Life on the Open Highway—Road Trippin’

by Nancy Bestor

I love to travel. While flying makes many nervous, it never fails to excite me. And while I love the wild blue yonder and an airplane’s ability to carry me 10,000 miles in a matter of hours, road trips have their own special place in my heart. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my adult life cruising up and down Interstate 5 between Ashland, Oregon and the Bay Area. Maybe it’s because Bob’s and my honeymoon was a six-month lap around the United States in a Volkswagen Camper Bus. Whatever the reason, I’ve got great road trip memories, and am a firm believer that the best way to see a country (any country) is to drive it.

I’m pretty sure my 16 and 18-year-old daughters will always have fond memories of the road as well. Hopefully they’ll carry on the great Bestor road trip tradition. They’re planning a summer adventure to California right now, in celebration of Emily’s imminent high school graduation. When they were little, we’d hit the road well before sunrise. We’d carry them out of bed and straight to the car with their pajamas still on and they would go right back to sleep. Bob would fill a thermos with hot coffee and then put the radio on low while all his ladies slumbered. I’ll never forget Emily’s first big road trip. When she was six months old, we drove about eight hours in one day, from Boston, Massachusetts to Montreal, Canada. I’d swear that Emily cried for at least five of those hours. We were new parents. We couldn’t take her out of her car seat and we had to make it to our destination. So we comforted her as best we could, made sure she was fed and clean, and we pretty much just kept driving—and listening to her cry. Bob’s sister Laura and her husband Philip (who didn’t yet have children) were with us, and I’m sure they had a serious discussion as to whether they should have children at all after those eight fairly excruciating hours.

The girls always brought their own listening device. Back in the day it was personal cassette players. Then they graduated to individual CD players and now of course, they have iPods. This has saved our family’s relationship many times over. They don’t want to listen to the music we play, and we certainly don’t want to listen to the music they play. We didn’t back then (think Raffi or the Wiggles), and we (mostly) don’t now. We always bring our own food too. We never know if we’ll be hungry when there’s a good place to stop or if we’ll be in the wasteland of southern I-5, where choices seem to be limited to McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell for what seems like hundreds of miles. It’s always fun to buy “special” car food too, things that we don’t often eat at home, but splurge on for a road trip. (For some reason the food that comes to mind right now is Cheetos. Not that we buy them when we’re splurging on our road trip food, but Cheetos do make me think of gas station food marts. And honestly, for me, a bag of Cheetos every once in a while is a little bit of heaven.)

We’ve had some great road trips abroad as well. When we’re a long way from home, I really appreciate having a car, because it becomes the one thing that “belongs” to us, at least for a short time. We can leave some of our gear inside when we’re moving from hotel to hotel, when pressed we can use it as a dining room if we don’t want to eat in a restaurant, and if 100% desperate, we can even sleep in the car. We have yet to sleep in a rental car, mind you, but it’s always an option.

Once, in France, we couldn’t find a single gas station that offered diesel. We were getting dangerously close to empty, which stressed us both out to no end. Come to find out later, we were reading all the signs wrong, and every gas station in France offers diesel. It’s funny now, but at the time, not so funny. Then there was the time in Costa Rica that we had to ford a knee-deep stream running over a washed-out road—thank goodness we had four-wheel drive.

We’ve driven in big Italian cities too. Okay, “we” didn’t, Bob did all the driving there. He loved how the rules are quite a bit more malleable in Italy and pretty much wherever you can stick your nose first is your lane. The horn honking was not daunting to Bob, he jumped right in and beeped his horn almost as much as the Italians.

I remember with great fondness our honeymoon around the US. We took the time to drive lesser-traveled roads, rarely in a great hurry to get anywhere and just happy to enjoy the ride. Most of the people we met with similar agendas were decades older than us and delighted to offer us a cocktail and pass along some nuggets of wisdom regarding the open road. Pre-mixed Manhattans, chilled and ready in the ice chest was one of the finest of those nuggets.

Our road trips are not as leisurely these days, as we seem to have limited time at our disposal. But I’m hopeful that one day Bob and I will be back out there, offering to share a drink with the young folk and regaling them with our own tales of adventure on the open road.