road trips

Road Trip Memories

Courtesy Library of Congress

Road trips can evoke nostalgia for childhood, family, and adventures. And for many people, there are objects and in-the-car experiences indelibly tied to those journeys. 

For some, it is a game, a song, a special snack, the seating arrangements, or a life lesson.

Here are some road trip memories we gathered for a story that ran on AAA Journey.

Please feel free to add your own road trip memories in the comments.

Windshield Duty

As a kid on family road trips, “I was too young to drive, had no radio rights and no money to contribute for gas or snacks,” says Michael Ashley Schulman, who grew up to be an investment officer in Southern California.

But Schulman could help wash the windows when the family stopped for fuel during road trips.

“To this day, swirling a sopping wet sponge on a stick across an insect-laden front windshield, cleanly squeegeeing the water in long methodical swipes with a rubber blade, and then wiping the run lines down with gas station brown paper reminds me of childhood summer road trips across America,” Schulman says.

Music and Singing

Peg Boettcher remembers driving with her family from Illinois to California in a blue-and-white finback station wagon when she and her brother were, respectively, 3 and 4 years old.

“We sang B-I-N-G-O all the way there,” says Boettcher, “And when we reached our destination, we were forbidden from ever singing that song again. When I hear that song now, I think of my poor dad white-knuckling it for days.”

When he was a kid, “no movie made a greater impression on me than ‘Rocky,’” says Baruch Labunksi, a digital marketing entrepreneur in Toronto. “Sylvester Stallone was every man, and I remember wanting to know what it would feel like to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art like he did in the movie.”

When his family drove from Toronto to Philadelphia, Labunski’s parents played the Rocky soundtrack along the way, timing it so that the move theme song, ‘Gonna Fly Now,’ was playing as they approached the art museum. “Now, I always make a playlist for road trips, and I’ve even made ones afterward to commemorate a trip,” Labunski says.

Treats, Games, and Souvenirs

For Heather Clardy Dickie, a creative director based in Dallas, road trips were all about the hidden treats.

“Mom bought dime store toys and hid them around the car,” Dickie says. “We had many cross-country family trips, and these judiciously timed offerings distracted my little brother and me from the pent-up restlessness and the outbreak of sibling wars. The toys led to game-playing and, most importantly, preserved my dad’s sanity.”

David Shaw, now a facilities director in Pittsburgh, was the youngest of 12 kids. He says when he was growing up, the family vacations always involved car trips to see older siblings that had moved away.

“We always stopped at the first Stuckey’s [a highway truck-stop chain]. My mom would get butter pecan ice cream, and we would pick up Mad Libs,” Shaw says. “On the road, we would play games such as Punch Buggy, I Spy With My Little Eye, and spot the license plate from the farthest away state.”

Seattle cookbook author Cynthia Nims associates road trips with games, including “one that had things to look for (a cow, a water tower, etc.) and a little red window to cover items after you’d seen them. I haven’t thought about that in years.”


Boston-based travel writer Keri Baugh says Chex Mix always reminds her of road trips in the 1980s. “That snack, coupled with canned/powdered Lipton iced tea in a cooler immediately takes me back to that long road trip from Pittsburgh to Orlando,” she says.

For Shelia Jaskot, a media consultant in Silver Spring, Maryland, it is Cheetos. “Growing up my parents never let us eat anything in the car. I thought it was normal. I never knew people ate food on road trips until I started driving myself,” Jaskot says.

Now when she takes road trips with her husband, they buy a bag of puffed Cheetos (she stays away from them at home because they are high calorie and messy). “They can be dangerous, but sometimes a yummy snack is worth the long drive,” she says.

Memories of Lost Items

On long road trips, treasures and essentials like food, books, stuffed animals, and sunglasses may get lost.

For Eric White, an account director who lives near Chicago, it was a tiny set of keys.

“In the mid-80s, when I was 6 or 7 years old, the family was on a road trip from Illinois to the ‘West,’ and, at Wall Drug [a tourist mall in South Dakota] I bought a pair of handcuffs,” White says. “Soon after, with the handcuffs on, I lost the keys through the back of the seat. The next stop was Mount Rushmore, where my parents made me wear the handcuffs. When we returned to the car, they cut me loose from them with a paperclip. Oh, the memories!”

