We have a Thanksgiving tradition. Every year for the past three or four years, we have loaded up the car and driven four hours north to a cabin on the water. There we meet with grandparents and uncles and aunts, and a small brood of cousins. It’s something we really look forward to.
Not everyone’s driving four hours for Thanksgiving. Some are driving more. (For Christmas we’re looking at a 22-hour trip west to visit the other side of the family.) A four-hour drive with a two- and five-year-old is a challenge. Like most families, we plan stops along the way. Like most families, these stops are typically for gas and fast food. That might mean two stops for our Turkey Day trek, but when we visit the in-laws in Colorado, the gas station / Taco Bell routine quickly becomes a soul crushing drag.
That’s where highway rest stops are a life saver. From what we’ve observed, not many people really take advantage of what rest stops have to offer. The restrooms seem to be the biggest draw. After that folks visit the vending machines and then may check out the map with the large “You Are Here” arrow. A dedicated few will head over to the dog run to walk Fido. But what about the picnic tables, the grills, the nature hike out back?
Last summer we were coming back from a long weekend on Lake Michigan. The kids were getting grouchy, and I just wanted to stop. No one needed the bathroom, and we had just ate lunch an hour before, but I saw the sign REST STOP and veered onto the ramp. For the next 45 minutes, we played. First it was a game of tag. Then we tried to count all the trees that created sort of an unintentional ring. (There were 23.) Then there was some running of the dog and general horsing around. It was an exhilarating stop. We returned to the car with restored energy and cheerier moods. Nature does that. The Speedway parking lot does not.
This summer it was here in Michigan. Last year we stopped on I-80 in Nebraska and, walking around the rest stop, got a feel for the great expanse of the prairie. That day the wind blew from the south with a push as steady and unrelenting as the wind that sometimes comes off the Great Lakes. Heck, it’s probably the same wind. That’s another thing rest stops give us—a chance to touch the earth, feel the temperature, and taste the air.
It’s a small thing, and maybe not worth a whole little soapbox speech, but families would do well to get out the car a little more often on trips. It’s good for the kids and good for the soul.