Open Roads

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1998

Open Roads

Throw some juice boxes in the cooler, toss your tent in the trunk — it's high time to hit the highway
By Ron C. Judd


Oh, the Places You'll Go
Day-by-day itineraries for four family road trips

Baby, You Can Rate My Car
Mom and two kids test drive family cars around Sante Fe

Sport racks

Seventeen cup holders. Five airbags. A navigational computer and individual reading lamps. All of them are semi-standard equipment on your basic family road-warrior minivan these days.

Big deal. Install some armor plating under the front bucket seats, and road-tripping parents might finally enter their long-deserved comfort zone. That's about what it would take to shield Mom and Dad's posterior elements from the tap-dancing toes of little backseat Billys who, more often than not, register their displeasure at failing to stop at that last Bob's Big Boy by "accidentally" kicking the bottom of the driver's seat.

Since de-shoeing the kids upon entering the car is a
time-consuming and, if people are watching, potentially embarrassing prospect, it's best to avoid the cushion confrontation altogether by doing anything and everything possible to distract the backseaters. Including lying. And subterfuge. And downright extortion. If it comes to that. Seriously. A little fib here and there won't warp the morals of little Bethany and Jacob. The idea is to convince the kids they're really not confined to a three-by-four-foot vinyl, plastic, and glass cubicle for five hours on the way to Hells Canyon.

Try these road-tested remedies:

Simple road games. Tell the kids they get out of first-night tent-pitching duties if they can spell out the word "o-b-f-u-s-c-a-t-i-o-n" using only letters of license plates from states that have produced at least three U.S. Presidents. Five bonus points if the "f" comes from the license plate of a car driven by a man who looks exactly like Bob Barker.

Straight-on threats. Convince the tykes it really will be in their best interest to sit back and behave, using supportive inducements like this: "Hey Johnny. Remember that little missing boy we saw on the milk carton this morning? Well, I think he was kicking his daddy's seat right before he disappeared."

Ye Olde Payola. Forget about miles. Count time and distance in the universal language of summer-traveling kids: snacks-per-hour. The moment you depart, tell the children they'll be rewarded at a rate of one sugary treat per hour if they behave, e.g., "Hey, take it easy back there. It's only another twelve and a half Snickers to the Grand Canyon." And don't be thinking they'll lose track; kids these days come equipped with calculators.

A bit of history. At a rest stop on the way to the trailhead, take off your right shoe and, displaying the callus you've developed from 14 years of pressing the toe switch on the office Dictaphone, inform the kids that when you were their age, you had to walk the entire stretch from Boston to Yosemite.

If all those fail, of course, there's always that universal backup: Actual planning. It's a radical approach, but legend has it that a half dozen of our road warriors embarked on planned-to-the-mile road trips, all of which substituted out-of-car fun for in-car deception. Four of them survived. Their road-proven itineraries follow. Give 'em a try, but remember: Don't ever underestimate the value of a good bribe. Everybody has their price. Even people who are too young to figure the tax.

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