This week, my family is on vacation. More specifically, we’re on a road trip.
We left Saturday morning at the unholy hour of 5AM, van packed to the gunnels with clothes, books, toys, activities, healthy snacks, and high hopes. We were planning to drive from Halifax to Drummondville – a long slog, yes, but we’ve done it before, and as our ultimate destination was St. Catharines it made sense to get a good chunk out of the way on day one.
Never underestimate the power of novelty when trying to keep three kids under 10 happy on a road trip.
We stopped for breakfast in Salisbury, New Brunswick, and then settled in to get some miles behind us. We cheerfully told the kids they could watch movies on the portable DVD player all day; as unlimited screen time is something they almost never experience, it works incredibly well when we’re travelling.
Only this time, the player didn’t work. As in, the screens refused to turn on no matter how much cursing, swearing, cord-jiggling, muttering, and praying to unknown deities we tried.
This being 2015, we Googled “portable DVD players” on our smartphone, located one in stock at the Best Buy in Fredericton, pulled off the highway, and bought our way out of the problem in half an hour.
Back when I was a kid, this whole scenario would have ended up more like this:
Now, we never tackled any multi-province road trips as a kid. My parents didn’t get that much vacation time, our cars were never in good enough repair to go long distances, and even if we had gone anywhere we wouldn’t have been able to afford accommodations once we arrived.
Still, we did do long day trips by car, and man, kids today are SOFT.
First of all, seat belts didn’t become mandatory in Nova Scotia until 1985. I was seven, so I very clearly remember not wearing seat belts whenever they became inconvenient. Sentences like “just take your seat belt off and lie down so you can sleep, if you’re tired” and “unbuckle your belt so you can reach that thing you dropped on the floor” were common. Can you imagine such a thing now? My goodness, I get twitchy if I glance into the back seat and one of the kids is slumped a bit sideways so that the shoulder belt isn’t hitting them in exactly the correct spot.
Second, snacks & drinks. We rarely had either, because snacks made messes and drinks created the need for bathroom breaks. When some unfortunate child did need to pee, Dad would just pull over and we’d sprint into the woods beside the highway. My kids each have their own water bottle, and there is a selection of snacks to choose from; fruit, nuts, cheese… I can’t say that I haven’t done the side-of-the-highway emergency pee on this trip (there is a jersey barrier along the Trans-Canada leaving Montreal that my three year old christened rather gleefully) but generally speaking we stop at one of the many roadside options for a bathroom. Tim Horton’s franchises everywhere mean no one need squat awkwardly behind a largish spruce tree again!
Third, getting lost. Nothing like being in the backseat with your siblings and realizing that your dad was lost. You could feel the internal vehicle temperature dropping as the exchange between your parents went from pleasant back-and-forth to tense and laden words, bitten off hard. The tension would get thicker and thicker, until your mom would say maybe you should have made a left back there by that big church we saw, and then one of the kids would ask are we there yet and oh dear. But these days? There is no excuse for getting lost anymore. Smartphones come equipped with GPS and Google Maps. A wide range of disembodied soothing female voices can walk you through any navigational situation without all the tedious bickering and sniping. Sure, you can still go wrong, but you will never drive around in the middle of nowhere for two solid hours, certain that you’re going in circles but not clear on how to fix it.
Finally, onboard entertainment. For decades, kids damn well amused themselves in the car, first by playing things like “find all the letters of the alphabet in order from road signs” and then with a rousing game of “pinch your sister” once you got stuck trying to find a letter “Q”. Now, they have the aforementioned DVD players, tablets, e-readers… there are so many screens you can put in front of a road tripping kid now, and since they do actually help combat motion sickness, I’m all for them. Still, kids of today: please understand, this is LUXURY.
Do you have a road trip story to share?