Roadside Stops

Road trips often involve scheduled or — better yet — unscheduled detours to visit roadside attractions such as the Oregon Vortex in Gold Hill, Oregon, or the World’s Largest Frying Pan in Long Beach, Washington.

Negotiating for those stops can be a memorable road-trip tradition.

“We had property up near Darrington, Washington, on the Stillaguamish River that we would visit during the summer,” says David Lynx, director of the Larson Art Gallery at Yakima Valley College. His dad would often pull off the highway for a trip through the giant drive-through cedar stump on Highway 99, which is now a walk-through attraction at the Smokey Point rest stop near Arlington along I-5.

“It was always fun for us kids, but my dad got tired of this over the years,” Lynx says. “So, he would drive past it and tell us, kids, that we would go through it on the way back. The only thing was that you couldn’t reach it when you were traveling southbound because the stump was on the northbound side of the highway.

“It took us a couple of times, but we learned that trick.”

The (Not So) Impossible Road Trip

Icy snow is covering our town. So we spent the holiday weekend just dreaming of places we want to go and making a list of new and old favorite sights we want to see in the new year.

The Impossible Road Trip – An Unforgettable Journey to Past and Present Roadside Attractions in all 50 States” turns out to be a great aid to our adventure planning

When the book by Eric Dregni first showed up at our house, we thought the “impossible” in the title meant the book was all about historic roadside attractions and quirky destinations across the United States we’d never get to see.

But now that we look closer, we see that the long-gone spots mentioned here simply offer context for all the corny, quirky, and unique places that are still around.

Like the Big Duck in Flanders, NY. The World’s Largest Buffalo Monument in Jamestown, North Dakota. The Cardiff Giant in Cooperstown, NY, And many places across the country where you can spot statues of dinosaurs, muffler men, and Paul Bunyans

Here’s a look inside the book, which includes infographic maps, themed roundups, and some wonderful photographs taken by the late architectural critic and photographer John Margolies.

We checked to see if some of our favorite attractions in Washington were included and were pleased to the Zillah’s Teapot Dome Gas Station and Seattle’s Hat ‘n’ Boots included. (These photos are not from the book).

Courtesy VIsit Yakima

Ready for July 4th travel adventures?

(This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News)

Swimsuit packed? How about your patience?

If you are heading out of town for the July 4th holiday weekend, you will likely need both.

More than 47.7 million Americans will on the nation’s roadways and in the skies during this Independence Day holiday, July 1–5, says the American Automobile Association (AAA).

That will be very close to pre-pandemic levels and the second-highest Independence Day travel volume on record.

In normal times holiday travel can be frustrating. But as the nation makes its way out of the pandemic, there is a lot more than usual riding on this weekend.  

Road Trips Still Rule

Despite the shortage of rental cars and the highest gas prices in seven years, AAA expects more than 91% of holiday travel will be by car. An expected 43.6 million Americans will drive to their destinations, says AAA. That the highest on record for this holiday and 5% more than the previous record set in 2019. 

All those cars hitting the road means congested highways.

“With travelers eager to hit the road this summer, we’re expecting nationwide traffic volumes to increase about 15% over normal this holiday weekend,” says Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst with INRIX. “Drivers around major metro areas must be prepared for significantly more delays.”

In addition to loading up tunes and travel apps, experts suggest holiday road trippers do a refresh on safe following distances and remember that many motor home drivers are still getting used to maneuvering their new RVs.

Advice for Air Travelers

3.5 million people are planning to fly over the July 4th holiday, and air travel volumes are expected to reach 90% of pre-pandemic levels. That is an increase of 164% compared to last year, says AAA.

Earlier this month, analysts at travel site Hopper said a good deal on domestic airfare for July 4th was around $302 round-trip and $775 round-trip for international travel, on par with 2019’s July 4th prices. Prices will, of course, spike closer to holiday weekend, when Hopper expects average domestic round-trip prices to be closer to $500.  

If you do not have tickets yet and are determined to fly somewhere, Hopper economist Adit Damodaran suggests checking with low cost/budget carriers, such as Southwest and Spirit, especially on their new routes. Newcomers Breeze and Avelo, serving secondary airports, may still have good fares as well.

