Some of my earliest childhood memories are of family road trips. My two sisters and I piled into our emerald green Chrysler minivan, fought over who got to stretch out in the big back seat, and tried to entertain ourselves with colored pencils, activity books, and the license plate game.
Pre-iPad days, y'all.
I remember sleeping in footie PJs as we drove through the night to drop my sister at gymnastics camp in Pennsylvania. I remember whining over whatever restaurants my sisters picked for lunch on our way to visit our grandparents in Florida. I remember having exactly what we needed, even when we were cranky and bored. What I don't remember is how my parents prepared for these adventures.
As an adult, I've had to learn this the hard way: long-distance drives with a family are challenging! However, the preparation and occasional headache are well worth the effort, as I am certain that traveling--via plane, train, or automobile--with kids is an incredible way to build confidence, curiosity, and empathy. To make our longer, multi-day road trips fun rather than fraught, we have three rules:
- Plan stops for everyone. When we map out our driving route, we let each person pick out at least one activity or attraction along the way. We try to make the journey just as fun as the destination. One stop might be at a theme park or funky roadside structure; the next at a state park or farmer’s market (my choice!). Compromise is important here, and everyone gets a say.
- Pack smart and keep the essentials accessible. We keep snacks, games, electronic devices, and reading material within easy reach. This ensures everyone is fed and entertained between stops. Each person gets their own seatback or floor organizer to pack however they would like (with some help from mom and dad), which requires the kids to be independent and take responsibility for their own belongings.
- Safety first. We play the “click” game--the kids try to buckle up before the adults get in the car so we never hear their seatbelts “click.” We’ve also invested in the best car and booster seats and follow regulations to the letter. Each child is allowed to decorate and personalize his or her own seat as long as they stay safely buckled!
Whether we’re driving four hours to visit family or four days across the country, with a little bit of preparation, road trips can be fun, memorable, and a learning experience for the whole family.