Vacation Time


I just got back from a driving vacation through several states and national parks. Along the way, there was lots of time to think about our family vacations of yesteryear, specifically, when baby boomers were youngsters. How different they were. How did families survive in the days before mini vans and SUVs? What did kids do without iPads, tablets, DVD players and energy drinks? That got me thinking about the games our mothers created … counting cows or horses along the way; finding items in an alphabetic or numerical order, guessing when we might get to the next waypoint, etc. My most fun was trying to hold my breath as my dad drove through the tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I don’t think I ever made it through one without having to gasp before we got to the other side.

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Remember when the entire family got into the car, hopefully a station wagon, and drove off in search of adventure?   Families were larger, with three to five kids being typical. Cars seldom had air conditioning and only roll up windows. There were no seat belts, and car interiors were principally metal, with lots of sharp edges. If your family was lucky enough to have a station wagon, kids had the option to crawl over the back seat to occupy the “way back,” where they might spread out and play games. Entertainment was whatever reception the driver could pick up on the car’s AM radio. Depending on where your family was driving, the “sounds” might be really unique.

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Bench seats allowed for three (or four kids) to sit alongside each other (without seatbelts) in both the front and back seats. If you got tired, you could lay down on the back seat’s floor until the “hump” that ran down the center of the car (for the drive train) got too uncomfortable.


The 1963 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan with a front bench seat. The 2013 Impala is the last North American passenger car in the industry to offer a front bench seat.

The 1979 Chevrolet Impala Station Wagon with a front bench seat. The 2013 Impala is the North American last passenger car in the industry to offer a front bench seat.

If it got hot, your parents would roll down the car’s windows so that you’d get air (albeit hot air) circulating through the car. When it rained, the windows would stay rolled up, and the car’s interior became sauna-like. If your brothers or sisters hadn’t bathed, everybody suffered.


There were few national maps. When your dad (or mom, in the case that she was the driver) stopped for gas, an attendant would fill up the car with gas, check your oil, and clean the windshield. You could go into the gas station to get a soft drink or a candy bar, and you’d definitely need to get a road map, especially when you crossed a state line, and the state map you were using stopped. Very seldom did your family have reservations along the way, so you might have to stop multiple times to find a hotel that didn’t have a no vacancy sign hanging or illuminated. When you found an available hotel, the entire family would sleep in the same room, hopefully with two beds and a few cots, after swimming in the motel pool.

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It was so much fun.

Please add your memories by commenting on this post, and share it with your Facebook friends.

11 thoughts on “Vacation Time

  1. My parents took both my sister and I to two worlds fairs, one in Spokane and one in Seattle, those were the days. We stopped in Oregon and rode a boat up the Rogue River and there we had a picnic lunch all prepared for us. When we got to Washington we took the ferry to some of the islands, and we crossed over into Canada, to go to the Butchart Gardens and saw where they filmed the movie Lassie Come Home. Those were good times. I still have my survivor pin of Canada.


  2. A few weeks ago, I rode through the Lehigh Tunnel in Pa with my 3 yr. old grandson and taught him to start to hum when we entered the tunnel. Neither of us made it to the other side without gulping for air. Thanks for more great memories.

    Sent from my iPad



  3. I loved it when we got a big Mercury station wagon. My brothers got the back seat; behind them were all the suitcases. Then I got a little section between the luggage and the tailgate. The quiet and privacy was SWEET! Plus, I avoided getting hit by my Dad’s swinging arm. I still love the sound of the car tires on the pavement.


  4. Laughing so hard. Brought back great memories. We even brought an electric pan to make a all-in-one meal. (5 kids) I do remember “I see see-what do you see) great memories.


  5. I was an only child who got the whole back seat. My dolls took up half of that space. I remember cheating when we counted cows.


  6. Ah yes, those trips with no AC, static on the AM radio and my brother getting across the line to my side of the backseat.


  7. You’ve described our annual trip from Chicago to Louisiana every year to visit grandparents. We never had a station wagon – three of us in the back seat. We put a suitcase on the floor on one side and you could “sleep” on it. No A/C, crank windows. Always stopped half way to stay in a motel with a pool. Played games like red car pinch – until we started pinching so hard someone cried. Then my Mom stepped in. Fun memories!!!


  8. I loved this article Fred- though we took few vacations and they were at a cabin near Central. there was a creek near by and we enjoyed that.


  9. We didn’t have but a couple of family vacations growing up, we always took family drives on Sunday after church and many times that found us a hundred or so miles from home and it took forever to get back home. The good part was that we usually found a place to grab something to eat and it was always fun because it was almost always different mom and pop places along the way. My dad had an old woody station wagon and it would take him 20 minutes just to clean all his work tools out of the back so we five kids could fit in. Being the youngest I never got the window seat and it was sure funny when a couple of us kids
    would start fighting, my mom would make us change seats to separate us, while the car was moving!


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