Photo: Elishama, 9, and Hodaya Ellis, 11, at the Sacramento Zoo

Road Trip!

The Jewish News
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For some, the term “road trip” elicits memories of long-ago family travel in a seatbelt-less station wagon that stopped frequently for bathroom breaks and was littered with stale chips and crayon pices. Add an exclamation point and “road trip!” may bring thoughts of a Florida-bound Spring Break drive with teenage friends and limited funds.

Today’s new-age journeys come with factory-installed DVD players, wi-fi, satellite radio featuring everything imaginable and apps to find hotel bookings, food and gas stations.

Many become road trippers through a desire to save money. Some look to see the country close-up and on their own schedule. Others want to visit multiple attractions or just do something a little different.

For my husband, Michael, and me, annual drives to Florida are destination-focused. Trading security lines and flight delays for window sightseeing and a way to have our own car during our extended stays is just one of the reasons we do it. SUV tripping is also a way for us to journey with our oversized, set-in-his ways, older black pug, who travels in his equally oversized, luxury, pillow-topped car bed. Journeying with Brutus means pet-friendly hotels, stopping at rest stops with dog relief patches of grass and the understanding that only one human can leave the car at a time.

But still, we look forward to our 20-hour, 1,200 mile-plus Florida-bound trips, locked away with talk and music, fully charged devices, stacks of newspapers, a book light, sandwiches and Diet Coke — and special doggy Xanax for Brutus for “just in case.”

According to AAA, we are hardly alone in our choice of transportation mode, with 79 percent of family travelers planning road trips this year, up 10 percent from last year, despite higher gas prices, especially now after Hurricane Harvey.

Baseball On The Road
Since 2009, Rabbi Michele Faudem’s family has been gearing up for road trips with the specific focus of attending minor league baseball games throughout the country.

“I love baseball. I love driving. I love seeing new things and meeting new people,” said Faudem, who created the vacations for her sons Tal, 18, Ari, 16, and Lev Ershler, 14.

“Our country is so beautiful and there is so much to see in it. I love the time in the car and on the road with my kids.”

The trips always include Faudem and whichever of the boys are not at camp. They have been joined at times by her Jerusalem-based relatives: parents, Arlene and Burt Faudem, and brother, Joshua Faudem. Her husband, Jeffrey Ershler, doesn’t always go along, but he does make the hotel reservations for those who do.

“Minor league parks are smaller, family-friendly and personable and really give the kids — especially when they were younger — the opportunity to meet the players and a sense of independence,” said Faudem of West Bloomfield.

Having visited 28 states and more than 30 ball parks, they typically arrive early for autographs. “The boys have had ‘third-out balls’ tossed to them, participated in on-the-field promotions, and Ari even threw out a first pitch at a Burlington Bees game,” Faudem said. “It was the best $5 I ever spent.”

A side trip typically includes educational or historical sites like Gettysburg, World of Coca Cola in Atlanta, Niagara Falls, the Clinton, Truman and Herbert Hoover libraries, Rosa Parks Museum, Second Baptist Church, Lincoln’s birth home, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C.

Shabbat and kashrut-observant, they avoid being away on Shabbat, if possible, and keep kosher by packing coolers of food and trying to plan routes around kosher restaurants.

Faudem said, “The road trips have really impacted my family on many different levels — as Americans, as observant Jews, and for creating great memories and bonds.”

Destination: Kids
Experienced road trippers Sydonia and Jim Gajda typically plan their travels to include both the attractions along the way and a special event or group of people at road’s end.

The retired Farmington Hills couple has driven to New York and New Jersey; and on one trip, flew to Seattle, rented a car and drove to Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler and back to Seattle. They also have journeyed to Arizona, where all of their children and grandchildren make their homes, stopping in Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico.

“We decided to undertake this long eight-day drive, taking it easy, driving five-to-seven hours daily and sightseeing along the way,” Sydonia said. After searching online and consulting with AAA, they planned their route and made hotel reservations in advance, with Jim compiling an extensive and detailed itinerary that included cities, attractions and restaurants, along with distances between them — in miles and time.

“The highlight of our trip was to see the landscape changing from state to state,” Jim said, naming the mountains and trails of Colorado Springs as his favorite stop.

In Sedona, Ariz., Sydonia recalls, “We stopped at a synagogue-sukkah where we spent time with a woman we had met in the same sukkah on our trip the year before.”

Of the 2,000-plus mile trip, she said, “The reward at the end — to see our children and grandchildren — was priceless.

“But when it came time to drive back home, we knew it would not be as exciting as driving to see them all. So, we called the airlines, booked a flight back to Detroit and shipped our car back home!”

Reunion On The Road
Far different from any other “vacation” she has ever taken, Patty Scanlon Cohen of West Bloomfield began a 2015 summer road trip by boarding a Dodge Durango pulling an RV camper in the parking lot of Walmart in Brighton.

She was traveling with three of her “oldest” friends (and former classmates) on the adventure suggested by Peggy Klann Broderick, who now lives in Hornell, N.Y., at an Oak Park High School reunion.

The other two friends — Pam Silvi Varilone of South Lyon and E. Michele Levine Sampson of Sonoma, Calif. — completed the foursome.

The original thought was to rent an RV, but Peggy said, “I decided to buy a “tow-behind” camper, as my retirement plans are to travel the U.S, staying at campgrounds.”

