My husband and I lived in San Francisco for a year before we were married. During our short time there, we didn’t sit idle. On the weekends, we’d head to Napa Valley, Carmel, Mendocino, and other amazing destinations – all just a short car ride away.
Back in the Midwest, where we’ve since got married and had two sons, we still pine for those amazing weekends spent along the coast. And, we joke about how a few hours in the car in the Midwest will only take us past corn fields and livestock and land us in Wisconsin, Indiana, or Michigan.
But, recently, I’ve grown to appreciate our Midwest summertime road trips, too. Why? Because, they've helped me better appreciate the area, the geography, the places, and the experiences.
Here are five reasons why I love summertime road trips:
1. My sons are captive in the car for several hours at a time. While the sheer thought of this may scare some parents, I actually love it.
With their seatbelts clicked into place, my sons suddenly share stories of camp, friends, and more. The conversation just seems to more readily flow out of them, and I find out more than I ever thought possible.
When the conversation slows, one of my sons will usually suggest playing a game they never would at home. “I’m thinking of” or “I’m going to a picnic” are two of their favorites - at least when they’re in the car.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We’re a modern family and our travel necessities most definitely include electronics. But, for the most part, I’d say my sons seem to be a bit more conversational when talking to the backs of our heads in the car.
2. You see unexpected, cool things. For some reason, when we’re on the road, I find myself calling out potential places to stop – as advertised on the road-side billboards.
Outlet shopping. Blueberry picking. The Chocolate Garden.
I tend to make my husband’s head spin as he searches for the next exit to take onwards to our next adventure – as listed on a billboard sign.
While some stops are better than others, they’re always an adventure.
For example, on a recent trip, I asked my husband to stop at The Chocolate Garden, which ended up being a small store with expensive chocolates and lots of breakable items. Not the best place to stop in with two young boys who've just been unleashed from the confines of our car.
While that particular stop was a bust for us, the journey wasn't. The road to The Chocolate Garden also took us past a Dinosaur Farm, with metallic dinosaurs frolicking in the grass. And, all the rest was forgotten.
3. You get to try new foods. As soon as we pack ourselves and our gear into our car, we feel like we’re on vacation. And, when you’re on vacation, you need to try the local food, right?
What’s a trip to Wisconsin without cheese curds or a bratwurst? A visit to Michigan without a pasty, fudge or a Vernors Ginger Ale? Or, even a stop in my hometown of Chicago without a Chicago-style hot dog, deep-dish pizza, or bag of Garrett’s popcorn?
And, who knew there was a "Bit of Swiss" – just across a few state lines in Michigan?
It’s all part of the experience – and a way to better get to know the local flavors, traditions and just have fun, too.
During a recent road trip to Michigan, we stopped at Grandpa’s Cider Mill in Coloma, Mich. The cider mill won us over with the invitation to try three flavors of their apple cider – for free.
There were 25 flavors to sample in all. So, we tried to divide and conquer on the samples.
12 samples later, we ended up walking with four pints of apple cider (peanut butter, caramel, cherry and red hot cinnamon) and two donuts.
Oh, well. We were on vacation – or at least a road trip.
4. You feel like you’re a million miles away from home – even when you’re just across the state line. At the end of a recent road trip, my husband and I found ourselves looking out over Lake Michigan – the same lake we gaze at from our hometown of Chicago – but felt like we were far away from the big city.
New Buffalo, Mich. is only about 70 or so miles from Chicago. But, looking west (instead of east) out over Lake Michigan, it made it easy for us to feel like we had escaped our daily routines, realities, and worlds for a little while. And, it made it so much easier for us to relax, looking out over the sanddunes and water that seemed to stretch for miles and miles.
As an added bonus, the idea of turning around and driving home wasn’t quite so daunting knowing that our mini-getaway didn’t take us that far away at all.
5. It brings up feelings of nostalgia for you – and creates new memories for your family. When I was a kid, my family drove everywhere. For us, a family vacation meant cramming into our Chevy Impala and driving to our chosen destination.
To this day, it’s hard for me not to immediately associate family road trips with stops at college campuses and historic battlefields – like we did so many, many times together.
While my family drives a different car, stops at different places, and my kids are in actual booster seats (vs. sharing a Chevy Impala backseat), the feelings of road-trip nostalgia still creeps up on me when I least expect it. Like, when we recently passed a billboard for a Big Boy restaurant outpost in Stevensville, Mich.
Until then, I had forgotten how my family sought out Big Boy restaurants when we were younger, stopping at each and every one along the path marked in our AAA TripTiks. Of course, now I can’t remember why…
But, it still makes me think about the road trip memories we’re creating for our sons now. And, I wonder about what they’ll be nostalgic for when they’re older, cruising around with their own families – here in the US or wherever their lives take them.
Do you like summertime road trips? Why or why not? Share your thoughts and your favorite destinations in the comments below.
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