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Author & cultural historian
Chris EptingChris Epting is an accomplished roadtripper, cultural historian, and the author of seven books including James Dean Died Here, Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here, Roadside Baseball, and Elvis Presley Passed Here. He is a regular contributor to a variety of travel publications and the spokesperson and co-creator for the Hampton Inn's "Hidden Landmarks" program. Originally from New York, Chris now lives in Huntington Beach, California, with his wife Jean and their two children.

Some thoughts on family road trips from a father on Father's Day…

By Chris Epting

It is one of the great, if not the great American question. Metaphorically, many of us challenge ourselves each day to achieve what we set out to accomplish in life. Spiritually, emotionally, financially, and on, we wonder, Are we there yet?

More specifically, it is of course the instinctive question posed by generations of children when traveling, especially when road tripping. (Did children in covered wagons ask this?)

When on a family road trip, the question doesn't quite affect my or my wife's nervous system the first several times it's posed. It's when it enters triple-digits that I think we both start to zone out. But that's okay. After all, what would a family trip be without it?

World's largest: Claire and Charlie Epting with Castroville's giant artichoke

In the footsteps of Janis Joplin: Claire onstage at Monterey

James Dean Died Here: Charlie, Jean, and Claire at the Dean crash memorial in Cholame, California

Sitcom memories: Chris and Charlie on the site where MASH was filmed near Malibu

We take as many car trips as we can, to as many fun and interesting and offbeat and historical places as we can. Certainly part of it is by design, as I am frequently in the middle of writing and researching a book. But the more meaningful part of it is the shared experience and sense of adventure; the chance to live life together as a family and of course, for my wife and I to watch as our children discover, learn, grow, and just simply find their way.

Some of my finest memories up to this point are tied to family road trips, particularly in our home state of California. Like watching the kids pose against a giant artichoke in Castroville, California. ("Artichoke capitol of the world.") Panning in the exact same spot where James Marshall famously discovered gold in 1848. Prowling the stage where Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin performed at Monterey in 1967. Sifting for clues on the lonely road where James Dean met his fate in 1955. Or the kids laughing hysterically as Dad navigates the sometimes-sickening curves along Highway 1, one of the world's most gorgeous coastal drives.

And of course, we have a few basic rules of the road…

  1. Have at least a few pieces of music that become your own family soundtrack. For us, "Gene Autry's Greatest Hits" plays a big part of any trip.
  2. No DVD/Video players on board. In my opinion, they are divisive and help defeat the purpose of traveling together. I remember once, someone I worked with was showing off his shiny new Navigator with hi-tech DVD system, boasting with glee that now he'd never have to hear his kids in the car ever again. As sad a commentary as I've ever heard.
  3. Make it fun for the kids, no matter what. In years to come, when they recount these days, it should be fond, relaxed, whimsical times they recall, not over-taxed and over-complicated moments of stress.
  4. Leave things open to chance. If it feels right, take that unexpected exit. Too much planning can suck the life and spontaneity from a trip.
  5. Eat in unusual, non-chain joints when you can. Fast food places don't need your business as much as Big Bad Bubba's Bar-B-Q. (And Bubba's food is better!)
  6. Meet people along the way. Be they locals or fellow travelers, it can really enhance your experience to hear about others' experiences.
  7. Take lots of pictures. Later on in life, you'll probably wish you'd taken even more.
  8. Be patient. Kids may not love the open road as much as you do. If that's the case, start small with day trips and maybe you'll wean them into it.
  9. Give your kids choices. Spur their imagination with what's out there and let them be a part of deciding where you visit/what you do.
  10. Take your time. After all, life is shorter than we'd like it to be. Perhaps we can make it at least seem longer by slowing down a bit.

With that, I can hear our daughter's voice right now.

"Are we there yet, daddy?"
No, sweetheart. Not yet.
Then our son.
Yes, fella?
"Are we there yet?"
"Not yet, buddy… Soon."

But no matter how close we really are to our destination, in my mind I always sort of hope we don't get there for awhile. Because I love watching miles pass by with my family. And I know that in the years following their eventual leaving of the nest, I will miss that question terribly. After all, what better reminder that you're a parent than hearing those wonderful little voices asking that classic question from the backseat (even if you've just pulled out of the driveway.) Are we there yet?

Chris Epting
June 20, 2004


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