Leah Barton and her family bask in the sun near their white minivan. (Leah Barton)

My husband, Jeff, and I recently had to get rid of our 1998 Toyota minivan. While driving away from the dealership in a newer Corolla, our hearts wrenched a little as our burgundy van disappeared from sight. I put a comforting hand on Jeff’s arm as he reminisced about the adventures he and his friends had had with that minivan during their high school years. I thought fondly of its cracked windshield and taped-together taillight, just a few of the flaws that seemed more like lovable quirks as we drove further away.

Why all this fussing, you ask? Well, let me tell you: contrary to popular believe, minivans are freaking awesome. Besides fitting all of your friends or children and still having space for groceries, minivans are the ultimate road trip vehicle. My family minivans defined my childhood as we set out every summer (and often at random times during the school year) towards a new destination. Although the four of us kids certainly had our times of tribulation, fighting over the captain seats or our turn with the Gameboy we shared, I can safely say that we all look back with warm-hearted nostalgia on those trips in our minivan.

Needless to say, with Jeff’s similar minivan sentiments, we promised each other as we drove away that one day we would reclaim our status as a minivan family. We fantasized about having one with airbags that were up to par, doors that didn’t get stuck shut, and perhaps even a working stereo. Then Jeff mentioned a feature that I hadn’t really thought of before: the built-in DVD player.

It was a feature that I’d coveted as a child, awed when my friend’s mother turned on The Little Mermaid even for a 15-minute ride to the mall. But now, imagining my future children zoned out like I had been in the back of that spanking new Honda Odyssey, I cringed a little bit. None of the vans we had growing up were new enough to have DVD players inside of them, and my parents had never bothered with the portable ones either. We prepared for long hours in the car with a stack of library books, some burned CDs, notepads to draw in, and our favorite pillows. I guess we had our Gameboy, but we had to take turns, which didn’t always happen if my little brother got his twitching fingers on it.

But the point is, I like how my parents left it up to us to entertain ourselves in the car. I think it helped me develop my love of reading for one thing, and I also learned to appreciate the frequent stops at historic markers and scenic views. My husband has also never experienced the luxury of minivan DVD entertainment, but we have a lot of friends who think it’s the best idea ever. How else would the kids stay quiet on a trip across the country?

A fair question, right? I know my siblings and I were not just reading quietly to ourselves the entire time. There was kicking, screaming, yelling, fighting over toys and snacks, and, of course, the Gameboy. My mom has told me stories about when we were even younger where she sang in the car for hours and hours because that was the only thing that kept one of us from crying. Contrast that with the peaceful atmosphere created by four sets of eyes glued to a tiny screen. Pretty tempting, eh?

I’ll admit it. I don’t even have kids yet, and I can see the appeal there, and I know the appeal will be all the greater when we actually have a car full of restless children. But I’m still inspired by the fact that people have been enjoying (or enduring) family road trips for years without depending on movies to make the kids behave. I’m inspired that my parents did it, and that I still grew up thinking road trips are the best thing ever.

So I think we’ll try it—the classic minivan road trip. As our family grows and we adopt a minivan once again, it’ll be nice to choose one that will make travel great through its own merit, rather than rely on digital entertainment features. I’ll be prepared to sing my heart out like my mom did, and we’ll make sure everyone has some good books to read and music to listen to. And heck, maybe they can even share a Gameboy.

 —Leah Barton