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A family road trip is about the journey, not the destination

• Apr 16, 2019 at 2:00 PM

It’s not just about the destination, it’s about the journey.

We just got back from spring break, driving 42 hours roundtrip. My husband prefers to do all the driving, which is totally fine with me since he’s the worst passenger ever. He’s like a driver’s training teacher from hell. But he’s also a trooper, and not only gets us where we’re going, but has built a solid reputation for buying bags full of candy and beverages at every pit stop.

We drive not just because it’s less expensive than flying, but because we like to consider our dog an important part of our family and take her with us everywhere we possibly can. Now I know that those of you who prefer flying likely can’t imagine the torture, but personally, I believe the drive is half the fun — seriously.

There is a car commercial out there that features a family driving while the voiceover from someone talking over the phone speaks of how great it is to fly and just get there and how she can’t believe they’d opt to drive. All the while the family is seeing wildlife and beautiful views. This ad truly resonates with me.

The first time I flew, I was a full-fledged working adult. As a child, every family vacation we took, we drove. Admittedly, there were times it was indeed torturous, but only because my dad is pretty renowned for being the most mellow person on the face of the planet, and I’m pretty sure we never even came close to reaching the speed limit.

However, I wouldn’t change those adventures for the world. They were days before DVD players and iPads and smartphones. Instead, we stopped at Mystery Spots and scenic overlooks. We sang songs and told stories. We played such classics as the alphabet game and looked for license plates from different states. We drove through tunnels in mountains and over hilly roads that made our ears pop. The funny thing is, I remember those drives as much as I remember the time we spent when we actually got somewhere.

If you think about it, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” would not be nearly as good if it took place on a plane, and I would argue that the best parts of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” were those on the road.

Unlike me, my kids have yet to fly, but they’ve had plenty of adventures.

When they were younger, they would get so excited — just as I had as a child — to get up early and wear their jammies in the car. It was a special treat to watch a DVD, but just as special were the things I’d pull from my “vacation bag” full of random fun stuff I’d buy especially for the trip. Sticker books, puzzles, new View Master discs, little crafts, magic pens and books on tape — they loved these surprises. But, to my delight, they also loved playing the alphabet game, looking for license plates, singing songs, driving through mountain tunnels and just plain being amazed at the views around them.

Yes, it takes what seems like forever sometimes. Traffic jams are certainly no fun (especially if you have to go to the bathroom!). But even now, though my son spends most of his time on his iPad or with his headphones on, there’s something about packing up the car, leaving early in the morning and making the journey.

We may no longer play the alphabet game or have a bag full of surprise fun, but we can’t wait to see who can spot the purple flowers first, to drive through the mountains, look for waterfalls and, yes, even license plates. We let out a cheer every time we pass the next state’s welcome sign, swear that we spotted Sasquatch, laugh at funny names of rivers and towns, and get excited when we can feel the air getting warmer. We have dozens of stories of seedy dog-friendly motels.

And when we finally get to where we’re going, one thing’s for sure: The fun doesn’t just begin, because it’s already been going on.

And that my friends, is why we drive. Because it’s not just about getting there, it’s about what happens along the way.

— By Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist

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