One of my most memorable summer vacations as a kid was a road trip I took with my family when I was 10. We traveled up the California Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to Napa Valley, saw some incredible natural beauty camping in Big Sur, visited Hearst Castle (and were very disappointed they wouldn’t let us swim in their pool), and ate steamer clams and Dungeness crab on Fisherman’s Wharf. While I mostly remember it fondly, I admit a family road trip is not for the faint of heart. For every beautiful sight and fun stop along the way, you must spend hours in the car, eat gut-churning fast food and gas station lunches, and endure so. much. whining. It’s basically the least relaxing way you could possibly elect to spend what paltry vacation leave you get.
The last time I took a road trip was as an adult, with my now ex-husband and a couple with whom we were very close friends—until we pulled back into our driveway a week later and I vowed I would never see them again.
I’m afraid I just don’t have the proper mettle for road tripping. If ever again I find myself eager to hit the open highway and spend a gabillion dollars on gas and diner food, I will instead turn to one of the movies on this list* and live vicariously (or thank my stars I got some sense knocked into me).
Little Miss Sunshine
A dysfunctional family—including a junkie grandpa, a failing self-help guru, the wife and mother who supports him, and her suicidal brother—hit the road from New Mexico to get little Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, CA. Along the way, they experience car trouble, death, and the kind of confrontations that can only arise from a cauldron bubbling with years of resentment, catalyzed by the stress that comes from spending hours baking together in an oversized sardine can full of recycled air and exhaust fumes. Also, there’s a pretty awesome dance number.
Maybe you think it’s better to road trip with your college buddies than your family. You may be right, but it’s not all pretty. Josh and his college buddies trek across the country to intercept a sex tape he sent to his long-distance girlfriend, made during a night of drunken indiscretion and sent by mistake instead of a sweet video about life at college. Hilarity ensues, and you will never again send your food back to the kitchen at a truck stop diner if you know what’s good for you.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Or you could road trip with a complete stranger that you kind of want to beat unconscious. Neal wants to get home to his family for Thanksgiving, but his flight home is canceled and he decides he’ll get their faster if he hits the road. Unfortunately, he ends up with a loudmouth shower curtain ring salesman as his co-pilot and barely makes it home in one piece.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Road trips are clearly stressful enough without bringing hard drugs into the mix, but that’s precisely what Raoul Duke and his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo, do.
En route to a motorcycle race he’s covering in Las Vegas, Duke does just about every ilicit substance under the sun, freaks out a hitchhiker, thwarts a highway patrolman, and manages to file his story just before deadline. I can’t really remember the middle of the movie—I was frying balls when I saw it.
Thelma & Louise
But basically any road trip where you don’t end up at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is one you can chalk up in the win column, right? Thelma and Louise were just trying to get away from the losers in their lives for one weekend, but they ended up in the wrong honky tonk with the wrong asshole, and what started as an innocent girls’ weekend turned into an interstate crime spree.
Thank god you decided to stay home, am I right? What are your favorite road trips?
*Why, yes, I did leave National Lampoon’s Vacation off this list, due to reasons of I fucking hate that movie. You can like it if you want, but if I had a time machine, one of five things I would do is go back in time and make sure somehow that Chevy Chase never made movies.