The ultimate family road trip movie, National Lampoon's Vacation, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. To celebrate the Griswold family's ill-fated odyssey to Walley World, USA TODAY travel staffers — as well as some of our readers — share their favorite tales of road trips gone awry.
From the readers
An unscheduled pit stop
Our family vacation for the summer of 1983 called for a low-cost, 15-hour nonstop road trip from Louisville to Jacksonville. The four of us were packed in the new AMC Concord sans air conditioning. (This was a defect the dealer promised to correct but failed to deliver before we left.)
As we traveled through Georgia, we came upon a summer storm. The rain poured so hard and the wind whipped with such force that it seemed the fingers of God were shaking the Concord.
Papa decided to pull over, although this would sacrifice his radar-detector-assisted time. As another precaution, he drove on down the ramp but had to move a barricade first.
Suddenly, we had a split-second free fall, followed by an intense impact, and then a final drop. Snacks, drinks, books flew everywhere, as we froze in silence, trying to comprehend what had happened. Papa pressed the gas, but we didn't budge. He opened the door, and a rush of water swept in.
The car was tilted upward, as though we were looking at the heavens. When the weather broke after 45 minutes, Papa again tried to open the door. I stepped out and found myself standing in 3 feet of water. Papa and I walked down the interstate for 3 miles, looking for a station with a tow truck.
"Oh, my gawd!" exclaimed the local tow-truck driver as he came upon the marooned car.
It turned out we had pulled over into an abandoned weigh station, and the barricades were in place because the scales had just been removed — and the pits had not been filled. While our front wheels cleared the pit, the rear fell into the 4-foot hole.
Two tow trucks and three hours later, the car was removed, but both axles were bent — and not under warranty.
— Joe Hinkle, Louisville
Flying luggage, fond memories
The summer of 1970, we set off from New York to California with eight people — five kids (ages 8 to 16), my parents and grandmother — piled into in a 1968 Ford station wagon.
The three-week journey was painfully long and hot, without any leg room to spare. There were countless times that Dad had to retrieve luggage from a highway because he never did perfect the art of rooftop luggage tie-down. A leather bag purchased from an Indian reservation had to be tied to the outside of our car because it smelled like dead cow. Finally, we lost the last piece of luggage into the Hudson River while crossing the George Washington Bridge, only 10 minutes from home (of course it was mine!).
The real treasure of this trip, however, came 30 years later when we found notes from my grandmother, who passed away in 1987. She wrote detailed journal entries, capturing every gas stop, hotel layover and conversation of the trip. We were convinced that she was overwhelmed by our cramped mode of transportation. Her writings said otherwise. She claimed this trip to be among her happiest and most treasured days, a journey that she wouldn't have traded for anything. Today, at 54 years old, I wouldn't trade one bit of it either.
— Roberta Borsella Farnum,