Road trips

Preparing for a road trip is not limited to the car

There are a lot of things you can teach your children about driving at an early age. ‘Making Good Time’ isn’t one of them.

I was doing a radio show about road trips. How to prepare your car, how to save fuel and what to do in case of breakdown. At the end of the interview, however, we finally touched on what I realized was the most important part of the road trip.

The driver’s state of mind.

We did a lot of road trips when I was a kid. We often went to the cabin and every few years we went to Saskatchewan to visit my grandparents so that my grandmother could tell my mother how badly we behaved. We behaved well; she just hated kids. She had married my grandfather when my father was 12 and kicked him out of the house a year later. She really didn’t like children.

We still visited them. It was during these long trips that I learned a lot about my father. He kept going back to prove to people who didn’t care that he had succeeded. I also learned that the whole point of traveling by car was to have a good time. Nothing else mattered. I have driven through this fabulous country several times since and in hindsight I wish we had stopped more. I wish we had a good time, instead of just having a good time.

And it is by thinking back to these trips that this interview took a turn.

Having a good time meant we would drive from dawn until dark. We begged to stop while it was still daylight, desperate to spend time in one of those crappy little motels that had a pool full of seaweed and a swing set with no swings. One after another passed, but we had a good time.

The driver has the best seat in the car. They have all the control. Children, especially now, are held hostage in car seats. Planning to work 10 hour days is awful. It’s a friends movie, not a family trip. Toddlers should stop and run every two hours. Children also have small bladders. My dad would say “almost there” until someone threatened to get wet.

My dad had a spectacular view. He would see things so far that we thought he must be lying, but no, that hawk or groundhog would come clean like he said. He was also driving too aggressively. I was raised thinking that the law forbade anyone to pass us. We were speeding down the road in our orange station wagon and if someone tried to pass us, my father would take it personally. Some of you reading this are familiar with this behavior. If there is someone other than you in your car, don’t. It’s terrifying and there’s nothing your passengers can do. Don’t be that person.

While we discussed driver behavior in the interview, we also covered other drivers. People who heel and pass, and pass again, and cut you off and teach you a lesson. On long car trips, you can get stuck with these idiots mile after mile. The tension in your own car rises because in addition to driving, you’re now trapped in a game you don’t want to play. I say give up. Stop for a break, grab a coffee and let them go. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that someone else’s actions aren’t worth your life.

The fact that I remember the way my father drove – too often full of anger against real or imagined enemies – always reminded me that our children learn to drive long before they get their license. They are watching us, and we owe them the tools to be calm and careful drivers.

Let’s get everyone home safely.

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