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Nostalgic Icons of Road Trips

The Things They Remember

Family road trips return you to an earlier time. We have compiled a number of cherished memories of road trips that may bring back some of your own.

Road trips can evoke nostalgia for childhood, family and adventures. And for many people there are objects and in-the-car experiences indelibly tied to those journeys. 

For some, it is a game, a song, a special snack, the seating arrangements or a life lesson — or even AAA TripTik maps.

Buckle up. We’ve compiled icons of road-trip memories that may jog some of your own.

A young boy washes a window
By Soloviova Liudmyla/AdobeStock

Windshield Duty

As a kid on family road trips, “I was too young to drive, had no radio rights and no money to contribute for gas or snacks,” says Michael Ashley Schulman, who grew up to be an investment officer in Southern California.

But Schulman could help wash the windows when the family stopped for fuel during road trips.

“To this day, swirling a sopping wet sponge on a stick across an insect-laden front windshield, cleanly squeegeeing the water in long methodical swipes with a rubber blade, and then wiping the run lines down with gas station brown paper reminds me of childhood summer road trips across America,” Schulman says.

Music and Singing

Seattle-resident Peg Boettcher remembers driving with her family from Illinois to California in a blue-and-white finback station wagon when she and her brother were, respectively, 3 and 4 years old.

“We sang B-I-N-G-O all the way there,” says Boettcher, “And when we reached our destination, we were forbidden from ever singing that song again. When I hear that song now, I think of my poor dad white knuckling it for days.”

When he was a kid, “no movie made a greater impression on me than ‘Rocky,’” says Baruch Labunksi, a digital marketing entrepreneur in Toronto. “Sylvester Stallone was every man, and I remember wanting to know what it would feel like to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art like he did in the movie.”

When his family drove from Toronto to Philadelphia, Labunski’s parents played the Rocky soundtrack along the way, timing it so that the move theme song, ‘Gonna Fly Now,’ was playing as they approached the art museum. “Now, I always make a playlist for road trips, and I’ve even made ones afterwards to commemorate a trip,” Labunski says.

A nostalgic photo of Stuckeys
Stuckey’s truck stop. From Stuckeys Corp.

Treats, Games and Souvenirs

For Heather Clardy Dickie, a creative director based in Dallas, road trips were all about the hidden treats.

“Mom bought dime store toys and hid them around the car,” Dickie says. “We had many cross-country family trips, and these judiciously timed offerings distracted my little brother and me from the pent-up restlessness and the outbreak of sibling wars. The toys led to game-playing and, most importantly, preserved my dad’s sanity.”

David Shaw, now a facilities director in Pittsburgh, was the youngest of 12 kids. He says when he was growing up, the family vacations always involved car trips to see older siblings that had moved away.

“We always stopped at the first Stuckey’s [a highway truck-stop chain]. My mom would get butter pecan ice cream, and we would pick up Mad Libs,” Shaw says. “On the road we would play games such as Punch Buggy, I Spy With My Little Eye, and spot the license plate from the farthest away state.”

Seattle cookbook author Cynthia Nims associates road trips with games, including “one that had things to look for (a cow, a water tower, etc.) and a little red window to cover items after you’d seen them. I haven’t thought about that in years.”

Nostalgic photo of cheese puffs, ice tea and a wicker basket
From AdobeStock

Snacks

Boston-based travel writer Keri Baugh says Chex Mix always reminds her of road trips in the 1980s. “That snack, coupled with canned/powdered Lipton iced tea in a cooler immediately takes me back to that long road trip from Pittsburgh to Orlando,” she says.

For Shelia Jaskot, a media consultant in Silver Spring, Maryland, it is Cheetos. “Growing up my parents never let us eat anything in the car. I thought it was normal. I never knew people ate food on road trips until I started driving myself,” Jaskot says.

Now when she takes road trips with her husband, they buy a bag of puffed Cheetos (she stays away from them at home because they are high calorie and messy). “They can be dangerous, but sometimes a yummy snack is worth the long drive,” she says.

Memories of Lost Items

On long road trips, treasures and essentials like food, books, stuffed animals, sunglasses may get lost.

For Eric White, an account director who lives near Chicago, it was a tiny set of keys.

“In the mid 80’s, when I was 6 or 7 years old, the family was on a road trip from Illinois to the ‘West,’ and at Wall Drug [a tourist mall in South Dakota] I bought a pair of handcuffs,” White says. “Soon after, with the handcuffs on, I lost the keys through the back of the seat. The next stop was Mount Rushmore, where my parents made me wear the handcuffs. When we returned to the car, they cut me loose from them with a paperclip. Oh, the memories!”

Big Cedar Stump at Smokey Point that you can walk through
Big Cedar Stump at Smokey Point. By BrianWilliams/exsultocorp/Flickr

Roadside Stops

Road trips often involve scheduled or — better yet — unscheduled detours to visit roadside attractions such as the Oregon Vortex in Gold Hill, Oregon, or the World’s Largest Frying Pan in Long Beach, Washington. Negotiating for those stops can be a memorable road-trip tradition.

“We had property up near Darrington, Washington, on the Stillaguamish River that we would visit during the summer,” says David Lynx, director of the Larson Art Gallery at Yakima Valley College. His dad would often pull off the highway for a trip through the giant drive-through cedar stump on Highway 99, which is now a walk-through attraction at the Smokey Point rest stop near Arlington along I-5.

“It was always fun for us kids, but my dad got tired of this over the years,” Lynx says. “So, he would drive past it and tell us, kids, that we would go through it on the way back. The only thing was that you couldn’t reach it when you were traveling southbound because the stump was on the northbound side of the highway.

“It took us a couple times, but we learned that trick.”


Written by Harriet Baskas
–Top photo is from the Stuckey Family Collection.

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

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