… Our First Family Vacation
By Jeff Salter
We’re blogging about car trips this week … and I’ve got a doozy.
In the spring of 1958, we took our first “family vacation” of any magnitude. [Prior to that, all travel that I recall – except for three actual relocations – was visiting relatives and typically rather short distances.] This convention trip was from Covington LA to San Francisco (by way of Anaheim), and many stops in between.
These days, kids act like they’re suffering if the headphones won’t work on the DVD player in their family’s spacious mini-van with 19 cup-holders. Well, folks, wait ‘til you hear how my family of five (with luggage) drove to Frisco and back — roughly 4500 miles round trip. Yeah, a VW Beetle. Not just any Beetle … this was a late 1950s model, made overseas, which had side ‘flippers’ as turn signal indicators (instead of flashing lights). I’m serious. [It was the first Beetle in Covington, as far as I know.] We bought it well-used and then had it repainted. My Mom called it “Peaches” so that tells you what color was selected.
Dad did most of the driving and Mom was usually the navigator on that first trip. Beetles had only two doors, so it was not easy getting in and out of the rear seats. The general setup was that we three kids each took a turn in what we called “way-back” — the luggage compartment behind the rear seat and directly beneath the rear window. It was cramped, hot, and the fabric was incredibly itchy.
Luggage & budget
My entire luggage fit into what, today, I’d call a gym bag … though mine was made of fabric and cheap plastic. My brother had a bag just like it; both were purchased new for that trip.
As I recall, each kid had a travel budget of about $10, which had to last the entire trip (perhaps as many as 15 days). That sawbuck was supposed to cover discretionary expenses such as snacks and souvenirs. Mom and Dad sprang for attendance at whatever we stopped for.
We usually ate breakfast (cold cereal) in the least expensive motel rooms my Dad could find. We often ate sandwiches in the car, while riding, for lunch.
This was one of six family trips that I recall (including four to the westerly states), so some of the routes have become indistinct. I’m pretty sure this first vacation included the following:
* partial day across the Mexican border at Juarez
* partial days at some glorious national parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia, and King’s Forest.
But the highlight of this entire trip was our nearly full day at Disneyland. It had officially opened less than two years before our visit and portions were still under construction. My brother (fifth grade) and I (second grade) were allowed to run free for much of that day and we rode everything that we could get on for the little booklet of coupons we were allowed. [Can you imagine turning loose a 7-year-old and 10-year-old in a vast theme park … nowadays?]
In those early years the waiting lines were nothing like theme parks have since become infamous for. As that wonderful day neared its close (and we’d run out of ride tickets), we stood near the exit gate to wait on our parents and little sister. An older couple exiting the park saw us and just handed us their coupon books with a few tickets remaining. We couldn’t believe our good fortune!
We hurriedly dashed away to take another speedy turn on Tom Sawyer’s Island … my favorite spot in the entire park. For many years I kept the map of that island as one of my treasures. Don’t know where it went.
Most of our time was spent in this city, where my Dad’s convention was. We visited Chinatown and the Fisherman’s Wharf; rode a streetcar and saw (likely traversed) the Golden Gate Bridge.
I bought a cowboy rope and a small knife in Juarez, and a cheap ‘flip-book’ at Disneyland. In Chinatown, I bought a cheap (cork) pop-gun and some chopsticks. And I captured a (free) road-side tumbleweed which my Dad fastened to the back of the car … it made it all the way home.
What has YOUR longest vehicle trip been? What comfort level did you have on that ride?