Growing up, I spent the most of my summer holidays in the car. My dad and mom would pack me and a small collection of my books and stuffed animals into our 1990 Dodge Spirit, and we would set out on day trips across Ontario. We’d head to Niagara Falls, Sauble Beach, Collingwood— anywhere just interesting enough to justify the hours spent in transit from our home in Cambridge. Then, because we couldn’t afford to spring for a hotel, we’d drive home after sunset. I would fall asleep in the back seat, wake up in my own bed and spend the next day telling my friends how scary the haunted houses on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls were (at least from the outside—my parents refused to let me go in any of them).
Part of me resented being trapped in a moving can with two grown-ups who didn’t want to listen to the Backstreet Boys on repeat. But as soon as I learned how to drive, cars once again became a vessel of freedom. My friends and I set out to create our own memories, before rolling home by nightfall since my American Eagle paycheque wouldn’t cover a hotel. We drove to Grand Bend to load up on seashell necklaces from the array of surf shops and to Niagara Falls to overindulge in its buffet of wax museums.
Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had happened on these road trips—behind the wheel and free from the distraction of phones—and some of the best snacking, the best renditions of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and the best accidental revelations, since my inability to follow faded MapQuest directions routinely landed us far from our intended destination.
After an afternoon at Grand Bend, my friend wouldn’t listen when I told her we were driving the wrong way home, so I stubbornly stayed silent—until I read the “Bridge to USA” sign out loud from the back seat. On another adventure, we realized we had only the Goldmember soundtrack to listen to. In Ottawa, I nearly ran out of gas on a bridge, and coming home from Wasaga Beach, a pal and I thought it would be fun to get lost on purpose—which backfired when we realized that neither of our phones had service. But even these imperfect moments were still perfect because the stakes were low. Day trips leave room for error: Knowing that the day’s adventure has a shelf life lets you lean into every experience, comfortable in the knowledge that should you need to go home, there is an exit coming up (something an airline pilot would never do, no matter how hard you beg).
Hopping into a car and just going is exciting; it’s so easy, yet it feels impulsive and reckless. It’s controlled chaos that’s the foundation of the “best summer ever!” and, as you get older, a tame day off from real life. It’s commitment that requires no real clout. To this day, many of my favourite memories are of eating sandwiches at a rest stop with my parents as they plotted the most scenic route to wherever we were going. Because the best journeys are never about the actual destination, no matter how amazing the haunted houses along the Niagara strip are. The most memorable expeditions are about spending the day with people you love, scream-singing along to nonsense, and reminding yourself that you don’t have to go it alone.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of ELLE Canada.