The look of disbelief on my friend’s face was priceless. She had spent the last ten minutes of an otherwise enjoyable lunch talking about how much she was dreading an upcoming family road trip over the holidays. Her jaw dropped when my only reply was, “I actually enjoy family road trips”. How can that be?
Certainly as a family with four children and many road trips under our belt, we have had our fair share of fussy toddlers, car sick youngsters, and sullen teenagers buried in technology. But all in all, looking back over the years, we have had some pretty amazing times while enduring the challenge of being confined to a small space over a long period of time with five other people.
An enclosed car can actually be an opportunity for reconnection and family bonding. Traveling and shared experiences nurture conversation. But the ones you love the most can also be the most annoying. Planning ahead can help ease the stress and tension a long car ride can create. With the right entertainment and motivation, time will fly by just as quickly as the miles beneath your tires!
Try these twelve quick and easy tips for a more joyful journey:
- Make sure you and the family get a good night sleep before your trip begins.
- Road games are essential to keeping the focus on the trip instead of the destination. I-Spy, I’m going on a picnic, 20 questions, Contact, the license plate game, and hangman are all good diversions. Talk to older children in advance of the trip about cooperating and agreeing to play to help pass the time for the younger ones. Invariably they end up having just as much fun.
- Make frequent stops so everyone can get out, stretch their legs, and run around.
- Plan a special pit-stop near the halfway point of the trip. A break for a museum, playground, park, or even an ice cream can help break the monotony and make the distance seem less overwhelming for those with shorter attention spans.
- Have each child bring their own back pack with items such as books and toys for quiet time and individual entertainment. Don’t hesitate to have 20 minutes of each couple of hours designated as quiet time.
- With older kids, plan to spend (and tell them in advance) some portion of your trip tech-free. A good time for this is after you have had an adventuresome stop that will initiate conversation. Have some planned conversation-starters ready.
- Pack a change of clothing just in case of accidents or spills.
- Have an audio book and a fun playlist available for times when the road feels particularly long.
- If you don’t have an onboard TV, download a movie on your iPad or tablet and set it up so everyone in the back seat can watch.
- Tell stories. Any story. Real or made up. We start with “once upon a time…”. You will be surprised what you hear. Some of the biggest belly laughs I have heard have come from my teenagers while listening to their Dad tell outrageous stories while driving down the road.
- Be ready to listen. Talking in the car without making eye contact can be less threatening for kids. They will often open up in unexpected ways.
- Bring pillows and blankets!
Long trips with the family can be challenging. Driving while stressed or distracted is dangerous, so try some of these tips to help ensure a safe road trip. Think of your next family road trip as an opportunity for making memories and spending uninterrupted time together.