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Five reasons why we don’t do family road trips anymore

By Pieta Woolley

When my husband was a child, his parents each summer tucked him and his two brothers, along with their dog, into the back of a hot station wagon and drove from North Vancouver to Lambeth, Ont. To a 21st century parent, such a month-long journey sounds like hell — something only selective memory and nostalgia could improve. But as writer Tim Johnson points out in his article for The Observer this month, the family road trip can be a personal touchstone. “We created some of our family’s most treasured memories on these trips,” Johnson writes. “What stuck was not necessarily the amazing places we visited and things we did, but rather the simple, random moments . . .”

Although travel statistics show that, indeed, North Americans still drive places, the sure bet is that very few families still hop into automobiles for weeks at a time, discovering their country and each other.

Here are five reasons why 21st century families don’t embark on road trips anymore.

1. Coordinating time off between two working parents

As late as the 1980s, before that decade’s recession, most families still had a parent at home, and it was almost always mom. Dad likely worked at a stable, long-term job with vacation weeks built in. Now, both parents work in most families, often cobbling together full-time and part-time, contract and teaching jobs to generate enough income, growth and flexibility to accommodate the bizarre demands of 21st century life. Taking a month off together in the summertime? Right. Try finding a free weekend.   

2. Single parent stress

About one in five families are now headed by single parents. Money can be a major stress, thus eliminating the languorous road trip. Also, enduring the inevitable sibling squabbling without another adult with whom to blow off steam? No thanks.

3. Higher fuel prices, lower discretionary incomes

In 1980, gas was 59 cents per litre (That’s adjusted for inflation!). Today, during the summertime, it often spikes to more than $1.40 a litre — 2.5 times higher than in 1980. Family incomes have been stagnant, too. In fact, for the first time this fall, household debt surpassed Canada’s GDP. So families have far less to spend on seasonal getaways.

4. Competitive kids, ambitious adults

Summer was once a time when kids disappeared after breakfast and returned home at dinnertime, pink and tired from free, outdoor play with neighbourhood kids. Now, for multiple reasons, most families don’t do that anymore. Wealthier children use the summer to upgrade their skills: competitive swimming, dance drills, computer code writing camps and more. Even some adults prefer to use their vacations to volunteer or study, rather than sit around with their family.

5. The lure of the resort

With everyone in the family working so hard, why spend your precious vacation days crammed in your Kia while your kids are strapped into car seats and boosters, fighting over the tablet plug? Instead, head to the Caribbean, where separate kids programs will keep family conflict to a minimum and everyone can enjoy the very un-Canadian tropical sunshine.

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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