The Evolution of Road Trips

Having driven 900 miles over the last two days, I have been thinking about road trips. When I was a kid, the longest regular road trip we made was from Warwick, Rhode Island to Spring Valley, New York. The trip took about three hours each way. We talked, and looked out the window. We counted the number of Volkswagon Bugs we saw. We called them Beetle Bugs. We listened to the radio. Kasey Kasem’s American Top 40 was a favorite of mine. Around 1982 or so, we played variations of handheld electronic games, like Coleco’s Electronic Football.

Driving from northern Virginia to central Florida, we spent about seven hours in the car for each of the last two days. The kids watched shows on the iPads. Kelly watched shows on her iPhone. Sometimes the kids played games on the iPads, or colored in coloring books. For a few hours each day we listened to the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Occasionally we listened to the Holiday Traditions channel on Sirius XM. While I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, my favorite part of the drive was when the devices were silenced and I could look at the windows and watch the country roll by.

Trip Map
All of the trips we’ve taken since 2013, via our Automatic Link.

The kids are probably still too young to just look out the window and observe, but as I drove, I tried to keep my eyes open. We drove on Interstate 95 for most of the way, and despite it being a big interstate, there is still plenty to see. I was fascinated by how the road changes from one state to the next. I-95 is 3+ lane highway through Virginia. Somewhere in North Carolina, it squeezes down to 2 lanes in each direction. It stays that way pretty much through South Carolina. In Georgia, it becomes a 3-lane highway again, and it remains at least three lanes as far as we took into Florida.

There are lots of interesting roadside signs. I wish I could have grabbed some photos of some of the signs, or jotted down notes about them, but I was driving. The signs vary by region, too. In North Carolina, the adult store signs (Adam & Eve) compete with a variety of religious signs (“What if you died tonight?”). Approached the border of South Carolina, there is a Burma-Shave series of signs leading up to the famous South of the Border roadside attraction.

I’m always fascinated by vast farmed fields on either side the highway, and the single house that always seems to break up the farmland, as if someone absolute refused to sell their home. Dilapidated barns dot the countryside as well, fossils of an earlier time.

We zipped through countless small towns where life goes on as usual, while cars zip by on the Interstate. Henderson, Oxford, Dunn, Hope Mills, Lumberton, Ridgeland, Dock Junction. We zoomed along at 70 mph listening to audiobook, and watching shows, and these towns rolled behind us, virtually unnoticed.

I look forward to the day that cars are entirely self-driving. The kids could play their games, or listen to audiobooks, or nap, or color. Freed up from driving, I could pull out my Essential Geography of the United States of America map, and keep my eyes out the window, looking for the places the landmarks that show up on the map. It would feel less like driving, and more like experiencing the road trip.