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Family vacations have changed, but they're still an adventure

Posted August 31

I remember taking lots of road trips when I was a kid — vacation was another word for work travel, but I didn't mind. I'll never forget flying on a plane with my mom. I wonder if my kids will feel the same. (Deseret Photo)

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 players built into the ceiling to entertain themselves.

We usually go somewhere fairly close for our family vacations. We like Teton National Park. We like southern Utah. We’ll head to Oregon or California about once every five years. Last year, we camped in Glacier National Park and fretted over the bears.

This year, we are headed to The Last Frontier, land of the Northern Lights, home of 17 of the 20 highest peaks the United States — Alaska (see alaska.gov).

In 2010, the total population of the nation’s largest state was 710,231, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In its 663,300 square miles — a land span that’s bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined — you’d find about one person per square mile (see alaska.gov). About 98 percent of the U.S. grizzly bear (or brown bear) population resides in Alaska, to the tune of 30,000 bears, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Parks Service.

This trip will be the first time my children have flown on an airplane.

This time, along with the excitement and wonder I feel, I am afraid.

I know more now. And much like road trips of the 1980s followed different rules, I know now that times have changed. I know my son’s meltdown could be filmed and plugged onto Instagram. I know our experiences could be on the evening news.

So many things could happen, I know. I’ve been packing and re-packing for weeks, making lists, gathering snacks and books, to try to prepare for all of those things that could happen. Part of me wishes I was back in the good ol' days, when someone else made me a treasure bin and bought my orange juice and sweet roll and told me everything would be all right.

That’s my job now.

Cross your fingers kids, we’re going on an adventure.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.

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