15 hours to Iowa

The holidays for my immediate family and I are synonymous with travel. Sure, just about everyone does at least a bit of travelling during the holidays, but most typically do not drive or ride in a car for 15 hours … halfway across the country, with a small town in Iowa as the destination.

Why not fly, you ask? Well, plane tickets around the holidays for four actually are much more expensive than the cost of driving. So we drive. And we have been taking the yearly holiday trip since we migrated from Iowa to the lovely state of Pennsylvania in 2002, because we just love our extended family so dearly that making the trip each year is necessary. (I promise, no hint of sarcasm there.)

So we throw on our favorite pair of sweatpants, grab a pillow and blanket, don’t bother with makeup, and we’re off. The annual pilgrimage doesn’t come without a variety of issues, however. Sometimes it’s weather, sometimes it’s plain ol’ exhaustion, but a lot of the time it’s my younger sibling and I hissing at one another about who is taking up that extra inch of the back seat, crossing over into our “personal bubble.” Those few feet of space are precious on a 15-hour journey, and crossing that leather Mason-Dixon line that exists somewhere between the left and right back seat of my dad’s Ford pickup means war.

After a few loud hollers and insults, and my dad shouting though the rearview mirror, we eventually give up the battle, maybe eat some string cheese and retreat back to our respective windows only to stare out onto the boring countryside as we slowly but surely pass through Ohio, then Indiana, then Illinois, and finally Iowa.

We’ve done the trip so many times that we know which rest areas we have been to, which ones are really gross and smelly, and which ones are really sleek and modern, maybe with a Starbucks or Cinnabon inside. Ohio seems to have the best rest areas, practically doubling as miniature malls with nice marble stalls. (Thumbs up, Ohio!)

But the best part is when we finally hit the Iowa state line and are welcomed by their lovely sign that reads, “The people of Iowa welcome you. Fields of opportunities.”

Some people think the Midwest scenery is no comparison to places such as Pennsylvania, but there is something comforting to me about the rolling hills, the cornfields and being able to see for miles. I think it’s the memories of my childhood before I moved – my family and the simple life of being a child in the Midwest.

When we finally arrive, 1,000 miles later, it’s generally at my grandmother’s house. Still in sweatpants, hair disheveled and cramped from being curled up in strange positions to try and sleep – my sister and I run into our grandmother’s arms. With a years worth of catching up to do, we do our best to savor every last moment of our stay until we have to make the journey back.

Hewitt is the assistant lifestyle editor at the Sun-Gazette. She can be reached at