Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ode To The Family Vacation - Then And Now

Then: Back when I was a kid, in the 1970's, family vacations were a little bit different. First of all, in those pre-internet days, you couldn't just sit down at the computer and look at different destinations. If you didn't have a specific destination in mind, you would probably start by looking at the road atlas. Once you found a place of interest, you would usually go to the local AAA office and get a travel guide for the area. From there, you could call or write to the different hotels/motels for lodging information. A week or two after that, you would start to get letters and brochures in the mail from the hotels/motels you contacted. There were no travelers' reviews to help you make your final decisions, so you had to hope the brochures were good representations of each establishment. Having once stayed at a motel where our room overlooked the town dump, I can tell you that many were not.

Now:  Sit down at the computer, Google the name of your destination or type of vacation you're looking for.  Spend a few hours reading travelers' reviews, decide some people will complain about anything, and choose your hotel.  Find their website and book your reservations online.

Then:  Once your reservations were made, it was back to the AAA office to get a triptik, which is a map, broken down into pages that are bound together at the top. Instead of having to unfold a great big road map, you could just flip from page to page along the way. AAA would create your triptik for your specific starting and stopping points.
Actual triptiks

Now:  You're going to drive?  Seriously?  No one does that anymore!  Have you seen the price of gas?  If you still insist on driving, go to mapquest and type in your home address and the address of the hotel.  Print out your map and the 5,274 steps (talk about detail!) to get you to your destination.

Then:  I suppose there may have been families who traveled by air instead, but I didn't know any. The favored mode of transportation back then was the family station wagon. It was a law that it had to be loaded the night before you left for your vacation (okay, probably not a law, but that's how everyone did it). The only exception to this rule was the cooler. While its contents had to be prepared the night before, it wouldn't be filled and placed in the car until moments before backing out of the driveway.

Now:  Visit one of the many websites that list flights and airfare.  Mumble (or shout) expletives when you see what your flight will cost.  Strongly consider the option of driving instead of flying.  Picture 18 hours with your kids in the back seat asking/whining "How much longer until we get there?"  Find the least expensive flight and run for your credit card before the price quote expires.

Then:  The seating arrangement in the station wagon varied by the number of passengers, but, in most families, the youngest kid(s) sat in the very back. If you weren't around back then or never had a station wagon, there were no seats or seat belts in the back (some cars didn't have any seat belts anywhere in the car). This was the 70's, man! We weren't worried about people or objects becoming projectiles in the event of a crash.
Not our actual 1970's station wagon
Now:  You'll need transportation from the airport to the hotel, so now is the time to decide if you're going to rent a car.  Your hotel may have a free airport shuttle, but what about sight seeing and going out for dinner?  Yes, you'll probably want a car.  Search one of the many travel websites for quotes on rental cars.  Mumble (or shout) expletives when you see what the car will cost.  Reconsider the option of driving instead of flying, yet again.  Choose the least expensive car (which may or may not accommodate your family and their luggage) and frantically enter your credit card information before the price quote expires.

Then:  The first day of vacation has finally arrived.  The kids (and the cooler) would be loaded into the car just before dawn (I really think this may have been a law). 

Now:  The first day of vacation has finally arrived.  You didn't pack the luggage into the car, yet, because you've heard thieves watch for this type of behavior and may break into your house while you're on vacation.  Mumble (or shout) expletives while trying to inconspicuously jam suitcases into the back of your SUV.  Squeal out of your driveway because you're running behind.  Drive five miles from home, turn around and go back for the plane tickets you left sitting on the kitchen counter.  Cross your fingers and hope you don't miss your flight.

Then:  Most radio stations were AM and you couldn't always get a strong signal on the road, so you would sing songs like "Ninety-nine Bottle Of Beer On The Wall" and play games like 20 Questions and License Plate Bingo to pass the time.  Everyone was excited about the trip.  The whole family was relaxed and happy.

