Author Eric Whitehead with his latest book - chronicling 20 years of road trips with his wife and two sons, across the U.S. Whitehead is a resident of Gilford, Innisfil. MIRIAM KING/BRADFORD TIMES/SUNMEDIA
Summer is associated with road trips - throwing the bags in the car, and heading off on the open road.
But if you really want to see the countryside, while avoiding the crowds and peak prices, try travelling at off-peak times.
That’s the advice of Eric Whitehead, and it’s based on experience. For 20 years, from 1984 to 2004, he took his family - wife Karen and sons Gavin and Adam - on an annual road trip, usually in October, to destinations across the U.S.
The boys were ages 6 and 3 when the adventures began. “At the time of their graduation from high school, they had been to all 48 States,” Whitehead says, travelling by van for 2 to 3 weeks at a time.
At every location and along the way, they took photos and videos of their travels - material that Whitehead has now transformed into a new book, The Holiday Road. Each chapter is a different year, each year a different road trip.
Whitehead says that only once did they change their travel plans at the last minute, and make a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was a year that the family had planned to head down to Florida - but on the way down from their Gilford home, they learned that a Hurricane watch had been issued. After checking the weather maps, they decided to head for the only sunny area: Colorado.
It turned out to be a great decision, travelling across (to them) new territory. “It was great because we had never been to any of the States in between,” Whitehead said. The only problem? They had packed for Florida. “It was a little cool at times.”
Asked about the best road trip, he says, “Probably the year we went to the Southwest.” Once through the flatlands of Kansas, it was a series of positive experiences, including horseback riding in the desert just after dawn, a trip to the Grand Canyon, visiting an Arizona movie studio where even First Aid providers were in costume, and coming back through Utah where “the canyons were spectacular. Not to belittle the Grand Canyon, but these were more spectacular.”
It also helped that both boys were baseball fans; working in a baseball game or two “was always a common denominator for every trip.”
There were no disasters - although, frequently after arriving at their reserved hotel, they would switch rooms or even hotels. “Usually when we did that, we ended up in a really great place!”
The experience has had an impact on his boys. Gavin, now 34, works for a company that provides travel packages for teens. “He’s been to Australia, he’s been to Europe several times. He’s now in Costa Rica... He’s officially in the travel industry.”
The younger son, Adam, who suffered from car sickness on the road trips, is now married with children and also takes his family travelling - but by air.
The Holiday Road is Whitehead’s 4th book, available on his website, www.thatroadtripbook.com for $25 plus shipping. He will also have a booth at Carrotfest, August 16, where he’ll be selling and autographing copies - and chatting about hitting the open road.
“One thing is for certain, travelling gives children an education that cannot be equalled in any book, movie or classroom,” he says.