It’s that time of year — as Willie Nelson says — when you just “can’t wait to get on the road again.”
For many, that begins with travel over the Memorial Day weekend and continues through the summer. According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, 718,200 Marylanders are expected to travel 50 miles or more during the holiday weekend. Of those, an estimated 653,600 will travel by car, and about 35 percent will travel as a family.
This trend parallels travel for vacations and holidays throughout the year, said Ragina Averella, public and government affairs manager, AAA Mid-Atlantic. From holiday to holiday, year to year, about 80 percent of travelers do so by car, and families tend to vacation by car instead of flying or taking the train.
Many vacationers travel to the Eastern Shore beaches or south to Florida, while others choose cross-country excursions or visits to out-of-town family.
For a while, minivans replaced ‘station wagons as the overwhelming choice for loading up the family, sometimes including grandparents and even the family dog, along with suitcases, beach chairs and boogie boards for a weeklong summer vacation.
Today, however, families are making different automobile choices for travel.
“It depends on a family’s size, budget and particular preferences,” said Avarella. “No one vehicle is more popular today. It depends on the situation.”
Alicia and Jason Broth got their 2003 Kia Sedona before their children, Jocelyn and Noah, turned 6. They vacation to New Jersey and New York to visit family and friends, and they have driven to Florida four times over the years, usually for Passover.
In preparing for their trips, the Broths remove one of the seats in the van and insert a hanging rack for clothing.
“It makes packing and travel easier,” said Alicia Broth. “We don’t have to deal with any restrictions that the airlines put on; plus, when we get there, we have a car.”
Now, Jocelyn, 16, and Noah, 14, sit on the back bench with a “stash of snacks,” portable DVD players with headphones, pillows and blankets. The goal, Alicia said, is to make them as comfortable as possible since they usually drive through the night.
“[All-night driving] started off for financial reasons, but we wouldn’t trade it. We’ve come to enjoy it,” she said.
One year, they added days to a trip South and stopped in North Carolina, Georgia and even at a beach in northern Florida.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we had flown,” she said. “And we made really nice memories with the kids.”
Neither Jason nor Alicia traveled this way in their youth. Jason reminds his children how he was “squished like sardines” in a sedan with his two siblings. They also didn’t have electronics to pass the time, and they resorted to travel games — to their children’s horror.
Rikki and Todd Ziman prefer driving as well. They use either their Mazda CX9 or Ford Explorer, both sport utility vehicles with three rows of seats, to travel with their children, Zach, 12, and Samantha, 8.
About five years ago, the Zimans went to Disney World, and like the Broths, chose to drive through the night. A movie started them off, and then the kids slept most of the way.
“It was very easy,” said Rikki Ziman. “We wanted it to be as smooth as possible, being in a car for 16 hours.”
The Zimans also travel to the beach each summer. Rikki says the DVD player is a “lifesaver.”
“It keeps them occupied,” she explained. “They watch a movie with headphones, and we can listen to music. If we didn’t have the DVD player, they would be fighting.”
The key to an enjoyable drive, she added, is keeping the kids happy, and the way to do that is by feeding them — usually with a large bag of pretzels — and turning on a movie (although agreeing on which movie is another battle).
Not all families choose larger cars for traveling. The Knauths opt for their Chevy Cruze, which gets better mileage than their Ford Taurus, according to Sheri Knauth.
Their travels usually involve visiting family in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Cruze’s backseat is large enough for Charlotte, 10, and Benjamin, 7.
“There’s room in the middle for a movie or what they’re playing with,” said Sheri. “But at the same time, if they need their own space, there’s enough room. It’s a good size for a family of four.”
When her children were younger, Iris Berman loaded toys and games in the car when her family traveled, but today, Kyle is 12 and Paige is 15, so they bring books and music of their own choosing.
The Bermans take a longer road trip every few years, and this summer the plan is to take a southern excursion to Asheville, N.C., Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island, S.C., and Williamsburg, Va.
Although Iris has a Honda CRV, the family chooses to take Neil’s Honda Accord. It’s a stick shift, which he enjoys driving. The bonus is better mileage and the ability to slip into any parking space, Iris Berman said.
Contrary to expectations, there is plenty of space in the back of the sedan for the kids, Iris added, and the trunk is spacious as well.
The road trip is a special memory from both Iris and Neil’s childhoods, and they want to provide the same for their children. They’ve also traveled by plane to different destinations and rented a car to drive farther, such as a western excursion to Utah, Idaho and Wyoming and a New England trip that included Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The Bermans postponed a trip South last summer after Paige sustained a toe injury. They can’t wait to get on the road again.
Road Trip Tips
Plan ahead. Pack the night before and travel on off peak-times to avoid heavy traffic.
Safety first! Never let a child ride on an adult’s lap in the car, and always buckle up. Children are safest in the back seat wearing seat belts or in federally approved child-safety seats and booster seats.
Keep it comfortable. Pack the car before getting seated and make sure children have plenty of room. Stop every two hours to let children and drivers stretch their legs. Make sure children are dressed in comfortable clothes with good walking shoes and that they are prepared for weather changes with sweaters or raincoats. In addition, remember your child’s favorite pillow and blanket.
Prepare for the worst. Keep a photo of your child in your wallet in case you lose them in a crowded area. Children should always remain under direct supervision, especially at a rest stop. It only takes a second for a child to be lost, especially in unfamiliar areas.
Keep them entertained. For babies, teething toys, cloth books, a set of keys to jangle and a purse to search through all can help pass the time. Older children may enjoy coloring books, erasable slates, books, puzzles, portable travel games, DVDs or CDs featuring songs and stories. Play games to help pass the time. How many license plates have you seen from different states?
Carry plenty of snacks and drinks. Bring nutritious and familiar snacks and beverages. Be sure to include napkins, wet wipes, travel-size tissue packets and plastic trash bags.
Bring an emergency kit. Be sure to pack a first-aid kit for passengers and one for the vehicle. Car care kits should include reflective triangles, a fire extinguisher, jumper cables, a jack and spare tire, extra motor oil, coolant, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, a flashlight with extra batteries; a cell phone and a copy of your motor club membership card and other emergency numbers.
Source: AAA Mid-Atlantic