With summer quickly approaching, families across the country will begin planning their summer travels. While some will opt for airplanes, trains and buses, many will pack up the car for the traditional Road Trip. For generations families have both anticipated and dreaded the endless miles of American highway. For some it is merely an obstacle to their destination, while to others (like my family) the journey is part of the adventure.
What turns the road trip from an obstacle to an adventure? That’s a great question! I think the answer is planning and having the mindset that the drive is a positive part of the family’s experience. As my children grow older, I treasure our time in the car more than ever. I realize the days of packing them with us are growing shorter as they get closer and closer to adulthood. So, we do our best to make the most of those precious miles between us and our final destination.
Before leaving on our trip we take the time to prepare. We make a basic outline of the areas we will be driving through and the types of activities which are available along the way. We encourage the whole family to be involved in researching the information. Everyone seems to have a more positive mindset about something they have helped plan!
Figure out how much time your child (and yourself!) can realistically handle in the car then stick to that each day. Too much time in the car can make the whole family grouchy, even if you have had fun along the way (too much of a good thing…). Most children can handle about 6 – 8 hours max. We don’t plan hotels along the way because we do not want to be tied into making a certain destination each night. We can stop wherever we need to, based upon the mood of the family.
Though you may plan out the basics of your journey, allow for flexibility. Watch the roadside signs and you may find a ‘must-see’ tourist attraction! Some of our favorite trips have included stops at attractions that weren’t in the travel and tourism books.
Pack a variety of activities for the drive. If your car is equipped with a DVD player, take along some movies (check out your local library and you will find some interesting educational movies). Try to limit the DVD usage to a few hours each day, otherwise the children will soon tire of watching movies and they also miss out on some of the traditional adventure of the road trip. Older kids might enjoy learning a new skill along the way. There are some great resources available to teach things like sign language, foreign languages, or a craft. They will be proud to show off their new skill after the trip.
We pack a variety of snacks (some healthy and some not so) in a lunchbox for each child. We find parks or rest areas with picnic areas to stop at every few hours. The kids can munch out of their lunchbox then have some time to run around. If you have the space, pack along some sports equipment and the kids can get lots of energy out by playing ball or jumping rope. We find this allows us to save the money and time associated with a stop at a restaurant, plus eating light snacks seems to be easier on little tummies.
The best thing we have found to pass the time on our long drives is talking, singing and laughing! It’s a great time to share family stories from the past. It seems like so many of our favorite stories are from previous road trips. We share stories from before the kids were born, from our own childhoods, or stories that have been passed down in our families for generations. We switch to a radio station with music we might not usually listen to (like the oldies!) and sing along. My kids bring along some of their favorite joke books and keep us all laughing with a variety of really awful jokes.
Most importantly, we build memories to share on our next road trip. Memories they will hopefully someday share with their own children as they pass mile by mile on their way to the Grand Canyon or Disney World. Through our years of traveling our family has come to one major realization which has become a life lesson for us all. Our trips are as much about the journey as about the destination.