Looking through some old family photos of summers past I’m puzzled by one in particular. I shake my head in amazement at the circumstances surrounding the photo, and the ways vacation travel has changed.

I was about 12 when my Dad, Mom and five brothers and sisters loaded up the old Ford station wagon and headed to Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green for a week of camping. Mom snapped a Polaroid of the smiling family in front of the car as we prepared to depart.

Now, looking at the photo makes me a little uneasy. Since there was eight of us and the back of the wagon was filled with gear, where did we all sit on our long journey? Surely none of us were buckled in. Did we have to strap Ronnie and Tim to the top?  What did we do for entertainment in a packed car for hours? Pull hair and knock heads?

I don’t remember anything about the drive or worrying about our safety. But I do remember that we had a great time during our summer vacation. We arrived safely back home in a station wagon full to the gills with loose-leaf kids. That’s the way families rolled back then — just load up and take off, not worrying about buckling up and hoping a kid didn’t fall out of the window. Or open a door and spill out, since there were no child safety locks back then either.

Nowadays, families roll on vacation in much different fashion thanks to technological and safety advancements. Small children are harnessed in car seats that are pretty much indestructible. The seats lets them sit up high and look out the window. Everyone else buckles up as well. The whole mindset has changed, plus it’s the law. No one has six kids anymore, but those that do buy a minivan.

The entertainment choices are much improved as well. No more pulling hair and fighting, for the most part. If the kids get bored, they can just pop in their favorite DVD and watch it on the overhead console. They can wear their own headphones if they so desire.

If the kids don’t want to watch a movie, they can play games or watch videos on an iPad. Older kids can do the same, or send endless texts to their friends on their smartphone. There’s plenty of ways to occupy the kids on long vacation trips thanks to today’s technology.

It helps the adults as well. I found myself relying on several smartphone apps that made my recent vacation to Florida easier and more enjoyable.

First, of course, was finding the best way to get to the beach. Google Maps and Apple Maps are the perfect travel apps for finding directions. Both give turn-by-turn directions with voice alerts, just like a navigation console. There’s no need anymore to print off and read directions.

Good music is essential on long trips in a vehicle. Music apps like Pandora and Spotify eliminate the need constantly scan the dial for a good radio station, or spend money for a satellite service like Sirius or XM.

Personally, I like using the iHeart Radio app and finding a good station that I can keep on the whole trip. Usually, it’s Magic 96.5 out of Birmingham because it plays a good mix of today’s hits and oldies without a lot of talk.

When my wife gets a little antsy from sitting in a car for hours, and my jaws are tired from talking, she can check her Facebook page or look up some decorating and recipe tips on Pinterest.

While on vacation, weather apps are essential to see if rain is going to spoil a golf outing or a trip to the beach. Personally, I prefer the WeatherBug app over the one from The Weather Channel because it has a better radar.

Of course, all the apps and games on iPads and smartphones require plenty of juice so, it’s best to have spare chargers on hand. When my family rented a house in Florida for a week, we had iPhone chargers in almost every outlet.

Vacation travel sure has changed over the years, and for the better in my opinion.


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