Summer Road Trip 2011 vs Summer Road Trip 1980s

This past weekend I packed up the family for a weekend get-a-way to Niagara Falls, Canada.  For the second summer (and year for that matter) in a row all of the Pehote travels will take place via automobile.  This has nothing to do with fear of flying or even the cost of flying, it have everything to do with the fact that air travel is miserable in 2011 and has been for years.  Flights are packed, over-priced, and constantly delayed or canceled.  Security requirements are a nightmare for all travelers, especially those with children.  For me, unless I am heading to the West Coast or overseas, I prefer driving.  It is just so much easier plus I am in complete control of the journey.

While on this road trip, my wife and I were commenting how much the "family road trip" has changed in the past 20 years.  We laughed and joked about our road trips growing up.  We arrived home today, and I knew this would be a great topic to write about, since much of the improvements to automobile travel are the result of technological improvements I find it to be a relevant topic.  So, lets just see how my road trip as a child compares to my road trip a dad.

The Car Circa 1980s
Of course the first aspect of the road trip is the car itself.  Back in the mid to late 1980s we took our sweet Chevy Celebrity on the frequent road trip to Pittsburgh to visit family.    Thankfully the car did have air conditioning and a high tech stereo with a cassette player.  My two sisters and I squeezed in the back bench seat fighting for room.  We would argue with mom about changing the radio station after losing the local stations once we arrived in Toledo.  Thankfully, this high tech stereo had a "scan" button.  Just hit the button, and like magic it would search through the various radio stations and only stop on a strong signal.  Of course it would take about five minutes to find a station that a majority in the car enjoyed, which would only come in clear for about thirty minutes of drive time.  Then it would be time to repeat the scan step.  The cassette player was not much help.  We all knew that tapes had one or two good songs, plus having to fast forward and rewind a tape took too long and was something mom was not going to do.
There was no real need for a map.  My dad knew the route like the back of his hand.  He made the journey many times.  He even knew some tricks if there was construction or a bad accident (in some areas).  However, if we ran into bad traffic in areas he was not familiar with, we would just sit and wait in traffic like everyone else.  On road trips to locations other than Pittsburgh, we would have to bring along a map, or if we wanted to get really fancy, have a friend with Triple A order one of those high-tech folding map kits.
Chevy Celebrity, Actually My First Car, Thanks Mom and Dad

The Car 2011
Wow, things sure have changed.  We made the trip this past weekend in our 2011 GMC Acadia.  My kids enjoyed their captain's seats in the second row (what a great feature, keeping my two little ones separated).  Each seat has a built in headset DVD player with wireless headset to enjoy any DVD movie they like.  The car also has a satellite radio, CD player and auxiliary input for my iPod.  Not once during the trip did I even search for an FM/AM station.  The kids could even listen to their own satellite station in the back through wired headphones.  A map was not needed, as the Acadia has a built in GPS navigation system.  Plus, with On-Star all I have to do is hit a button and someone in a call center somewhere in the world will help me on my way.  The GPS system even monitors traffic situations on my route, so I know about bad traffic before I am caught in a traffic jam.

The Route 1980s
Some may say the roads were actually better back in the 1980s.  Not sure about that, but I can say the rest stops and accommodations along the route are much better today.  Do you remember rest areas back in the 1980s?  They were not the most welcoming of areas.  Signage at exits rarely existed.  Frequently it was a shot in the dark when searching for a place to eat, get gas or use the bathroom.

The Route 2011
Most states and provinces have greatly improved signage to help directing drivers to lodging, food and gas at each exit.  The cleanliness and amenities at roadside rest stops has also greatly improved in the past twenty years.  With or without GPS, it is so much easier to find a clean, safe place to stop for rest.  Rest stops offer an assortment of dining choices and services to travelers.

Entertaining the Kids 1980s
Well, besides the sweet stereo I mentioned earlier there were other ways to keep my sisters and I entertained during road trips.  We would play the normal road games like "I Spy" or the "Licence Plate Game" but those would get boring quickly.  My mom tried, buying games like Road Trip Bingo.  However, it did not matter, we would be bored and fighting before hitting Cleveland.  Hand-held games involved Speak and Spell or Mattel Football (the Nintendo Game Boy was not released until 1989).  What kid does not love playing a game involving spelling words correctly? 

Entertaining the Kids 2011
As I mentioned earlier, my kids had access to their own DVD player as well as satellite radio with the amazing station Radio Disney (I could go a few months before hearing another Selena Gomez song after this weekend).  However, the entertainment does not stop there.  My daughter brought along her Nintendo DSI and an assortment of games (which she shared with her brother thankfully) as well as her iPod nano if she wanted to jam to some of her own tunes.  The kids also enjoyed playing games and watching a movie on the iPad.  You would think with all of this technology and entertainment we would not hear "are we there yet" or "how much longer?"  Well, I am sad to report that was not the case.  However, the short drive to Niagara Falls and back was very much stress free thanks to much of the new technology available during the ride.

So, there you have it, Road Trip circa 1980s vs Road Trip 2011.  As long as air travel continues to be miserable, I will continue to plan road trips.  I realize some trips will require air travel, but I will not shy away from driving anytime soon.  The end result was great times with the family and very little travel hassle.

The Kids and I at the Falls
 Do you recall your road trips growing up?  Do you hate driving anywhere over a few hours away?  Do you prefer air travel, or have you tried Amtrak or Mega Bus? 


  1. I remember as a kid we had to find our own entertainment on the road. The license plate game was a big one, and the traveling board games. My kids are the same way as yours with their Nintendo DS and iPods. I use to have portable DVD players, but I use my iPad now to entertain them. They can watch movies, play games, and watch TV. As an employer of DISH Network I bought the Sling Adapter for $99 (same cost of a DVD player) and now have access to all our subscription channels on my iPad. The kids love watching their favorite shows live on the road. It’s like having the TV with us. It is such a life saver while we travel. Check out this link for the offer on the Sling Adapter through DISH . I'm not sure how our parents survived traveling with us and having no DVD players or hand held games.

  2. Thanks for the comment Rose. It is amazing what toys there are available to help make the car ride easier. I have heard of the Sling Adapter, seems like a cool resource. I swear, I'm learning about new uses for my iPad each day, it was a great investment.


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