If you want to have fun, travel light hearted


To say I’m kicking myself for not buying the squirrel would be an understatement.

We were blessed to embark on our 11th annual summer road trip this year. The habit of taking three-day tours with my cousin and our collective four children started when the children were toddlers and continues today when all are in their teens.


We like to say we plan but in truth our planning has all the attention to detail of tossing a dart at a map and hoping for the best. When it comes to our travel plans, we like to engage in what I have come to call “magical thinking.”

Magical thinking means that if you expect good things to happen, they usually will. Although this might initially sound terribly spoiled, the truth is that it works primarily if one lowers their expectations. We don’t insist on only the slickest, hottest destinations. We are modern tourists with a 1950s sensibility.

We like diners, state parks, museums and the worlds largest, smallest, shortest or tallest anything. We are suckers for old stuff, and if your grandparents have a vintage picture postcard of it we’ve probably been there.


We planned a trip to look a blue hole (read: lake). The kids still laugh uproariously over the time we drove around for hours looking for the world’s shortest street (hint, it’s between the front and back tires). While there we also found the world’s best ice cream. ‘Tis the balance of the universe.

Granted, driving around aimlessly looking for the world’s longest rubber band or largest ball of twine is helped immeasurably if you aren’t plotting how you can “accidentally” fling your co-riders from the vehicle. Road trips tend to run smoothly if you fundamentally like your travel companions.

In my case it helps that my numero uno partner in non-spousal travel has been my best friend since we were nine. Anyone who has first-hand knowledge of your obsession with Rick Springfield and bubblegum lip gloss is not going to take seriously any tantrums you may have on the subject of “nature and why I hate it.”


When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When roaming, do as the townies do. These are words to live — and eat — by. Guidebooks are great and the Internet is invaluable, but a key component of magical thinking is talking to actual people.

No one knows the locality you are planning to visit quite like the locals do. Talking to locals we find the “real” best restaurants (not just the ones that can afford the best advertisements). We have eaten some of the best food anywhere (if I do say so myself) simply by asking the locals what’s cooking.

This is not to say that all members of our party are foodies. Greek, Mexican, Italian or other — my son has eaten a cheeseburger in the finest restaurants across eight states. Another component of magical thinking is not sweating the small stuff. Cheeseburgers are decidedly small stuff.


The taxidermy squirrel came along, as these things naturally do, when we stopped at a yard sale. You want to really get to the heart of a region? Paw through the locals castoffs. First we bought a 4-foot long sword because why wouldn’t you?

There is nothing hotel staff likes better than a party of six traipsing through their lobby armed. I’m pretty sure we’re on a list somewhere. If not, then at least one five-star resort staff is asleep at the wheel.

If not for the sword we would never have had the opportunity to consider the glory and wonder of a garage sale table featuring an actual, taxidermy squirrel. Magical thinking again. There he was, laying on side, among the cloudy Tupperware and old light bulbs, somewhat worse for wear but still clutching the acorn permanently adhered to his tiny paw.

As thrifty as I am, this was a first for me. So enamored was I that I did snap a photo, mostly so I could prove that this actually happened. The folks back home did not want to miss this.

I did not, however, even think to ask how much the squirrel might cost. This was primarily because I was so squeamish that I couldn’t make myself stand it upright for the photo. Short of training it to follow me, I couldn’t see much use for an object I could not bring myself to touch.


Still, it’s not every day you get an opportunity to purchase road kill. Having survived a wine sampler, surrey ride, a one pound burrito and near-fight with a pirate, I’m kind of regretting having passed on the squirrel. He could have become our vacation mascot.

Picture him in little swim trunks, holding his nut. It could work. I think he goes with the sword.

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