I love road trips.
I love the idea of getting in a car and driving across the country, seeing things you can’t see at home, experiencing places you only read about in history books or see in documentaries you stream on Netflix, eating food you can’t get close to home, and talking with people whose life experiences are different than yours.
I grew up taking road trips, thanks to my missionary parents. Every summer from my 1st grade year until my freshman year in High School, my parents and my brother and sister and I loaded into whatever vehicle we had at the moment and traveled from Seattle to Indianapolis, and then from there to everywhere else. By the time I graduated from high school, I’d been through the entire lower 48 states.
I’d seen Yellowstone. Devil’s Tower. Plymouth. Washington, DC. Trenton. Lexington and Concord. Niagara Falls. You name it, we’d been there. You can read about our country all you want–but when you start seeing it, living it, experiencing it, it does something to you.
It helps you realize that everyone isn’t like you, that there is greatness in people who talk different from you, who eat different foods. We share the same nationality, but we are all as wonderfully diverse as our country’s landscape. The coast of Maine is not like the prairies of Kansas or the tree-lined roads of Alabama or the huge redwoods of California or the small towns of Texas. And the people who live in each of these places are wonderfully different from each other, too. When you actually sit and talk to people, you realize that although we are different, we do share a common heritage as Americans.
So this is a value I grew up with, and something I am excited to pass along to my children.
People think we’re crazy. Six people in a minivan, driving more than 4,000 miles across the American landscape. But if you don’t drive that far, you’ll never see it. You can’t fly to most of the most amazing and beautiful parts of our country. And like the Pixar film Cars so aptly celebrated, if you don’t get off the highways and onto the old two-lane roads, you miss the small towns and amazing people that make America great.
In less than thirty days, our family embarks on our next great road trip. We will be traveling from Washington to Idaho to Utah, through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. We’re going to get off the interstate, on to some small highways, and stay in small towns and eat in local restaurants that aren’t part of a large corporation. We will visit National Parks like Arches, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Joshua Tree, and more. (Yes, we are squeezing in a day at Disneyland, but that’s just a bonus.)
As the National Park system celebrates 100 years, there’s nothing better than getting in the car and going. Get out of your routines and the normal places you travel. Sure, it make take some getting used to, driving hundreds of miles for hours to get to a location, but when you get to see the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains, experience the heat of the afternoon sun and the clearest skies in the United States at Rocky Mountain National Park, you realize it’s worth it. Visit Wall Drug, drive on Route 66, and walk the towpath of the Erie Canal–and talk to the people in these places and discover just how great these crazy places, and the people who live near them, actually are.
If you need to stay closer to home, that’s fine, too. But don’t be content to just stay at home, and don’t get on a plane. Visit a local National Park (they are all over the place, and sometimes they are in your backyard–we just visited the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Preserve a short drive from our home and loved it), take a drive and get ice cream at a local place, stop at small store and get a soda. There’s a lot of fun to be had out there, you just need to get out and find your family’s adventure. You’ll discover you have a lot more in common with folks than you realize, and you’ll have some fun along the way.
It’s just a thought, but maybe if we all took a few more road trips and traveled through the towns and neighborhoods of our country, seeing just how incredibly beautiful it is, we’d see each other in a different light, too. There’s a huge value in the road trip experience, because not only does it create memories and bring your family closer together, it can bring you closer to the incredible ties we share as Americans.