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A Family Afar: Highway to Hell

Road trip! A modern family takes a long drive up the California coast


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Say the words “road trip” in some families, and it conjures memories of being held captive in the back of a station wagon with no air conditioning and painful sing-alongs. My dad had this charming warble as he crooned old cowboy favorites like “Home on the Range” and “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain.” Mom favored show tunes like “Over the Rainbow,” gleefully sung while looking backward to ensure we were mouthing the words along with her.

The echoes of “Are we there yet?” still ring in my ears.

Childhood memories dimming, we thought maybe our modern family could brave those rolling pavements—this time with AC and satellite radio. We planned an epic Bailey-Klugh foray up the California coast on Highway 1, from San Diego up to San Francisco and back in a week. It would be a nice change, we told ourselves, from getting on a plane to destinations afar.

But I smelled trouble as soon as Ava and Sophia showed up at the back of our SUV, packing in two suitcases and two duffel bags each. When questioned about the need to bring the entire contents of their closets for just seven days, they threw looks of horror and disgust. “Of course we need multiple outfit options, Daaaaad!” Well, I know when to pick a fight, and when I will lose.

Parents 0, Kids 1.

Arriving at our first destination in Santa Barbara, the full effect of over-packing hit the kids head on. We explained that they are old enough to manage their own belongings, and it was a lesson hard-learned as they struggled to schlep their bulk freight into the hotel. Those bags became their albatross, as we checked in and out of four more hotels over the following six days. Bonus points for rooms on the second floor with no elevator.

Parents 1, Kids 1.

Soon, another important theme emerged—the dire importance of cell phone coverage. The farther up the road we ventured, the more beautiful and remote the countryside grew. Twisting and turning up Highway 1 along the craggy coast past Hearst Castle, mobile service went spotty and was eventually nonexistent. By the time we reached the towering coastal redwoods of Big Sur, it dawned on the girls that reception was gone and not coming back. Aghast, they stood helplessly outside the rented log cabin, tears forming at the thought of a digital void. Their fear was palpable as we suggested family game night—perhaps charades. Parents 2, Kids 1.

The rest of our road trip could easily be named “The Quest for Wireless.” We searched for signal strength along hiking trails, at the top of redwood-covered mountains, while watching sweet sea otters bob in the waves of Monterey Bay, and in roadside cafés offering free Wi-Fi with the purchase of three giant Slurpees and a pack of gum. ANYTHING to avoid the wrath of teenage girls unable to access their Instagram accounts or Snapchat their besties back home. Parents 2, Kids 47.

Things relaxed somewhat when the road rejoined us with civilization. Normal patterns were reestablished, smiles returned, and our family was able to navigate the remainder of our trip with little drama. There was even a momentary group sing-along to Drake and Rihanna’s “Work.” My mom would have been proud. But that hope for unplugged family bonding along the open road, without digital screens and the constant ping of social media notifications? Yeah, #notsomuch.


Jon Bailey is co-founder of i.d.e.a., a San Diego–based marketing agency. He also writes the travel blog 2dadswithbaggage.com.

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