Getting through airports during holiday weekends was frustrating before the pandemic. This year, it could be much worse, due to a temporary shortage of TSA officers, airline staff, and airport shop and restaurants workers. Add to that new airport protocols, the rash of unruly travelers, and passengers who show up at the security checkpoint with everything from oversized liquids to guns and other prohibited items because they’re forgotten how to pack.  

“The challenge will be to keep things moving smoothly,” says Sherry Stein, Head of Technology for SITA, an air transport technology company. But “mobile-enabled technology such as self-service bag tag kiosks that limit contact while improving efficiency” will help.

What about buses and trains?

Southwest Chief near Fishers Peak, Colorado.

AAA expects 620,000 Americans to travel by bus, train, and other modes this holiday weekend, an increase of over 72% compared to last year.  

While overall ridership on Amtrak is running at about 55% of pre-pandemic levels, says Doug Duval, an Amtrak spokesman, “We are currently showing riders down 14% compared to FY19. This is trending to be the best holiday since the pandemic started.”

Bus ridership is on the rise too, says Jan Jones, program coordinator for the Hospitality and Management program at the University of New Haven.  

But staffing is a problem here too. “During the pandemic, bus lines furloughed and laid off many employees, “Drivers aren’t rushing back,” says Jones, “So, July 4th travelers may be limited in terms of where they can go by bus.”

Hotels and campsites

TripIt trip planning company reports that lodging reservations are well above the reservation volume for last year, at 163% of 2020 bookings. 

Many travelers have already booked their July 4th hotel stays and desirable properties in popular destinations, such as Hawaii, Florida and beach destinations in Maryland and South Carolina may already be filled up or showing high prices.

But late planners are not totally out of luck. “If you know the hotel or hotel brand you want to stay with, try their mobile apps or websites because they usually offer a best rate guarantee,” says Paul Barron, EVP Marketing, Hospitality at Amadeus. Loyalty program members booking directly on a hotel website often receive personalized offers not available on other sites, he added.

Campgrounds and RV resort operators are reporting higher than usual bookings for this July 4th holiday too. But not all spots are taken; websites for camping enthusiasts, such as, are reporting plenty of vacancies still available.

Too daunting? Ditch the drama.

While you may be itching to get back to big cities and popular tourist locales, for this July 4 holiday, “You will likely find more availability for flights and hotels or vacation rentals near smaller towns,” says Jen Moyse, Senior Director of Product for TripIt.

Or do a pivot and “don’t travel at all,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Jessica Scot, of Denver’s J. Scott Travel. “Instead, spend the long weekend penciling out your travel schedule for the future. If there is anything the pandemic taught us, it is not to wait to take that dream trip, or to visit a far-away friend or family member.”

Ready for the summer travel tsunami?

(This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News online)

Summer travel may cause some headaches

Memorial Day weekend and a unusual travel season are just around the corner.

Experts expect a summer travel tsunami fueled by a dip in Covid-19 infection rates, rising vaccination rates, and the reopening of attractions, resorts, and other tourist destinations.

AA predicts that 34 million Americans will take road trips 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday, May 27-31. That is a 52 percent increase compared to last summer — although still about 9 percent below the pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

More than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) plan to take trips this summer, according to the latest results of a Harris Poll survey.

But with everyone rushing to go somewhere – anywhere – travelers may find their dream destinations hard to book or sold out already.

“Travelers should be aware that there is still limited supply, as airlines haven’t brought back fleets in full, there are hotels that haven’t opened or are at limited capacity, and car rental fleets are still reduced,” said Kelly Soderlund of travel management company TripActions. She advises travelers determined to hit the road this summer to book as arly as possible to avoid being disappointed by a lack of inventory or by high prices.

Here are some of the summer travel “hiccups” travelers may encounter — and some tips for how to handle them.

High Gas Prices

AAA says motorists will be met with the highest gas prices since 2014.

Gas prices were expected to flirt with $3 per gallon leading up to Memorial Day weekend. But last week’s shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline caused prices to spike weeks ahead of the holiday.

“Americans will still take their road trips,” says AAA spokesperson Jeanette McGee, “They just may not travel as far as originally planned and may spend a little less.”

To save money on gas, make sure your car is tuned up and your tires are properly inflated, join gas station rewards programs, and download one or more gas price apps to your smartphone so you can compare prices on the road.