“The road trips have really impacted my family on many different levels — as Americans, as observant Jews and for creating great memories and bonds.”

— Rabbi Michele Faudem

She mapped out the route for the week-long trip, with the others adding to it. Overnight stops — hooking up to electricity at seven different KOA campsites — and daily 5- to 10-hour drives were highlighted along the way by “planned lunch-time with some terrific classmates and some wondrous sightseeing,” Peggy said.

The trip took them through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and into California with visits that included the St. Louis arch, Oklahoma City Memorial, Ozarks, Napa Valley and the Grand Canyon.

“A few times we all looked at each other and said, ‘What have we gotten ourselves into?’ In Illinois, everybody’s phones started beeping with a tornado warning and, in Missouri, we discovered it’s not easy to find a parking space on the street in an RV,” Patty said.

“I drove the entire Yosemite National Park, which was like driving on a tightrope — all uphill,” Patty said. “And in the wilderness of Arizona, in the Mojave Desert, we didn’t pass a gas station for hundreds of miles and the gauge showed empty. There were hardly any cars around, it was 115 degrees and OnStar wouldn’t help unless we actually ran out of gas. We started counting how many water bottles we had left, turned off the AC and seriously started to panic. Then, all of a sudden, we saw a Dairy Queen sign in the middle of nowhere — and attached to it was a gas station. We thought it was a mirage.”

The group ended their journey at Michele’s house in California, before Patty flew home and Peggy drove back to New York, dropping Pam off in Michigan on her way.

“We kept a journal together and Peggy made a book and sent it to each of us with highlights from hers, along with quotes and photos,” Patty said.

The women insist being in close quarters with limited wi-fi and friends who broke into song at the drop of a hat — or in the case of Winslow, Ariz., at the site of a city sign — worked out just fine.

“We had the time of our lives,” Patty said. “I forgot how incredible it was to be with these three girls I’ve known my whole life. It was very powerful. We love each other. But when I got home I couldn’t wait to drive my own car again!”

Travel Budget
While living in Winnepeg, Manitoba, far from any other major city, and with the nearby airport “especially expensive to fly in and out of,” Tikvah Ellis said her family learned the most affordable way to go pretty much anywhere was by car. During the seven years they lived in Canada, Tikvah, her husband, Rabbi Ari Ellis, and their children, Hodaya, 11, and Elishama, 9, made the eight-hour trip to Minneapolis often.

Vacations have included drives to meet with family from California in a midway city, and several trips to a North Dakota airport to take less expensive flights to visit relatives, often stopping to see attractions like “a fabulous children’s museum in Fargo,” said Tikvah, whose family now lives in Southfield. They also have flown to Los Angeles and driven with family members to stops that include Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, sometimes visiting family along the way.

The kids each travel with a backpack with toys and books — and sometimes, outdoor toys — but the family mostly listens to music and sometimes Torah classes.

“Sometimes, if Ari is driving I will read aloud or look in guidebooks or online and tell everyone about what we are seeing,” Tikvah said.

In the hotel, they often watch TV cooking shows, use their tablets, read, play cards and utilize a coin laundry, if available.

Keeping strict kosher, the Ellis’ bring along groceries, food preparation equipment — like a toaster oven — and sometimes cooked items, and look for hotels with kitchen suites, often kashering the microwave.

“We think traveling like this is great for the kids” Tikvah said. It teaches rolling with the punches and coping with change, how to live as an observant Jew in diverse circumstances, the expansiveness and majesty of HaShem’s world — and is a ton of fun!”

Shelli Liebman Dorfman Contributing Writer

Elishama, 9, and Hodaya Ellis, 11, at the Sacramento Zoo
Lev, Tal and Ari Ershler during one of their minor league baseball road trips to Buffalo, N.Y., in 2013
Lev, Tal and Ari Ershler in the stands in Norwich, Conn., in 2013, while on a road trip visiting minor league baseball fields
Jim and Sydonia Gajda during a road trip
Brutus, 13, has made four roundtrip car trips from Detroit to Florida

Helpful Websites

Helpful Apps:

  • Waze: Interactive GPS helps avoid construction, high-traffic roads and speed traps.
  • Koshernearme: kosher restaurant finder
  • Skycatchfire: eateries, attractions, shops, campgrounds, hotels, gas stations, car repair shops.
  • Alongtheway: an iPhone app for finding food, coffee, bars, parks, shopping and more.
  • Opentable: where to eat
  • AAA Mobile App: Roadside assistance, routes, construction, detours, fuel prices, AAA-approved hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, sightseeing, activities.

Tips:

  • Tell someone where you’ll be.
  • Fill gas tank, check oil, fluid levels, battery and tires.
  • Keep hard copies of hotel reservations, addresses, maps.
  • If lost, go to a rest stop or shopping area; don’t stop on the roadside.
  • Leave the car for public transportation or Uber/cabs in busy cities.

What to take

* Emergency kit with mobile phone, flashlight, batteries, tire pressure gauge and adjustable wrench, windshield washer solution, jumper cables, emergency flares or reflectors, drinking water, fix-a-flat, extra snacks and food for travelers and pets.

  • Spare tire
  • First aid kit
  • Garbage bags
  • Extra car key
  • Cash (stashed in the car) in case of wallet theft or no ATMs.
  • ID: Passports if crossing borders

Memories

  • Photo edit with VSCO
  • Create videos with effects and music with magisto.com.
  • Evernote.com: word and photo travel journal
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