I have really enjoyed all the family travel interviews I’ve done this year. They provide me so much inspiration, and the responses just ooze a passion for travel that is contagious! The final childhood family travel memories interview in this series is with — um — me. I hope you enjoy reading my little cruise down memory lane as much as I enjoyed writing it.
You can find more childhood family travel stories, as well as our family travel goal stories here.
What kind of travel experiences did your family do growing up?
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Our parents did not travel when they were kids, as was common for their generation, so their travel methods were completely self-taught.
Our family focused solely on road trips. Flights were out of our family’s price range (and way out of my mom’s comfort zone). Despite only driving to our destinations, we saw about 42 states and some of Canada, all from the windows of our station wagon. My sister and I rode tens of thousands of miles in the cargo area of the station wagon, facing backwards, with no seat belts. And somehow we survived.
Despite always being on a tight budget, our family did not camp. Neither of my parents was very outdoorsy, and they had no interest in sleeping in a tent or a camper. So we stayed in a lot of motels, with an M. I’m talking about the small, cheap, run-down, non-chain kind that were much more common back in those days. If we were lucky my parents would occasionally splurge on getting a motel with a pool.
I distinctly remember my parents borrowing my aunt and uncle’s AAA guidebooks to help plan the trips. These books were a gold mine of information back in those days. There was no calling ahead for reservations, no booking online, no cell phones. A significant portion of the late afternoon every day was spent in the town we hoped to stay in, driving to motels we found in our price range in the AAA guidebooks to see if they had vacancies.
Neither of my parents liked cities. Both grew up in rural Minnesota (as did my sister and I). My dad had lived in (and hated living in) Minneapolis, Detroit, and Chicago as a young adult. So we tended to steer clear of cities in favor of destinations outside urban areas.
How has your family travel experiences growing up affected where or how you travel now?
My experience of family travel with my family, coupled with my husband’s childhood experience of road trip and camping vacations, definitely shaped how we travel with our kids. Given their limited travel experience, our parents challenged themselves to step out of their comfort zones. The result was that my husband and I both got enough of the travel bug from our families to fuel our passion for travel as adults. We are trying to do the same with our kids.
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How has your family travel experiences growing up influenced your or your family’s travel goals today?
My parents were self-employed, running a main street retail business for many decades. They didn’t employ anyone, so that meant that when we went on vacation, the store was closed and no income was coming in. That fact was not lost on my sister and I, even as young children. The fact that they took us on two-week vacations every summer despite the financial toll on our household told us a lot about the priority they placed on showing their children the world. That has absolutely had a profound effect on how I now prioritize travel.
What travel habits did your family have that you still do? What do you do differently?
What we do that is similar:
- Road trips: We love road trips! We always take them to visit my husband’s family in Indiana, and we have taken them to many others to great destinations around the US such as Moab, Utah.
- The great outdoors: We definitely lean toward vacations that focus on seeing natural wonders like national parks. We don’t necessarily shy away from visiting cities, but when we do we make sure it’s as stress-free as possible (like taking Amtrak to Chicago or staying in a walkable city like Florence).
What we do differently:
- How we do road trips: My parents liked to drive every day for about six hours a day, occasionally stopping at a local historical society or a state capitol building. Every day, for two weeks. I hated that! My husband and I are much more prone to loading the bulk of our driving to the ends of our trips, and spending a decent amount of time staying in one or two main destinations.
- Flying: We are definitely open to flying!
- International travel: In fairness, the world was much larger back in the 70’s and 80’s. Flying was a much less common way to get anywhere. It was probably more expensive in relative terms as well, though I don’t know that for sure. My family wasn’t against international travel (as they jumped on the chance to help me take my first international trip to Hong Kong when I was in college). It was just out of their reach and comfort zone.
- Travel goals: We’ve created five travel goals for our family! You can read more about each of them and why we chose them) here:
What are childhood travel memories stand out the most for you?
So many of them! I remember seeing so many mind-blowing things on trips. But for some reason, my most vivid childhood travel memories involve car troubles and physical ailments. 🙂 Some highlights include…
- The car troubles. For instance…
- We blew a tire in northern California, and it was 110 degrees F on the highway.
- Later on in the same trip, we blew a tire in Mitchell, South Dakota.
- Another time we had car trouble in Trinidad, Colorado. We killed time walking up and down their main street, which had cobblestones that all said “Trinidad” on them.
- Then there was the time we had to replace the car’s exhaust system in Akron, Ohio, and my mom threw her back out getting out of the car at the station.
- Once we couldn’t find a hotel anywhere near Cody, Wyoming because there was a big rodeo, so we had to drive until midnight (skipping dinner) until we found a place with one room with one bed. My sister and I happily slept on the floor.
- Another time we spent one day in Washington DC (you read that right…see above where I explained that my parents avoided cities). My mom had thrown her back out in Akron, Ohio, and my sister had the flu.
- I also remember the time we couldn’t find a restaurant to save our life in Pascagoula, Mississippi. We ended up in a fancy Italian restaurant. I am pretty sure my sister and I were wearing grungy clothes we’d rode in all day, including tube tops.
Have you revisited as an adult any places that you first visited as a child? How was the experience different for you as an adult?
Plenty of them! Maybe my best example of this is that we had visited the Black Hills of South Dakota a few times growing up. It was only about a day’s drive west of where we lived. Back when I was a kid, the Crazy Horse monument was very much in its beginning stages of development. You could roughly see the outline of what the statue would look like, but very little detail. Fast forward to adulthood with my kids, and I was so excited to see that Crazy Horse now has a face!
If you have children, what do you tell them about your family travels growing up were different than now? What do they think is most interesting about the differences?
The biggest differences are probably:
1) The cars are much more reliable now than they were back then, as demonstrated by our string of car-related incidents on family vacations;
2) There is so much more travel infrastructure available to families now that there was back then. We traveled with a big cooler full of food because you never knew when or where you could find a restaurant. Fast food was not nearly as prevalent. Hotels didn’t offer free breakfast. And as I mentioned earlier, there was no internet, no home computers, and no cell phones, so therefore there was no searching an accommodations search engines, review websites, etc.; and
3) Road trips = endless boredom for children. There was no watching a movie or playing video games. Well, I guess there were a couple hand-held games (did anyone play Simon?) or reading a book, but nothing that would keep your attention for hours on end. I was very prone to motion sickness, so reading was out of the question anyway. I guess that’s probably why I look back on all the hours of driving every day with such disdain.
What would you tell people who are parents right now about how your experience of childhood travel has impacted your life?
Travel instills amazing memories for children. For me, even the memories of travel adversity make me smile. Your kids will someday thank you for the opportunities you give them to see the world. It may not always be pretty, but it’s always memorable.
Tell us more about your blog. Where can people find it, and how can they follow it on social media?
World is Wide started purely as a place for me to share our family’s travel experiences. I soon realized that my true passion was around helping families create and achieve travel goals, like our family has been doing in recent years. So you’ll find World is Wide offers families:
- Lots of general travel planning tips, and more specific tips and resources around creating travel goals.
- Our family’s travel goals are also outlined on the website. That’s where you’ll find most of our destination-specific information.
- You’ll also find travel nostalgia and inspiration from the travel interviews I’ve done.
- New to the site will be travel-themed decor and keepsakes for families as crazy about travel as ours, to surround their home with items that reflect their passion and share their families’ travel goals!