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Next Avenue: Remember road trips? Maps, books, Punch Buggy and no AC: How did we survive?

We took them in the days before screens were embedded in car headrests for kids to watch movies. Before they could wear headphones and listen to their own music or even play a videogame.

Heck, we sometimes took them before cars had air conditioning.

Whew…how did we ever survive?

For the most part, car trips signified one thing: summer.

I remember riding with my parents when I was a kid on day trips from our home in Maryland to somewhere not-too-far away like Hershey Park in Pennsylvania or to a friend’s home at the shore.

A number of years after my dad died when I was only 10, my mom had remarried, and I took trips with my mom, my stepdad and always a friend. As an only child, I was allowed to take a friend along.

We spent many days riding in the car to Lancaster, Pennsylvania or Ocean City, Maryland. Unlike siblings, my friend and I usually wouldn’t fight — because we knew what would happen if we did. Next time, I’d be on my own.

But we would do things like see who could spot the coolest license plate or the one from the farthest away. We would “moo” at cows and “baa” at sheep. And I would actually read. To this day, I can easily read on a car or train without getting the dreaded “car sickness.”

See: 12 best American road trips

Remember ‘Punch Buggy?’

When I went with my friends and their brothers or sisters, things got more serious. We would have fights (he’s touching me!) or arguments (it’s my turn to pick the radio station!).

We’d amuse ourselves with games that hurt like Punch Buggy. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s how it worked: we would all scan the roads with our eagle-eyed glares, trying hard not to blink, and the first one to see a VW Beetle, also known as a ‘Bug,’ would yell at the top of their lungs, “Punch buggy!” and then proceed to punch everyone — well, at least the other kids — as hard as possible in the upper arm.

Yep, we were little monsters.

Oh, and let’s not forget the whining of “Are we there yeeeeeeetttttttt???” And the promise from our parents that if we didn’t keep quiet, they would “Turn this car around right now!”

While it made us shut up at least for a little bit, they never turned back. Probably because they knew our whining and crying wouldn’t be even close to being worth it.

Check out: 7 off-the-radar places worth stopping on a California road trip

Road trips never change

When I got older, I took road trips with my friend Julie. She was determined that I would have a great summer after my college boyfriend had dumped me.

Back then, she had some cool two-door car — the name of which escapes me now — and not only did we think we were the coolest thing on the road, but we knew we were because she had a portable CD player that we could run by putting a connected cassette into the cassette player of her coolmobile. If anyone reads this who is not of our generations, they will begin to wonder if we discovered fire, too.

When my new boyfriend, who would become my husband, and I would take trips, we had tons of CDs to choose from. We started with taking snacks with us that we still hunt for to this day: Munchos and cookies. Our recent choice has been Oreos because they won’t melt like all the others we took back in the day.

We used to get TripTiks from AAA, and keep a stash of other paper foldout maps to all the places and surrounding areas we would be traveling through. Back then, bathroom breaks also included spending time looking at the maps to make sure we knew where we were.

Also see: Four valuable lessons I learned taking a road trip in an electric car

I remember the first time my husband and I went to what would become one of our favorite vacation spots, Cape May. I’ll never forget it: we were listening to the Goo Goo Dolls’ CD “Dizzy Up the Girl.” I was playing navigator and reading the TripTik to my husband because I usually have a better sense of direction than he does.

As I was telling him that according to what I was reading, he needed to keep going straight.

With exasperation in his voice he yelled, “I can’t” and pointed straight ahead — to the Boardwalk at Wildwood.

We had missed Cape May by this much…

Earlier this summer, we traveled there again, and many things were different — like we tend to listen to funny podcasts or ones about true crime in between satellite radio. There are no more paper maps; we do all our navigation by our smartphones. And I’ve got a rolled-up towel behind my lower back because too long in the car…well, let’s just say I’m not a happy camper.

Don’t miss: 5 things I learned while traveling with my wife and adult children

But some things remain the same: we still “moo” at cows, “baa” at sheep and eat Munchos and Oreo cookies.

Thank God we no longer play Punch Buggy.

Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer who lives in Baltimore. She’s the author of the humor book “Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.” Reach her at WojosWorld.com

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, ©2023 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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