In a few weeks I’ll be taking my three month old son on an American rite of passage – the road trip. This one is pretty short – only four days – and does not include 20 hours a day of driving to make it cross country (total distance is about 200 miles – from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon). But when I was young, my family had many a long road trip, to places like Texas, Montreal, Colorado and even Niagara Falls.
Back then, road trips required a lot of creativity to pass the time. We of course played the “license plate game”, tried to get truckers to honk at us, listened to my Mom read us books, and just stared at the passing scenery. I suppose that part of the fun was getting there, but sometimes it seemed to be a never-ending journey.
These days, road trips are a lot different, mostly thanks to technology. First off, bored children now have access to dozens of electronic gadgets to pass the time; in-car DVDs, portable gaming systems, laptops, and mp3 players are just a few examples. Bored grown-ups also have plenty of options, like cell phones, books on CD, and satellite radio. Gone are the days where being in “the middle of nowhere” means no access to other humans and no entertainment options.
And getting lost is no longer a problem now that GPS is almost standard in most new cars. Even without GPS, if your car breaks down and you have On-Star, you can call someone who will pinpoint your identity and send help immediately.
In short, road trips are just easier for everyone these days. Maybe that takes some of the adventure out of the trip, but I suspect that I’ll be thankful that my family will have plenty of options for preoccupation once I embark on a real long-haul trip.
I can only assume that technology will continue to evolve the road-trip over the next decade. Surely GPS systems will begin to recommend attractions and offer coupons, based on location and perhaps even a degree of personalization. And as more and more travelers get WiFi in their cars, I can imagine multi-player games that pit family versus family who happened to be travelling within the same stretch of road.