By: Anastasia Bonifate, Kayak Pittsburgh Attendant

I have always loved road trips.

I believe that is something I need to get out of the way before I spend the next 800 or so words unabashedly geeking out over America and all of its hidden gems. From what I have learned from friends and family, you either love road trips or you absolutely despise them. Some have horrible memories from childhood road trips trudging around in museums that their parents wanted to go to, spending waaay too long in kitschy tourist trap gift stores, or eating their fifth McDonalds meal of the week in yet another rest stop.

That’s not me. I’m someone who is excited to sit in the car all day and can’t even will myself to fall asleep lest I miss some interesting roadside attraction. There’s something special in staring out of the backseat window, watching the trees turn into corn, which turns into grasslands, which turns into hills, which turns into full blown mountains, which turn into mesas and buttes and giant red rocks. It truly is America the Beautiful and even though the internal workings of this country can be ugly and vicious, the outdoors are calling and are the best place to place to think, dream, explore, and create.

This country is highly accessible by car, and gas prices get lower with literally every mile that you head away from Pittsburgh. The National Parks and recreation areas are a wallet friendly family vacation. You can get the “America the Beautiful” Annual pass good for entry to 2,000+ federal recreation sites for just $80 per car (free for military families, citizens with permanent disabilities, and for fourth grade students)! If that isn’t enough to entice you to pack the whole family into the car, as of this summer there are now 60 National Parks (Hey, Gateway Arch!), none of which are in Pennsylvania. So we better hit the road!

Starting this summer’s Great American Road Trip, we were gassed up, snacked up, and mapped up due to some very diligent planning. However, the first family squabble came on only the second of 10 days. After visiting the Antique Archeology store from the show “American Pickers” my sister decided to take some pictures of riverboats on the Mississippi. We had to cross some train tracks to get there, were there for about five minutes and started to walk back to the car. A freight train came across the tracks, and it was an oh-so-American moment. Until the train stopped. For the next 15 minutes we brainstormed whether or not you can crawl under a train (my mother’s common sense told us no). Then we finally called the police who made some calls to eventually MOVE! THAT! TRAIN! After the train incident we had two more stops in Iowa, and the fact that both the Field of Dreams movie site and the Buddy Holly plane crash site were located on dirt roads just felt like the Midwest. Walking through a corn field at golden hour listening to “American Pie” on the way to the plane crash memorial was a better way to end our day then where it started at the train.

For the rest of the trip we steadily gained elevation, but even if we didn’t I would still call it breathtaking. There are moments that I can never forget that I am so glad I got to experience on this trip, with these people, and at this time. Next year I will be graduating high school and off to college. I am thankful for every time that my family did not follow my intensely planned out binder full of maps and that we went off course. Being spontaneous was the reason that we got to watch elk drink out of a crystal clear lake in Rocky Mountain National Park and then calmly walk no more than five feet away from us. Setting down the Triptiks and Google Maps to instead listen to a barber from Colorado who directed us down the scenic route to Arches National Park. This scenic route was a highlight of the trip. We drove through a ghost town in Utah before coming upon massive rock formations and eventually stopping to cool off in the Colorado River. Canceling a motel reservation to avoid more driving led to being able to sleep in an Oregon Trail style covered wagon, falling asleep in Utah with the brightest night sky ever.

Robert Frost knew a thing or two when he took the road less traveled. It’s 2018, and so so easy to get caught up in our daily lives. When we stop to actually go on vacation, it’s more of a death march from photo op to photo op and less of a vacation. On the flipside, it’s already 2018, what are you doing with your life? It’s not about the money spent, or the pictures you will take. Just get out there and go. Your eyes, ears, nose, heart, and soul are the best cameras you will ever have. I am proud to say that after this experience, I still love road trips and my family. Maybe even a little more.