Feighan: Romance of road trips differs from reality

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Summer and road trips go hand-in-hand like sprinklers, sparklers and ice cream on a hot, humid day.

There’s something incredibly romantic about packing up the car, planning the perfect playlist, plotting the path and hitting the road for new adventures. Who knows what the open road will hold?

There’s just one downside: the reality of a road trip.

Road trips rarely measure up to our fantasies. We dream of adventures, not mile after mile of yellow lines and Ohio rest stops. Like a college fling, within hours, the romance is gone, tortilla chips cover the back seat and it can’t end quickly enough.

I was reminded of that as my husband and I sat on the side of a busy East Coast interstate earlier this month with our two kids, waiting for a tow truck to arrive after our car stalled out for the second time. A road trip quickly loses its appeal when you have to ask AAA if the tow truck will have room for two car seats for your kids and you’re still four hours from your destination.

But the allure of a road trip is hard to resist.

My husband and I have done many long road trips, several along the East Coast and another near the Grand Canyon and Utah. When there is time for stops along the way, when the journey matters and not just the destination, a road trip can be hard to beat.

Children, meanwhile, add a new dimension. I have one child who could be in a car for three days and not look up from the DVD player. The other once spent 17 hours in the car on a massive road trip and slept for 15 minutes the entire day.

A new study conducted by Pioneer Electronics determined that the average American will drive around 79,548 miles on road trips in their lifetime. Based on a survey of 2,000 people, they found that the typical road trip covers around 612 miles.

And there is something to be said about experiencing a place by road: the topography of the land is often different, the architecture of the houses, even the smell of the air.

The website WalletHub recently studied each state in the country, ranking them on 22 key metrics to determine the most fun, scenic and wallet-friendly road trip destinations. The metrics weighed gas costs, lodging, miles of shoreline, even weather.

Oregon ranked No. 1, followed by Utah and Washington. Michigan fell right in the middle at No. 25.

Maine was our destination this summer, which ranked No. 14 overall on WalletHub’s list. For us, we luckily were able to get our car off the highway without a tow truck driver. We drove on surface streets for about 20 minutes to the nearest airport and rented a car for a week while ours was in the shop.

After a fun week with family, we faced the other downside of an epic road trip: the return trip home. Ten hours into our 20-hour drive, at the tail end of Amazon Music’s Road Trip Playlist, our energy and enthusiasm waned. By the time we hit Ohio, seven hours into our second day of driving, my 7-year-old wailed what we were all thinking: “Will we ever be in Michigan?”

Then we saw it: that beautiful blue sign near the Ohio border – “Welcome to Michigan.” We beeped the horn, cheered and whistled. Like a marathon runner hitting the final stretch, we knew we could do it. We just needed to dig deep and finish strong.

By the time we pulled into our driveway, we got out of the car and stretched our legs, so happy to finally be home. We plan to stay put for awhile – or at least until the open road calls again.


Twitter: @mfeighan