Now:  Get to the airport and figure out the diabolical parking lot.  Grab children and luggage and run for the terminal.  Inside, stand in line for 20 minutes to check in.  Mumble (better not scream at the airport) expletives when you find out how much they are charging you for your checked, and now, carry on bags.  Move to security checkpoint, take off your shoes, empty your pockets, panic that you might have left something lethal like nail clippers or tweezers in your carry on bag.  Reassure your children that the man/woman screaming at them to let go of your hand and pass through the metal detector alone is really a nice person.  Really.  Put your shoes back on, gather your children and bags, move on to the waiting area at the gate.  Survey every person sitting around you.  Make mental notes of all those that look suspicious.

The actual lot where we actually park

Then:  After a few hundred miles of driving, you would stop and eat. This is where the cooler came into play. It would be packed full of sandwiches, fresh fruit and drinks on ice. You would stop at a roadside rest area, find a picnic table and have lunch. This was in the days before zip top bags had been invented, so no matter what method you used to wrap the sandwiches (plastic bags, foil, waxed paper), they were usually soggy.
Not my actual family
Now:  Sit next to/behind/in front of family with screaming baby.  Give thanks that your children are no longer screaming babies. Mumble (do not scream, Federal Marshals may get involved if you do) expletives when you find out drinks and snacks are no longer free.  Also, the beverage cart does not accept cash.  Consider going into the restroom to scream, but realise you can't get past the beverage cart.

Not an actual flight attendant

Then:  Everyone would make a quick trip to the bathroom before getting back into the car.  Refreshed and ready for more adventure, you would get back on the road.

Now:  Get off plane, flip a coin to decide who goes to baggage claim and who goes to the rental car counter.  Three hours later, leave airport with all of your children (hopefully), most of your luggage and the only rental car left on the lot (not the one you reserved).

Then:  You would enjoy roadside attractions as the miles passed on your way to your final destination.

Now:  Get lost on your way to the hotel, oblivious to roadside attractions. 

Then:  After sopping up the mess from the leaking cooler, you would check in to your hotel (which looked almost nothing like the pictures on the brochure they sent you), change into your bathing suits and find the pool (which was likely to be crowded and often, poorly maintained).  This was the 70's man!  There were no travelers' reviews to warn you about a dirty pool. 

Not a hotel I've actually been to (as far as I know)

Now:  Check in to your hotel, change into your bathing suits and find the pool.  Be pleasantly surprised by how pristine the water is.  After a quick dip, grab a complimentary towel and relax in a beach chair while the kids play and have fun.
The actual pool where we actually stay

Then:  You would spend your week visiting over crowded, over priced and over hyped attractions.  With no websites to warn you, you may even have ended up wasting money on something called "Singing Waters".  While the billboards may have made it sound like a once in a lifetime opportunity, it may have turned out to be a sprinkler with a light shining on it while music played.  I'm not saying it was.....I'm saying it might have been.  Okay, that's what it was.

Now:  Flip open your laptop in the comfort of your hotel room and find places in the area to visit.  Read all reviews and make notes of those with poor ratings.  Make online reservations for dinner and enjoy your week.

Then:  The last day of vacation has finally arrived.  It would be time to pack up and make the same trip in reverse.  Everyone would be tired and cranky and not looking forward to the long drive home.  You would pray that it didn't rain, because there was no air conditioning in the station wagon and the all the windows would fog if you had to put them up.

Now:  The last day of vacation has finally arrived.  It would be time to pack up and make the same trip in reverse.  Everyone is tired and cranky and not looking forward to the ordeal at the airport.  You pray there are no storms to divert your flight.

Then:  Your cranky family would finally arrive home and pile out of the hot station wagon and into the hot house.  I suppose there may have been families who had air conditioning, but I didn't know any.  This was the 70's, man!  You would put fans in all the windows.

Now:  Your cranky family finally arrives home and piles out of the air conditioned SUV and into the air conditioned house.

