really no such thing as sprawling out because most of us, myself included, don't allow those seat belts to be unbuckled until the car is in "PARK" and the carseats we use have like 37-point harnesses.

(PS: I'm pretty sure I'll be making my kids ride in the back until they get their learners' permits, so calling "shotgun" would be futile.)

THEN: For some reason, no one liked to use the AC back then or much heat, for that matter. We were either sweating bullets with our heads hung out the window trying not to catch bugs, or slightly frozen in those gloves where each finger was a different person or watching our Freezy Freakies change.

NOW: Air-wise our kids are in luck. They don't have to spend 15 minutes trying to crank the window open (well, they can't open them at all, they're on child-lock), but no worries, there's an air vent approximately every five inches. I turn back to check on my kids and they look like they're in a photo-shoot.

THEN: Once all your batteries ran out, you were stuck bopping along to the oldies, though you could've gotten lucky and enjoyed a little Billy Joel, Hall and Oats, Styx, maybe some Donna Summers. I remember hearing a DJ halfway through a car trip announce that disco was officially dead. I think I cried for the entire second leg. "Why mom why? Will I never get to hear (such classics as) 'Hot Stuff' or 'That's the Way I Like It' or (my personal favorite) 'Disco Duck' ever again???"

NOW: My kids luckily have chargers at the ready, so it's up to them if they want to listen to my XM, angst-ridden '90s alternative, or my bubblegum '80s on 8. And yes, like any typical over-indulgent Gen X parent, I allow them to pick the stations when they grow tired of all the crap they insisted on bringing along.

(That wouldn't have gone over well with my Dad, who would've said, "You get to pick the music when you own the car.")

All in all, I'd say our kids have got it A-OK, though it doesn't stop them from complaining that they're bored every seven minutes. Next trip, we do it old school-style, and I'm sure all trips to follow will be a breeze.

What do you remember about your car trips in the olden days?

Image via JenEcards/TheSuburbanJungle

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