This expression may not be familiar to you, but in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s this jingle was used in television commercials for Chevrolet cars. I remember Dinah Shore, a talk show host, singing this catchy phrase, and more recently it was revived during a Super Bowl ad by the cast of Glee; and while none of you drive Chevrolets, the message is a good one. See the U.S.A.! And the best way to do this is by taking a road trip – even if it’s in a Honda.
I was lucky to have parents who subscribed to this philosophy. We packed our car and drove somewhere every summer for a yearly vacation. When we lived in Indiana these trips were always to Florida. How could you let a summer go by without a trip to the beach? But, we did visit a variety of beaches in Florida – Sarasota, Daytona, Ft. Lauderdale, and Jacksonville are ones that I remember vividly. And while the destination was important, the road trip itself was always memorable – not just the karate chops exchanged in the backseat or the drawing of lines (imaginary lines) down the seat to divide our space, but the songs that were sung, the games played, and most of all the sights along the road.
I learned more about U.S. geography and history from those trips than from classes in school. We looked at maps, planned routes, found destinations to visit, explored cities, marveled at the differences in landscapes, and recognized every state’s license plate and every sign with the letter q or z from a mile away to provide the needed edge in one of the competitive games played along the route. We saw the wildlife, predicted arrival times, and figured gas mileage along the way, but most of all we really did “see the USA”.
Later when we were Florida residents the destination of these yearly vacations changed to North Carolina because of course once you live near the beach you want to relax in the mountains. Here we developed a love of camping and tubing. We visited new places, traveled different roads, and fell in love with another section of the country. In fact, without these vacations to the mountains, I may not have gone to Western Carolina University. In which case I wouldn’t have met your dad and you wouldn’t be reading this now.
Probably the best road trip of my youth was when we took six weeks to follow Ethan Allen’s advice, “Go west young man!” With a motor home loaded down, we went to the Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Mesa Verde. Grandpa, Jeff, and Carol Jean rafted down the Colorado River while Grandma and I rented a jeep and explored the desert near Arches National Park. We played in snow, hiked in the woods, rode horses and donkeys, camped just off the highway one night when we couldn’t find a place to stop, and spent an afternoon with Hell’s Angels (hundreds of motorcycle riders) in the middle of nowhere. We saw wild animals and grandma insists that she encountered a panther outside the camper one night when she took a ham off the grill. But we also really saw the country when we bought crafts from a Navaho woman who came to our camper, when we climbed the rock formations in Monument Valley, when we drove for hours through Kansas and saw nothing but wheat. We marveled that there could possibly be too many people on earth, or at least in the U.S. when we could go days and only see a handful of people.
I hope you have fond memories of our road trips – sometimes by car, other times in a motorhome. Regardless of whether we stayed in the state or flew somewhere and then began our adventure, we tried to see the U.S.A.; and sometimes we were even in a Chevrolet!
Florida trips to the state parks, the Keys, or beaches were ways to get to know our state better whether that was paddling a canoe, searching for tacky tourist traps, hunting for delicious food, biking the trails, or doing the Sanibel stoop looking for shells. We’ve done our share of exploring north Georgia and western North Carolina enjoying nature. And if course National Parks have been popular spots for our family road trips – the Everglades, Gettysburg, the Smoky Mountains, Acadia, Glacier, Yellowstone, Redwoods, and the San Juan Islands are just a few of these adventures. We’ve hunted black bears and grizzlies, moose, sea turtles, eagles, pronghorn, elk, killer whales, and always deer. I hope these experiences have helped you develop an appreciation for the land, people, and resources in the good ole U. S. of A.
You don’t have to have a lot of time or money to have fun on a road trip. Sure it would be great to go to California or Minnesota or Alaska, but there are many places waiting to be explored much closer to home. A long weekend, even a single day can turn in to an amazing adventure. There are numerous scenic drives of less than 100 miles throughout Florida. Maybe you should visit the Bok Tower which Dad’s grandfather helped construct or you may want to go to Amelia Island or Fort DeSoto. Plan a canoe trip, biking trip, or camp – little money and lots of fun.
Head to Savannah, Calloway Gardens, or Charleston. Visit Janice in Hilton Head or Nancy in Nashville. Staying with friends or relatives is a great way to cut expenses. Turn a sporting event into a road trip and don’t forget to find out about local restaurants! Southern Living and The Food Network have terrific websites with great recommendations.
Don’t get discouraged if longer trips aren’t realistic at this time. There were many years that we stayed close to home and still had a wonderful time. There will be plenty of time for longer adventures and that just builds up the anticipation. I know Dad looked forward to visiting the Grand Canyon for nearly 20 years. This is a big, wonderful country. I don’t think you’ll run out of destinations.
So let me know if you need to borrow a tent, sleeping bags, or other camping equipment. Give me a call if you need help using Priceline to find a hotel. Take plenty of pictures and share. We’re always looking for a road trip idea.
By the way, cities can be great destinations as well, but they are typically more expensive. However, if you’re looking for a city adventure, try Washington, D.C. While hotels aren’t cheap and you’ll have to buy food, EVERYTHING else is free! You can even save a little by staying outside the city and using the Metro. What a deal!