Then:  You would have to take dozens of rolls of film to the drug store to have them developed.  In a week or so, you could re-live your vacation.  If you wanted to share memories of your trip with friends, you would have slides made and invite everyone over for a slide show. 

Not my actual slide projector

Now:  You can re-live your vacation any time you want because all of your photos are on a memory card.  If you want to share memories of your trip with friends, you can email them and/or post them on Facebook. 
Not my actual camera

Then and now, both have their pros and cons, but in the end, they were always fun (or at least made for some great stories).  I'd like to share some of my favorite vacation stories over the next few days.  If you have a story you'd like to share, email me at and I'll include it in an upcoming post.


Purple Flowers said...

Great storyline about then and now. I grew up in the 60's, and the station wagon was THE mode of transportation for a road trip. My brother and I would beg for the very back seat, but that was reserved for suitcases and the famous cooler. We played games by naming cars, stopped for soft serve ice cream, and in general had a great time. My poor Mother with the loads of laundry she had when we arrived home. Great post! It made me think back to simplier times, although there are some very good points about internet surfing before heading out the front door.

Betty said...

Great review/thoughts!
Love old time style!
but as the time goes so fast Internet sounds such a great and easy way for any vacation you would plan all over the world/map.

Big hugs!
B xx

5thsister said...

LOved ThIS!

We did the VW bus, THEN the station wagon with wooden side boards!

I still do Trip-Tiks to this day...the reason is that AAA knows the road conditions. For example, when I drove to Kansas last winter the Garmin had no idea about the rock slide that closed I-40 and I was able to get an alternate route through using the Trip-Tik.

Which route do you use to go to OIB? If you come down I-77 South I will have you all stop for a home cooked meal as I am just a few short miles from the interstate.

L.B. said...

Fantastic post!

We didn't get to do many family vacations because my dad had to work so much and hardly had any vacations. We did do some family trips to Mexico (2-3 day drive, one way) but I was a little older. We piled into a van and had plenty of food and things to eat along the way.

I might write one of those up for you :) Stirring some memories as I type.

My Farmhouse Kitchen said...

loved this...i grew up in the 60's too..i used to LOVE those AAA triptic things...and all the free maps from AAA

enjoyed this

and let me know about the bread

Anonymous said...

Make hay while the sun shines...................................................

Chicago Mom said...

Oh my gosh, my mom was QUEEN of the packed cooler lunch for road trips! I still remember the puke green station wagon... Thanks for the memories!

Kimberly said...

I have miss you!

We used to have a pinto station wagon.

I use the AAA trip tic on my iPhone. It also gives me talking

I am so glad to see you back!

Attila The Mom said...

Hahahaha! Love it!

Joanna Jenkins said...

You nailed this one Willoughby! It brought back so many memories-- including the station wagon with no eats! Amazing huh?

I'll be watching for more vacation posts!

Cheers, jj

lisleman said...

Interesting how the internet has such an impact. You forgot to mention cellphone vs. payphone or costly room phone. I can remember when getting color tv in the room was a big deal.
People still drive because the roads are still crowded.
I've taken our kids on a few road trips with a packed van.

Jenny said...

I love this post! Trip Tiks! Yea, I wish they still had those. They were fun! I always tell my Grands about how we used to travel like this! They can't perceive it!

Liz in Virginia said...

We made these trips in a Pontiac Catalina (huge monster beast of a sedan). Our family's unique version of hell on wheels was that we traveled with a farting dog, a cat, a litter box, and a chain smoking mom. Since the car did have air conditioning, God forbid we should crack a window to let the fart/nicotine smog out.

My mom sat "criss-cross apple sauce" as the politically correct pre-school teachers say now, and the litter box lived beneath her on the floor where her feet should have been. The cat slept on my dad's right foot, which was of course on the gas pedal.

Sorry for the long comment -- dang those were good times . . . .