The summer road trip is an American folk tradition. My family is feeling extremely classic. We are going to Yellowstone, driving from Oregon, later in June. There are tons of folk tales about the American road trip, and of course, it’s a common trope in American literature. If you are doing a road trip, it’s fun to look up folktales and legends from the area you are driving through. Everyone, kids and adults, will love the diversion of some stories connected to the landscape you are speeding by.
You can google. If you want a book, look for folktales by region. The classic legends can be found in Jan Bruvand’s The Vanishing Hitchhiker. A legend is a story that is told as if it is history, as it if happened, but is often exaggerated. An example is George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or Paul Bunyan, or stories of missing hitchhikers, and my favorite, The Dead Grandmother. Now, this story shouldn’t be a favorite, because it is a story of a family who ends up travelling across the country with their dead grandmother on the roof of the car, because she passes away on the road. They can’t think of what to do with her. It’s about a sense of disorientation and the way mobility can upend our usual social customs (especially the old ones). It is most famously told in Vacation with Chevy Chase. Remember the grandma? A super funny adaptation of the legend.
So many American road stories – think Thelma and Louise, or Jack Kerouac – are more serious. They about finding some aspect of yourself, something realer, truer (if less socially acceptable) on the road. And the family vacation ones are no exception – the kids stop being polite, the parents start swearing, too much sugar is had, and yet somehow, when an elk crosses the road suddenly in the middle of nowhere, after a long, hot day of infighting in the back seat, everything else disappears in the magic of the landscape and moment.
If road trips are a part of your family’s tradition, you might try an idea my kids have loved. I get a simple journal for each kid and I make a photocopy of the map of our journey, cut it into segments, and glue map pieces into the book, with lots of pages in between for each leg of the journey. Then, you can put titles: What I Saw, What I Ate, A Big Surprise, The Boring Part, Etc. And they can write or draw as they go. Then later they have a cool memory book. They could put photos in later too. Littler kids can just draw what they see. Older kids can write. It’s an activity — that is also a story and a memento. Happy travels.