Crowded planes, high ticket prices

Right now, flights are 77 percent full on average, compared to 85 percent to 90 percent pre-pandemic, said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “But hidden under that topline average is the fact that popular leisure flights to places like Hawaii and Florida are regularly seeing completely full planes. With Memorial Day such a popular time to travel, expect airports to be crowded and planes filled to capacity.”

While the dirt-cheap fares airlines floated during the pandemic are long gone, there is some good news for air travelers.

“Two new budget airlines, Avelo and Breeze, will introduce more low-fare seats and increase competition,” said travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research. In addition, “United Airlines just announced it is adding more domestic flights, and Southwest is adding new flights between the mainland U.S. and Hawaii.”

Long lines at security checkpoints

Passenger volumes continue to rise at airports across the country. In many airports, that means the return of long lines at security checkpoints.

“We are encouraging people to arrive at their airports early, like they were asked to do prior to the pandemic,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

Expect longer lines at airports where the TSA is short-staffed and unable to open all checkpoints during the busiest times. Elsewhere, lines may stretch out because passengers who have not flown in the past year have rusty packing skills. In addition to finding a lot of oversize liquid containers in travelers’ carry-on bags, TSA officers are finding that many passengers are still forgetting to leave their firearms at home.

For a refresh on what can be put in carry-on bags, travelers can consult TSA’s “Can I Bring?” feature online and on the MyTSA app or tweet to @AskTSA.

High Hotel Rates

Have your heart set on a beach vacation? So does everyone else. So this summer is an especially good time to seek out hotels in secondary or alternative cities.

For example, Adit Damodaran, an economist at Hopper, a price comparison site, found that while hotels in Southeastern beach destinations, such as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Galveston, Texas; and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are booking up quickly, hotels in Florida towns with similar vibes — like Jacksonville, Tampa, Fort Myers and Daytona Beach — are showing increased availability.

Elusive rental cars

During the pandemic, many car rental companies sold off big chunks of their fleets. Now, many Americans who hope to rent cars for summer road trips are finding cars unavailable or renting at a premium.

To increase your chances of finding a rental car for this summer’s vacation, Priceline and others suggest booking your car at the same time as, or even before, you book your flights, booking a travel bundle that includes a car rental, checking for cars at off-airport locations and exploring services such as Zipcar and peer-to-peer car-sharing programs.

Shifting protocols

This summer, “travelers researching a destination will need to pay attention to how that location is handling Covid protocols and what might be expected of you as a visitor to the community,” said Tori Middelstadt of Oregon’s Willamette Valley Visitors Association.

That includes noting and adhering to the rules about masking. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people can forgo wearing masks indoors and travel in the U.S. without getting tested before or after they travel.

But a federal rule not set to expire until Sept. 14 requires that masks be worn when traveling by air, rail, or bus. Cities, states, and individual businesses are still able to set their own rules.

The current unknowns of travel and the pressures around booking that first vacation in over a year understandably make many travelers anxious.

“There are just too many variables in play right now, from the basics, like availability, to the more complicated, like Covid-19 protocols. If you’re thinking about a summer trip, you need to move past the thinking part and swiftly get yourself to the booking process,” said Erika Richter of the American Society of Travel Advisors.

Time to hit the road

Topiary Dinosaur in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood getting a spring refresh

Overnight car trips. Visits to roadside attractions. Airport hang-out time. It all seems possible now that the weather is getting nice and so many people are vaccinated and honoring all the stay-healthy rules.

When we go. We won’t be out there alone.

Our email is filled with studies, surveys, and proclamations about the travel rebound already underway.

AAA Travel expects more than 37 million people to travel 50 miles or more away from home over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. That is an increase of 60% over last year when a record low 23 million people traveled.

Are there deals to be had at hotels and attractions and on planes? Don’t count on it

“Travel inflation is real and deals are hard to come by for summer and out months,” says Clayton Reid, CEO of global travel, tourism, and marketing company MMGY Global. “While we do expect deals in city centers to some degree, where the recovery of urban hotels and attractions is lagging, demand is so high that prices are actually going up in many places. Even airfares are on the rise because demand is outweighing airlines’ reduced schedules.”

Deals may not matter

This colorful Tripit chart shows that vaccinated Americans are ready to get out on the road as soon as they can. What about you?

We’re ready. Our suitcase has been patiently waiting by the door.