As a child my family didn’t go on vacation very often. My dad had a job that kept him working pretty much all of the time. When we did go on “vacation” it was always to visit family. Whenever possible we stayed with a family member versus in a hotel. Even when we did stay in a hotel it was always one room with two double beds in it. Mom and dad got one, my brother and I the other. We always drove to wherever we were going, in fact I only remember one trip that we flew for back when I was 8 years old.
Our road trips all followed the same basic rules. 1) we had to leave at the butt crack of dawn. 2) as we had a 2 door vehicle space was at a premium. That meant that we packed as efficiently as possible so that all our luggage would fit into the trunk, and any fun items my brother and I wanted to take in the car had to fit within a single backpack because there just wasn’t room for anything else. 3) once on the road we stopped as little as possible. If dad could manage it we stopped only for meals which meant you better use the bathroom before we left home and any time he stopped the car whether you thought you needed to or not because you never knew when the next opportunity would come along.
As we got older, riding in the cramped back seat of the two door car got even less fun. We took a trip 3-4 hours away from home when I was around 16. My dad is a fairly tall individual, standing just over 6 feet tall, so he keeps the drivers seat pushed fairly far back. Meanwhile by the time we took this trip my brother and I were both at our full adult heights, me at 5 feet 9 inches and him topping out at 6 feet 4 inches. Just climbing into the back of the car was a job and a half, and then whoever got stuck behind my dad (usually me) had to almost become a contortionist to get enough room to fit.
But overall, we made the best of it and I have really happy memories of traveling with my family. Fast forward 25 years to yesterday. Traveling to Notre Dame brought back a lot of memories of travelling as a child. It’s just my parents and I on the trip, so my brother is missing from the equation, but essentially it was the same format of an early morning departure and a whole lot of driving ahead of us. The big difference between now and then was the comfort level. We took my mini-van, and as I sat in the backseat I came to realize how much better my kids have it when traveling than I ever did.
We haven’t taken them on very many trips mainly because, up until this year, the amount of stuff we would have to pack to make sure the baby was taken care of just wasn’t worth it. We mainly travel within a 3 hour radius of our house, far enough away to feel like a vacation but close enough that we don’t have to take as much stuff or worry about what we’re going to do with the kids for hours on end. Not to say that the kids have never been on long trips. Brendan travelled 14 hours with me to my cousin’s wedding when he was about three and a half, and he did really well on that trip.
Aside from the massive amounts of crap we have to pack, taking the kids on vacation is a relative breeze. In fact, for these shorter trips we don’t even bother to have them pack a fun bag like I did when I was a kid. We have a rear entertainment system in our van and we just pack a dozen or so movies for them to pick from and voila, instant silence in the car. The best part is that Matt and I can still listen to the radio or CD’s while a movie is playing and our music doesn’t bother the kids, and their movie doesn’t bother us. The only disconcerting thing about it is that once in a while the kids will burst out laughing and because you’re not watching or even listening to the movie with them you have no idea what it is they’re laughing at.
One thing I think we did well with the rear entertainment system is that we do not allow them to use it unless we are going on vacation. This makes it a complete novelty to them and keeps their interest longer than it might if we allowed them to watch movies whenever they wanted to. We instituted this rule for a couple of different reasons. First, Brendan has always had a hard time ending movies or TV shows in the middle. When we offer a cartoon before school in the morning I have to really watch the clock, because if we don’t get it started on time they won’t be able to finish it and that causes problems. So the last thing we wanted was to be driving to the store, or out to dinner and either have to sit in the car and finish the last few minutes of a show, or go ahead and turn it off and deal with the aftermath of not getting to finish. The other reason we had for not allowing them to watch DVD’s whenever they wanted was because prior to getting the van with the system built in we had a travel system that we took with us on trips to allow the kids to watch DVD’s. That system was so fragile that we made sure it only made it’s appearance when we travelled. The kids had a firm understanding of our rules surrounding that system, so it just seemed easiest to apply the same rule to the new system despite the fact that it’s always installed in the car. We very rarely have any of them ask for a movie in the car, and it doesn’t take much to remind them that it’s not an everyday thing.
But beyond the improved electronics and fun activities the car has to offer, my kids really ride in a heck of a lot better comfort than I ever did. To make this trip we folded down my third row of seats to ensure we had ample room to store our luggage (though with just three of us, I’m pretty sure we could have fit the luggage in the back without taking down the third row), so in the “middle” row with me I had nothing but my bag of fun items, the same thing I would have had with me as a kid. Because despite being in my 30’s now I still pack a fun bag just like I did as a kid, and I still ensure that all of my fun stuff fits into a single backpack. The minivan itself is just so much roomier than the two door car ever was. I can sit in a full sized chair and have ample room for my legs to stretch out. My seat reclines so I can doze off an sleep in the car without getting kinks in my neck. I felt like I could move around without ever bumping into anyone else in the vehicle, something that I couldn’t say as a child.
And this is the comfort and luxury that my kids will get to travel with. The middle row of the vehicle has two captains chairs, and one removable seat that can be put in to connect the two. Since we only have the three kids we usually leave that seat out which leaves a path for the kids to get to the back row. The back row is your typical bench style back seat. But again, with only 3 kids we’re able to stick just a single kid back there, which means they get to spread out like I never could as a child. No one is near enough to fight over territory. That was something that my brother and I did on just about every single car trip. The fun bag was placed on the center seat between us to “define” our territory, and inevitably one of us or the other would scooch that bag a few millimeters toward the other which would spark a war over back seat space. I am so thankful that we don’t have that same fight with my kids.
Instead their fight is over who gets to sit in the middle row and who is relegated to the back. Personally I don’t think any of the three have a disadvantage, but I think the desire to sit in the middle comes from wanting to be more adult. The middle seat is shaped just like the “adult” seats in the front. It’s stupid I know, but that doesn’t stop them from fighting about it. As a temporary measure we allow the two boys to switch out the car seats every time we get in the car. It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Since Cameron still sits in a booster seat, you can tell where they sat the last time we were in the car, and you just tell him to switch his carseat and it’s done. (we learned quickly to make a rule that only Cameron could move his carseat–otherwise it became a fight over who got to pick it up and move it.)
At the moment Kaylee always gets a middle seat because until she can climb into the back and buckle herself she’s not allowed to sit in the back (because roomy as it is, the van is not a very comfortable place for me to stand in and try to wrestle a 2 year old into her harness…believe me I’ve done it). As the two kids get older, and Cameron moves out of the booster seat, we will probably change that rule but for now it works for us.
All I know is that taking a road trip has changed incredibly much over the past 20+ years, and my kids have it a whole lot better than I ever did. Lucky stiffs.