road trips

Museum exhibits celebrate the classic road trip

Interstate highways and the demise of Main Street America have turned many modern-day road trips into boring long hauls from here to there.

Brooks Stevens Housecar_bw

A Streamlined House Car designed by the Brooks Stevens firm of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, circa 1936. From a Private Collection / Courtesy Harley-Davidson Museum

Those yearning for the good old days — ones that may have included station wagons and stops at roadside attractions — might want to motor on over to two new museum exhibits celebrating the rise of car culture and the transformation of the family vacation into an American ritual.

On Saturday, the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, rolled out “The American Road,” an exhibit that uses hundreds of artifacts and many personal stories to examine the evolution of the quintessential American road trip from its early beginnings in the 1930s to what it has come to represent in our culture today.

“The 1930s was the decade when you had a lot of infrastructure coming into place, including improved roads, full-service gas stations, early auto courts and other services, so we start there,” said Kristen Jones, manager of exhibits and curatorial at the Harley-Davidson Museum.

In the early 1930s, there were about 160,000 travel trailers on the road, Jones said, so on display in the exhibit’s first gallery is a 26-foot house car designed by American industrial designer (and Milwaukee native) Brooks Stevens. “It’s built on a truck chassis and has many of the comforts of home, including a galley kitchen, a bed, a dinette and a bathroom,” said Jones. A 4-foot salesman’s model of a mid-1930s trailer is also on display, complete with a hinged top that opens to display details such as an upholstered couch and a tiny fake plant.

The 1950s and ’60s were the “Golden Era” of the American road trip, Jones said, when many people had more vacation time, and more disposable income, to travel. “During this time you went west not in a covered wagon, but in your station wagon, and from this post-World War II era of travel we have everything from a 1962 Ford Country Squire station wagon with wood paneling to neon signs that became important beacons to entice travelers to pull off the highway and into the lots of motels, eateries and other attractions and businesses,” she said.

For years, a classic American road trip was along Route 66, the highway that originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and now ends in Santa Monica, California. The highway and its history is the focus of “Route 66: The Road and the Romance,” an exhibition that opened on June 8 at the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles celebrating the decommissioned highway as both a road and a romantic notion.

“There are several Route 66 museums actually on the highway that look at the road’s history in that state or region, but we take a national view and look at factors that led to its creation and how it became a fixture in popular culture,” said Jeffrey Richardson, the Autry’s Gamble curator of western history, popular culture and firearms.

Among the 250 objects on display at the Autry are the oldest existing Route 66 shield, a handwritten page from John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” manuscript that introduces the term “Mother Road,” (one of the many nicknames for Route 66), a classic 1960 Corvette and the original 120-foot-long typewritten scroll of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Autry_JackKerouac On the Road Scroll

Jack Kerouac’s original On the Road manuscript, written in scroll form.

If you go:

The American Road” at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, runs through Sept. 1 and includes special meals in the restaurant and special road-trip themed events.

Route 66: The Road and the Romance” will be at the Autry National Center of the American West through Jan. 4, 2015, and also includes seminars, tours, family activities, films and more.

(My story about museum exhibits celebrating road trips first appeared on NBC News Travel)

(More) travel contests: because you can’t win if you don’t play


Must be something about the season, but there seem to be a lot of contests awarding travel and grand trips as prizes.  Give these a try and don’t forget to send me a souvenir if you win.


Nashville International Airport is marking the 75th anniversary of Berry Field Nashville, the airport’s original name and the source of its BNA airport code, with a sweepstakes that ends on June 1st. The prize: a trip to Nashville over the July 4th weekend that includes backstage passes to a fireworks event and performance, roundtrip tickets on Southwest Airlines, four nights at a Nashville hotel and tickets to the Grand Ole Opry. Enter here.

USTOA (the U.S. Tour Operators Association) has kicked off a four week Around the World with USTOA Sweepstakes with a different grand prize each week. This week’s prize: a trip to China! Coming up: trips to U.S. National Parks, Australia & New Zealand and to South America.

And Motel 6 is looking is having an Open Road Correspondent Contest. To enter, you’ll need to make and post a short (2 minutes max) video and answer a few questions in writing. The three ‘correspondents chosen will get to take a week-long road trip, with a guest to help out with the driving, and report on their adventures along the way.

The prize includes $5,000 for round-trip airfare to the starting point of the trip and for car rental, meals, gas and other expenses during the road trip, two iPads and hotel stays at, you guessed it, Motel 6 properties along the way.


Good luck!

Radical road trip: one family’s 11 year adventure

Lots of people dream of chucking their day jobs, selling everything and taking to the road for a trip around the world.

Few people actually do it.  Herman and Candelaria Zapp not only did it, they’ve been doing it for 11 years.

Here’s the story I wrote about their radical road trip – Are we there yet? Family travels the world for 11 years – for msnbc/ travel.

Zapps with car


Imagine traveling around the world with your family, by car, for 11 years straight.

For some it would be like a dream come true. For others, it would get old pretty quickly.

