Nov 232010

Going on road trips can be a frugal way of traveling, and quite often a road trip creates memories that will last forever. Road trips make families come together, and they can teach you things about each other that you never knew about before. I have been on numerous road trips in my lifetime, but my favorite road trip of all times is from my childhood.

Danish church in the Danish Countryside

I grew up in Europe, more specifically Denmark in the northern part of Europe, but my youngest aunt (my mother’s baby sister) had moved to England after high school. Back in the eighties the difference between our country in northern Europe and England seemed enormous, and for a nine-year-old girl the difference was gigantic.

One summer after my aunt had moved in together with her boyfriend, my dad decided that it was time for some of the Danes to head to England for a visit. With us we brought a big tent (borrowed from another aunt) and my grandmother. My parents had just bought a Peugeot station wagon with an extra seat in the back (making it a 7 person vehicle), and this was a a very rare thing in my country. He was extremely proud of our new car, and we stuffed it up to the limit, before we drove off on our first major road trip.

I remember sitting in the very back of the car to be separated from my older brother, who was two years older than me, as we would fight like cats and dogs. My grandmother sat in the regular back on the right, my younger brother (5 years younger than me) sat in the middle, and my oldest brother to the right. Driving through my tiny country was a scenic drive, but once we got to Germany it was a boring drive on the Autobahn, so I slept most of the time. We then turned west and made a stop in Belgium, where we found a campground for the night.

This was the first time my family ever went camping, so it was very exciting for us kids. I got to sleep in a small tent cabin together with my grandmother, my two brothers got the middle section of the tent, and my parents the last part. Everything went great until it started raining, and when I woke up in the middle of the night, my grandmother and I almost floated around in a sea of water on our air mattresses.

The rain eventually stopped, but I guess my parents were discouraged from another camping excursion, because once we got to France we spent the night at a hotel. This was the first time that we kids spent a night at a hotel, and everything was different than what we were used to. No one in our family spoke any French, plus the sheets were strange (similar to American hotel sheets) and far from the down comforters we knew from home. The food was even stranger, and as a picky child, I did not get much to eat in France.

Once we got to Calais, we had to take a ferry across the English Channel to Dover in the southeastern part of England. Living in a land of numerous islands, we were used to taking ferries, but not even the ferry trip went as planned. The sea water was a bit rough, and we made our way across the English Channel almost on our side. I remember being horrified that we were going to sink, but we eventually made it across.

My aunt lived in a small town south of London in a typical terrace type house (townhouse), where several small houses were attached together. Amazingly she found sleeping room for all of us, and while my dad complained that my aunt’s place was small, I found it delightful and charming. Our uncle-to-be was cool, youthful and completely British, we all fell in love with him, and he has been a part of our family ever since.

As a nine-year-old, I had never taken any language education, but since I would be starting English classes after the summer break, I had been teaching myself a few words and phrases. In my country we watched American movies with subtitles, and although we only had two channels, I think I understood a lot more English than I had ever realized I would.

My older brother is a bit reserved, and so is my younger brother, which means I was automatically deemed the social butterfly of the family. I was the one, who had to make contact with other kids, but somehow it came easily to me. I found a friend on the neighborhood playground, and I soon discovered that language was not a problem. With my little knowledge of English, I quickly picked up more words, and you do not need to speak much of any language to play ball or swing on a swing.

During our stay in England, we went all over the place. My dad has always been a big explorer, and he wanted to make sure that all of us got the most out of our vacation in England, and my mother made sure that we did it within our meager budget.

We saw castles, ancient ruins, rolling hills, charming British villages, Brighton Beach and we even visited London and several of the famous sights and shops.

On our way back, we took a different route, and we got to visit both the tiny country of Luxembourg, and we also explored Holland a bit more. The trip home was more or less uneventful, but this was road trip that expanded all of our horizons tremendously.

Amazingly, when I look back on my favorite road trip, the first trip to England it not the expensive sights and museums that we visited that stands the most clear in my mind. It is; nevertheless, the mishaps, the strange events, the taste of the food, the sound of their voices and the personalities.

Going on road trips can be an amazing way to experience a country, or several countries in a frugal way. In my own little family, my children will rather go camping than spend time at a fancy hotel, and I suspect that they too will remember those mishaps, sleeping under the stars and fishing with their dad more than they will any of those expensive trips to museums and amusements parks. Last month my husband and I actually took our kids on a surprise camping trip to the Florida Keys. We drove without having booked a campground or a hotel room, and we did not even have a clear destination. We drove for the experience and not for the location, and it turned out to be a success. In fact our four-year-old has declared that he would love to go camping for his birthday in March, and we might just go on another road trip without a predetermined destination.

I only have memories to share from my favorite road trip experience from my first road trip to England, but the images in this post are from my favorite road trip to the Florida Keys and road trips across Denmark with my own little family.

Tips For A Great Road Trip Experience

  • Plan, but expect your plans to change
  • Bring food and drinks to keep your cost low
  • Find frugal and free activities 
  • Bring a map (you never know when technology will fail you.

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