Amy Choate-Nielsen: Family vacations have changed, but they’re still an adventure


The view overlooking Anchorage, Alaska, at sunrise in September 2016.

The first time I flew on a plane, it was an adventure.

I remember sitting with my mother as we ordered orange juice and a sweet roll, and watched the tiny trees and hills fly under my window. I was thrilled with the novelty of sky food, and I tried to make it last as long as possible with the tiniest bites and smallest sips. I don’t remember where we were going, or where we came from, but I remember the food and the patchwork sight of the Earth from 5 miles high.

There was no fear, only excitement and wonder at this new experience.

For the most part, when I was little, family vacations were a land voyage in my parents’ blue VW Vanagon for my father’s work. We drove from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C., and sometimes Florida, and then back. It all depended on where my dad’s military duty was for that summer. Wherever it was, there we would go, all together, on vacation.

My parents were efficient travelers. My mother bought a bin full of toys for each of the kids, and we slid them underneath our seats early in the morning when the sky was still dark and my parents were ready to roll. We brought our pillows, and somehow, we all went back to sleep as soon as we started driving.

I don’t remember stopping much, although we must have. I do remember that there was a little stool set up with a trash bag inside the van for any little kids with little bladders. I thought it was the most normal thing in the world to balance on a teetering port-a-potty as the countryside zipped by.

My kids would never go for that.

My kids never go back to sleep if I wake them up early for a road trip. They wouldn’t let me keep the contents of their bins a secret even if I tried.

In this day and age, they’d never be out of their seats in the car. They’d be buckled in, and not just buckled, but buckled in the correct, age-appropriate restraint approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They have hand-held computer games, headphones, tablets and DVD…

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