But Herman and Candelaria Zapp, along with their four children — all born on the road — are living the dream.

The Zapps are childhood sweethearts; they met when she was 8 and he was 10. The couple spent their first few years of married life putting down roots in Argentina, where Herman had his own computer and telephone IT company and they had a nice house with a swimming pool.

“Our family was happy with us. We had it all,” said Herman Zapp.

But something was missing: that around-the-world trip they had talked about while courting — and children. So, the couple set out in 2000 on a pre-baby road trip from Buenos Aires to Alaska.

“We were thinking if we have kids, we will never be able to travel. So we set a day to leave for Alaska and [planned to] have our kids when we come back,” Zapp said.

Never ending road trip
They didn’t get much support.

“Our family was saying that we wouldn’t make it,” Zapp said. “The most optimistic were giving us a week’s journey. No more.”

Not only did the couple complete their nearly 44,000-mile initial journey, but they decided to keep going.

Since then, they’ve been to more than two dozen countries and traveled at least 145,000 miles.

Each of their four children was born in a different country: Pampa, 8, in the United States; Tehue, 5, in Argentina; Paloma, 3, in Canada; and little Wallaby, 1, in Australia.

The Zapps homeschool their kids but also say the experiences they get are incredibly educational. “Imagine taking your kids and watching the space shuttle take off, looking at polar bears in Alaska, seeing kangaroos in Australia and learning to speak the language of the country you’re in,” Zapp said. “We call it worldwide schooling.”

Together, the Zapp family has traveled across Japan, Korea, Canada and New Zealand. They spent a year in Australia, 13 months in the United States and most recently visited Brunei and Malaysia. Along the way, they’ve had visas denied, close-calls with robbers and been served meals that included monkey and live ants.

Travel writer Pauline Frommer, the daughter of travel guidebook guru Arthur Frommer, has never met the Zapps but approves of their “worldwide schooling” approach to education. “My parents took me on the road at the age of 4 months,” said Frommer. “There’s no better education than seeing the world. You learn there are many, many ways to conduct one’s life, all of them valid.”

Zapp family car

Grandpa makes it possible

Timetables and schedules don’t figure into the Zapps’ plans. “It depends mostly on what a place has to show,” explained Zapp.

It also depends on where their car can take them.

For their entire 11-year adventure, the Zapps have been traveling in a 1928 Detroit-made Graham Paige (Model 610). They must stay away from highways because the car can’t go faster than 40 miles per hour.

Part tent, part kitchen, part schoolhouse and part rolling apartment, the car is definitely also a part of the family.

“We call the car ‘Macondo Cambalache.’ He — in Spanish a car is ‘he’ — has a first name and last name,” explained Zapp. Macondo refers to the fictional town Columbian Nobel Prize winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez described in his book “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” “Cambalache is the name of a Tango song in Argentina. But, between us, when we salute the car and ask him to start or to keep going even with that funny noise, we call him Grandpa.”

While driving from one place to another, the Zapps do what many other families do:

They sing, play games and listen to music. “Mostly everything is in Spanish, but we also sing ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm,’ ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’ and ‘We will Rock You,’ by Queen,” said Zapp.

Beyond transportation, “Grandpa” has come in handy in other ways. “I am not a mechanic at all, but every time we get a breakdown we get a new friend,” said Zapp. “Once we broke down in Puebla, a beautiful city in Mexico. When I opened the hood someone showed up right away and told me about a car museum nearby. We went there and they disassembled a car on exhibit to give us the part.”

Not only did the museum not charge for that part, but the town organized a fiesta for the Zapps, complete with a mariachi band and plenty of food. “Thank God we broke down,” said Zapp. “Otherwise we would miss the chance to have a party!”

The kindness of strangers

Paying for any trip can be a challenge. Funding an 11-year road trip for a family of six seems like it would be impossible. But the Zapps have been able to make it work.

In addition to watercolors painted by Candelaria and framed by Herman, the Zapps wrote and sell a book about their early travels, “Spark Your Dream,” from their car and from their website.

Businesses have offered complimentary services, such as car repair and shipping, and most nights are spent in the home of strangers the family encounters.


They’ve also received some surprisingly useful gifts.

In Texas, a Model T collector gave the Zapps a box to put under the hood. “We can put our eggs with water in there and in 25 miles we can have soft-boiled eggs. In 35 miles, we’ll have hard-boiled eggs. We cook so many things as we drive. When we smell it’s ready, we stop and have our lunch.”

Most recently, the Zapp family was touring Malaysia and, before that, Brunei. “It’s so easy to get around Brunei,” said Zapp. “You can’t get lost and you’ll bump into the border before you notice that you’ve passed the place you were looking for. Plus, there’s 20-cents-per-liter gasoline!”

When and where will the road end? The Zapps say they intend to keep going, but may take a break in two years when their oldest son, Pampa, turn 10.

Zapp family with car in Japan

What do you think? Would you do this?

(All photos courtesy Zapp family)