Roap trip calmer the second time around

  • A view of Niagara Falls from the New York side.
By Tristan Prejean,

On our first anniversary 19 years ago, my husband and I decided to visit Niagara Falls, N.Y. We enjoyed our trip, and recently decided to return so our children could see the falls.

We hadn't taken a family road trip since our 11-year-old was a baby, so this was a trip we were looking forward to with much anticipation. There were advantages to waiting so many years. We didn't have to take half our house with us. No strollers, car seats, playpens, diapers, baby food, formula, bottles, etc., etc.

The kids had one suitcase each, which they packed for themselves. They took along books, movies and games so they wouldn't get bored during the six-hour drive.

It was nice that I didn't have to calm fussy kids like I did 10 years ago on a trip to Baton Rouge, La.

On that trip, the baby was crying and our toddler was pleading for me to read to him, so my husband suggested that I climb in the back with them.


"You don't need any help with directions?" I asked.

(What was I thinking? Would any man really admit that?)

"No, I'll be fine. Just quiet those kids so I can drive," he said.

I took my assignment so seriously that I didn't look at our location until a few hours later.

A road sign declared "Atlanta, 90 miles."

"Ah, hon? Is Atlanta on the way to Baton Rouge?" I sweetly asked while looking for his reaction in the rearview mirror.

(Most wives know not to ask, "Did you make a wrong turn?")

The look on his face told me that he was not going the direction he had intended.

We had missed a turn in Tennessee and were going southeast instead of southwest.

Boy, was he frustrated. I tried to alleviate that by making comments such as, "Wow, kids, Daddy's showing us the Atlanta skyline at sunset. Isn't it pretty?"

Because we got caught in work traffic, we had plenty of time to make observations.

On our recent trip, we didn't have to worry about directions, thanks to MapQuest and "Gertrude," my husband's pet name for the voice of our Navigation system. He thought she was a little demanding, especially when she'd ask him to make an "immediate" left turn. They had a little banter going back and forth, much to the delight of our kids.

When we arrived at the hotel, my husband found it humorous that the voice on the elevator also was female. Another woman telling him what to do ....

So, of course, she had to have a name, too - Matilda.

Matilda told us what floor we were on and when we were holding the "door open" button too long. Sometimes it takes longer to get on board when there are four of you traveling together. We thought Matilda was more accustomed to business travelers than vacationing families.

We took our time deciding what we wanted to do during the three days we were there, and it was relaxing. We rode on the Maid of the Mist, experienced the Cave of the Winds' Hurricane Deck under the falls, walked to the 230-foot observation tower overlook to take photographs, watched "Niagara: Legends of Adventure" in the visitors center and took a cruise on the Erie Canal in nearby Lockport, N.Y.

Our last night there, we decided to rent a family movie in our room. As we were making selections, another female voice came on with directions.

The kids wanted to know what we should name her.

My husband just shook his head.

I think they decided on Bertha. Then they joked that Mommy seemed a little jealous of all these other women telling Daddy what to do.

Actually, that's not something I want to do, especially on vacation. If we get lost while he's driving, if we end up on the wrong floor or set off the elevator alarm or if we select the wrong movie, he'll eventually figure it out. This trip was about having fun as a family and not overplanning. It was nice.

My husband and I both decided that road trips are less stressful than airplane flights. When you set your own schedule, it's easy to change plans if the weather doesn't cooperate or if you see something more interesting along the way.

We just need to keep the change of plans a secret from Gertrude.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page.

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