If your family is like ours, over the years you've enjoyed touring this ''absurd, brilliant, angular country'' - as Josephine Tey described our beautiful land.
For us it all started when we borrowed that first pup tent and camped our way from Minnesota to the West Coast. Our first child fell easily into this budding family tradition. Eventually both children delighted, during their first dozen years at least, in the annual vacation trip to such far-flung destinations as Big Bend National Park; the Thousand-Mile Drive around Lake Superior; San Francisco; and Gettysburg, Mount Vernon, and Williamsburg (on a Bicentennial visit).
Time passes, however. The 6- and 10-year-olds amenable to whatever itinerary seems best to their parents are suddenly 14 and 18, with other commitments. Nostalgically they may agree that a family trip is a good idea. But when it comes to all that togetherness in the car, parents might well rethink and discuss travel plans to make this experience more memorable.
With young adults living at home longer, we've found that vacationing together (when feasible) also benefits the home situation, as we relax and enjoy one another under holiday conditions. Here are some ideas that have helped:
* Bring teen-agers in on all aspects of the vacation plan; use some of their imaginative ideas. You can now share responsibility for making this a fun-filled , educational event. Be sure everyone has some influence on (1) how long you'll all be away from home; (2) your major destination and possible sidetrips; (3) the amount of money available and how it will be allocated for gasoline, food, overnight accommodations, entertainment, and souvenirs. Pick a volunteer to keep track of actual expenses.
* Teens will usually offer plenty of good-humored assistance with the mechanics of an automobile trip. If you're properly insured, a licensed teen can provide needed relief behind the wheel. On a budget-wise camping trip (which does require work), we put all that youthful energy to work setting up and taking down tents, scouting out dried wood for the traditional evening campfire, and roasting the hot dogs.
* You may have to submit to a certain number of hours of ''their'' music. Headsets or a transistor radio in the back can help relieve this problem. If your teens use the car radio for their tapes, compromise by allowing equal time for your own favorite tapes or for blessed silence. As a matter of survival, we were dragged into lukewarm tolerance of rock music somewhere between Syracuse, N.Y., and Chatham, Mass., in June 1981. The moment stands out in my mind as the dawn of an inkling of what it's like to be a young adult in the 1980s.
* Teens may miss school friends. Help out by packing plenty of writing materials and stamps. Later there will be post cards, so take along your local telephone directory to supply addresses of friends.
* Imaginative teens always notice what's new to do. They'll spot the motel with HBO and join early risers in the lobby for continental breakfast. They'll while away the hours contentedly taking a sun bath under the van's sunroof. Not long ago, near the Mexican border, our daughter made a quick stop at a local porch sale and came away with colorful, like-new garments at 50 cents apiece. Souvenir shops were selling such items for $20 and $30.
* Unlike younger children, you don't have to worry about teens amusing themselves. During odd hours, rest stops, and overnights, they may be found swimming, jogging, playing catch with baseball and glove, throwing a frisbee, fishing, working out on a camp basketball court, snapping a camera, painting and sketching, reading and writing. Remind them to bring along materials for their favorite leisure pastimes.
Car travel with teens provides a chance for relaxed conversation and fun together, as well as observation of concerns overlooked in the busyness of daily life. Here parents may empathize with the young man who, if he seems overly concerned with appearance, is having to adjust to his sudden six-foot stature. And they can sympathize with a daughter who seems coolly in control, but still craves encouragement as college studies become increasingly challenging. Living cheek by jowl on these tours reminds us of how very welcome parental understanding can be, even to the most self-assured teen.