10 Reasons Why Your Next Vacation MUST Be a Road Trip
Every summer, my family visits our extended family in Upstate New York and New Jersey, where my husband and I are both originally from. For nearly all of the trips we’ve taken in the past 15 years, we’ve chosen to drive the 1,300 mile journey (with two kids) instead of flying. Most friends and family question our sanity, but the seasoned road trippers don’t. This latter group knows that nothing beats the freedom and flexibility of the open road– road trippin’ rocks!
Here are 10 reasons why your next vacation MUST be a road trip:
Get in your own car, with your own family — no one else is required. When you road trip, you are the pilot of your own adventure. No need to worry about unruly passengers on a plane or exposure to strangers’ germs in the cabin.
2. Make your own schedule
And once you’re in that car with your travel pod, you create the schedule. Gone are the strict rules and time constraints of airports and flying. Did you pull out of the driveway one hour later than planned? If you’re flying, you’re in trouble. If you’re road tripping, so what — you can easily make up that time with a shorter lunch stop.
3. Car rentals are crazy expensive
Road trips can definitely be done in rental cars, but the experience is much more cost effective in your own vehicle. Car rental prices have sky-rocketed since the Covid-19 pandemic, largely because the current demand for car rentals in the U.S. currently exceeds supply. According to The New York Post, the average car rental price was $63.75 in May 2021 — up 50 percent from pre-pandemic costs. Popular companies such as Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise all anticipated the August 2021 fees would exceed $100 per day.
My family’s expenses for each leg of our New Orleans – New York road trip — two hotel stays, 5 meals out, and 5 tanks of gas in each direction — costs less than half the price of a rental car plus plane tickets for the same period (3 weeks).
4. Bring your creature comforts
You can pack a minivan (or whatever road trip rocket you drive) full of snacks, drinks, hand sanitizer, but your options are oh-so limited on a plane. Nothing beats a mini-cooler stocked with Kool Aid and La Croix, and a mom-bag stuffed with everyone’s favorite snacks (our favorites: pistachios, peanut butter ritz, dates, and chewy bars). Our road trip ride also includes travel pillows, fleece blankets, yoga mats (for optimal stretching at each destination), and part of my 8 year-old daughter’s stuffy collection. None of that would fit in a carry on!
5. The journey is the destination
Being in the car together as America’s geography changes colors and shapes is an unforgettable experience. Yes, that closeness often warrants the use of noise-cancelling headphones (for everyone except the driver). Yes, you can also see awesome scenes from a plane. But that close proximity can’t be replicated. Our kids have endured road trips since they were babies (they’re now 8 and 12), but they still get excited about seeing state welcome signs, mountains, farms, and landmarks such as the Wytheville, Virginia Balloon Water Tower and Mason-Dixon Line. Overnight stays along the way have become tradition. In Chattanooga (Tennessee), we enjoy walking along the Tennessee River and swimming at the hotel pool, while in Winchester (Virginia), we explore the shops and restaurants of Old Town.
6. Stop at rarely-visited exit restaurants and rest areas
Road trippin’ often requires stops right off the highway exit, which sometimes means very limited choices (especially in rural regions). As New Orleanians spoiled by some of the world’s best restaurants, our family looks forward to the simplicity (and predictability) of eating at chains. Cracker Barrel (and its gift shop), Waffle House, and Red Robin are some of our favorites. Rest areas also often offer fun photo opps and free travel brochures (perfect for road trip reading). Our favorite stop is the Virginia Welcome Center (look for the large “love” sign).
7. Game-ify the experience
In Upstate NY, our daughter counts the different deer she sees along the road (the current record: 10). We also play “species of the day” (today it was a snake, yesterday it was a fox). You can make a game out of anything on the road — tally different state license plates, count the number of Honda Odysseys you see (including your own), research the tallest mountain, or play interactive apps together (our favorite: Exploding Kittens and Clue).
8. Make your own soundtrack
Search Apple Music or Spotify for road trip tunes, or start your own mix. Thanks to our trips, my kids now know all of my favorite 90s pop tunes. They also have come to expect a loud, karaoke-version of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” whenever we cross into West Virginia. And, in turn, we have learned to deal with repeated requests for Jo Jo Siwa, Post Malone, Imagine Dragons, and Demi Lovato (when Mom’s not napping).
9. Books, naps, and movies galore
I’m lucky: my husband loves to drive, and I’m an excellent passenger. I plow through books and podcasts when I’m not napping, daydreaming, looking up places for our next stop, or on snack-duty with the kids. The kids love watching their favorite movies on their tablets. Even if you are the primary driver, road tripping forces you to leave the to-do list at home. There’s no errands to run, house to clean, or appointments to make. The lack of these regular obligations is truly refreshing.
My family didn’t realize how much road trips meant to us until we couldn’t do them during the pandemic. We missed the traditions, the togetherness, even the tedium of mile after mile on the road. Most of all, we missed the chance to make new memories.
Road trips are like photo albums — large collections of mini-trips and shared experiences — to have and to hold. Even if the destinations are the same year after year, the memories will be different. As your kids grow, so will their perspectives, interests, and endurance for long miles on the road. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it — even if you don’t get addicted to the freedom of the open road like my family, you’ll remember your trip for many years to come.