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Family road trips are still popular
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Kevin, Nan, Brant and Erika Peuser spend a lot of time in their camper each summer. "Three-day weekends and camping is a three-time-a-month deal for us," says Kevin Peuser. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
Memorial Day is the official start of summer vacation season -- the first long weekend of the season when people head for their favorite retreats. For many people, summer vacation means packing the family into the car for a road trip. We wondered how healthy that tradition still is.

Moorhead, Minn. — Family vacations in a car are part of the American culture. Nearly everyone remembers a family road trip. "Are we there yet?" is a question every parent has heard.

Author Bill Bryson reminisces about family road trips in his book The Lost Continent. His family took long cross-country road trips. They'd leave home in Des Moines, Iowa for places like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park. Like most kids, Bryson says, he and his sister would get bored.

"You can take Ohio blue-tipped matches, which are the matches you can strike on jeans and any kind of hard surface. We discovered if you stuck the wooden end into an apple or a hard-boiled egg or something, and threw it out the back window, it became a kind of bomb," Bryson recalls with a chuckle.

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Image Author Bill Bryson

Today, kids have CD players, electronic games and other distractions to keep them from getting bored. But other things have changed -- even the nature of the trip itself. Chuck Lennon, marketing manager with the Minnesota Office of Tourism, says while people continue to vacation by car, they're traveling shorter distances.

"These days, with some of the various threats that we've encountered and the ways of the world, people are staying home," says Lennon. "They're visiting family and friends more often. That's one of the primary reasons for travel."

Lennon says Minnesota's tourism industry has benefited from the change, because it's easier for families to get around Minnesota by car.

Just ask Kevin and Nan Peuser and their family. The four of them live in Fargo, and they're leisure travel warriors.

"Three-day weekends and camping is a three-time-a-month deal for us," says Kevin Peuser.

He says the family loves to pack up their trailer and go exploring.

I just like to be with my family and get away on the weekends, and have some time in the sun.
- Erika Peuser

"You hear people say, 'Oh, gas is going to be $1.80, I guess we won't do this, we won't do that,'" says Peuser. "But it really doesn't stop us because, we know once school's out and summer begins, we're going camping. So what if it's 30 cents more a gallon? We're only going 50, 60 miles away. It's not a big deal. It's not like you're traveling across the United States."

Kevin Peuser grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota. Memories of camping and fishing with his dad make him smile. His wife, Nan, has different memories of childhood vacations.

"My dad hated camping. Poured rain every week we went, and we were in a tent," says Nan Peuser. "He'd get up (and say), 'That's enough, my sleeping bag is in three inches of water. We're out of here.' So we didn't camp very much."

The Peusers say they don't really take vacations, they do weekends. They enjoy the time away from home. It gives them time to relax, read a book and spend time with their children. Brant Peuser, 10, says the family trips are fun and memorable.

"My dad and my sister sank a paddle boat," Brant says. "They were just coming into the dock and they sank a paddle boat."

Brant's sister Erika, 14, enjoys how camping brings the family together.

"I just like to be with my family and get away on the weekends, and have some time in the sun," says Erika Peuser. "Just out fishing with my family and catching big ones. Even though they weren't that big, you know, it feels like they were."

Kevin Peuser says since summer is short in the northland, each weekend is an opportunity for the family to be together.

Chuck Lennon of the Minnesota Office of Tourism says families like the Peusers are common. More people are taking what he calls "trips on a tank full." Lennon says it's a marketing program that's paying off, especially for resort owners.

"They embrace it, they see that in their trends, too," says Lennon. "Their guests are coming for less than one whole week in a summer season. Maybe they come twice, for three or four days."

Lennon is optimistic this will be a good summer for the tourism industry. But he says the biggest factor is always out of their control, the weather.

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