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Today’s Family Road Trips Are Better Than the TV Versions

Classic family road trips, like those depicted in National Lampoon’s Vacation, would look pretty different with today’s driving technology.

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As a brave American once said: “This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest— a quest for fun.”

Let’s forget for a moment that the man who uttered those immortal words was the rather clueless and hapless Clark Griswold. And never mind that his quest, as detailed in 1983’s much-beloved National Lampoon’s Vacation, would end with a gun to the back of a theme park security guard. Let’s instead focus on his heart, spirit, and sense of adventure. These were the driving forces of the Chevy Chase classic—let’s face it, it’s still the Magna Carta of family road trip movies. They’re also the secret ingredients behind every cooler-packing, highway-cruising family adventure that has come before or since in popular entertainment.

In fact, one could argue that the epic quest for family fun is one of the only things that hasn’t changed since Clark strapped Aunt Edna to the roof rack of his wood-paneled Country Squire. Otherwise, today’s family car vacations are a safer, more comfortable, more informed, and all-around more fun endeavor than they were in the era of the wood-paneled station wagon.

Does that mean today’s road trips aren’t full of surprises? No, those surprises are just less likely to include careening off the road and flying 50 yards in the air before landing in the middle of the desert. Thanks for the memories, Griswold family, but we’ll take it from here.

Charting the Course

Remember Triptiks? They were those spiral bound map booklets you got from AAA that had your route to paradise lit up, Yellow Brick Road-style, in highlighter. They tended to find their way to an inaccessible spot under the seat right when you needed them most.

Guess what? There’s an app for that now.

In fact, it’s probably built into your new car. The ubiquity of guidance technology has essentially neutered the family road trip’s most frequently asked question: “Are we there yet?” If yet another sequel was spawned from the 2005 Ice Cube road trip movie, Are We There Yet?— there’s already been Are We Done Yet? and a TV series—it would be called Estimated Time of Arrival Two Hours and Forty-Five Minutes.

Safer, Less Sorry

In Vacation and a host of family road trip comedies (like Ed Helm’s 2015 Vacation sequel) and fake family road trip comedies (like Jennifer Aniston’s 2013 flick We’re the Millers), the family vehicle tends to take it on the chin—or, the fender. The passengers also rarely complete the journey without at least a few scratches. This was especially true of the seat belt-optional ‘70s, when the unsecured far back of the family station wagon was considered prime real estate for restless kids.

Whether sedans or SUVs, today’s top-rated family cars take safety a bit more seriously than family road movie comedies or Nixon-era parents did. (Sorry, mom.) Of course, people back then never imagined a world where cars have optional safety packages that include things like lane departure warnings and blindspot alerts.

Chairman of the Bored

With many new cars sporting full entertainment systems and wifi capabilities, boredom shouldn’t be as prevalent a side effect of long road trips as it may have been in the era of “I Spy.”

But if somehow video games and TV don’t do the trick, take some guidance from comedian Louis CK in “Country Drive,” a standout episode from the second season of his television series Louie. In the episode, when his youngest daughter chooses to repeatedly announce her boredom during a car trip to visit a great aunt, Louie ignores her at first.

"‘I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say,” he finally responds from the front seat. “You live in a great, big, vast world you’ve seen ‘none’ percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless. It goes on forever, inwardly. The fact that you’re alive is amazing. So you don’t get to be bored.”

Game, set, match.

Smaller Footprint

One of the most iconic road trip vehicles has to be the Volkswagen microbus from the 2006 dark comedy Little Miss Sunshine, one of the most beloved family road films in recent memory. Of course, the film’s lemon-colored loaf of a vehicle boasted the aerodynamics of a brick and topped out at around 20 MPG (and that is downhill with the wind at your back).

These days’ fuel-efficient, family-sized cars can double that number. Not only does that leave money for more Marty Moose figurines, it has less impact on the pristine places you might be visiting. Combine that with the more conscientious way we live today (BYO-water-bottles and just say no to straws), and today’s family road adventures promise to make less of an impression on Mother Earth while having just as big an impact on your family.

Every family, and every family road trip, is different—and that’s a beautiful thing. Wherever your family’s going, Kelley Blue Book has all the resources you need to find the best new car to get your family there safely and in style.