The Days of Cheap Road Trips Are Over



In Coat of Many Colors, Dolly Parton sang that you are only poor if you choose to be. That was my parents’ philosophy when I was a kid. We ain’t poor; we’re middle class.

Perhaps to prove that we were climbing upward on America’s economic ladder, my parents took us kids to Disney Land in 1958. My dad bought a Chevy station wagon without air conditioning, and we were on our way. 

We headed west on Highway 66–America’s Mother Road. We stopped for lunch at rest stops along the way, where my mom would slap a slice of baloney between two pieces of Wonder Bread. That was lunch–along with Koolaid, which Mom mixed herself.

In those days, people couldn’t book hotel rooms online like we can today. On the road west, my dad would drive the family from one motel to another every evening until we found one with the right price.  I imagine that was a little stressful for my parents.

As I said, our Chevy wasn’t air-conditioned, but my dad borrowed a tube-shaped air conditioner that fitted on a passenger window.  Didn’t work too well.  

Dad also borrowed a canvas waterbag that pictured a Native American in a war bonnet. He hung the bag on the car’s front grille. Dad would turn the hose on the waterbag every time we stopped for gas. 

Of course, the water on the waterbag evaporated quickly under the hot Southwestern sun. Theoretically, this evaporation cooled the water inside the waterbag. Theoretically.

On the way home, our car broke down in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and we had to spend a night there. The repair cost for fixing the transmission was astronomical–one hundred bucks!

Looking back, I now realize that it wasn’t easy for my family to drive to California in 1958. Still, we saw everything a middle-class American family would want to see: the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Disney Land, Sea World, Knott’s Berry Farm, and the friggin’ Pacific Ocean.

Oh, those were the Good Old Days! 

Today most families would head for Disney World in Florida–not Disney Land in California. A middle-class family would drive to the resort by car and stay in a respectable chain hotel.  The family would likely eat their meals in restaurants rather than make their own sandwiches at roadside parks. 

But maybe not. Inflation has gone up so fast and so high that many people who consider themselves middle-class may be priced out of a trip to Disney World.

First, the cost of four-day theme-park tickets for a family of four is about two grand.  Five nights in one of Disney’s moderate-priced hotels will cost $1600 for a standard room with two queen-size beds. Meals for six days will cost a family of four about $1600 (according to Urban Tastebuds).

So, we’re talking five grand plus the cost of driving to the world’s grandest theme park.  Gas is projected to hit $6.00 a gallon by summer’s end.

And souvenirs–don’t forget the cost of souvenirs. Mickey and Minnie don’t come cheap.

Altogether, a one-week vacation to Disney World will cost a family of four about $6,000. 

You can’t handle that? Don’t worry. As Dolly Parton reminded us, we’re only poor if we choose to be.  

So if you can’t afford a summer vacation for your family this year, just tell yourself you’re still in the middle class. And keep telling yourself that until you believe it. 

Who needs bottled water?