Build a Stronger Family By Taking A Road Trip

With gas prices low, and air travel an ever more unpleasant and expensive experience, road trips are the now trend in my crowd. Which is great, because the magic of road trips happens on the road more than at the destination. Your family is crammed into a small space for hours on end. It’s an opportunity to focus completely on one another and just be silly. Going off course on a road trip has the whiff of epic adventure. And what family doesn’t want epic adventure?

Here are some ways to focus on the moment during road trips and avoid excessive screen time and lethargy.

The best memories are unplanned, so roll with it.

On a road trip from Milwaukee to Austin, in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas, my daughter projectile vomited pancakes all over herself, the seat in front of her, and the back of my husband. I completely freaked out while my husband calmly cleaned himself up and the car. We all still remember the episode fondly and with much hilarity, since it showed the stuff our family is made of. We in fact remember more details about that episode than the rest of the trip, and it’s the first story we tell about that trip.

So when stuff goes wrong on your road trip, and it will, lean into it and laugh about it as soon as possible. It’s the stuff you’ll be talking about with your family years down the road, and perhaps for the rest of your lives.

Before you go, prepare a surprise for your kids for each day in the car.

Consider buying a number of small cheap toys that you can surprise your kids with one at a time during the trip. You can even wrap them like gifts to make them extra exciting. These aren’t toys your kids will keep forever; they are toys that will keep your kids occupied for an hour our so without being attached to a screen. A glorious, glorious hour or so.

Revive road trip games from our childhood.

When I was a kid, we played a car game that was a child-appropriate cross-over between Pediddle and Punch Buggy. Whenever we saw a Volkswagen Beetle (the Punch Buggy part of the game) we’d yell Padiddle and hit the ceiling of the car (the Padiddle part of the game). Now I keep the child-appropriate version of this game going, except that I’ve replaced the Volkswagen Beetle with the Toyota Prius, a fairly ubiquitous vehicle where I live. This PBS web site has some AWESOME ideas for road trip games.

A cookie sheet can be your best friend.

Everyone has their own unique road trip “lifesaver.” Ours is the metal cookie sheet. Why? It’s magnetic, so we can put magnets on it for our kid to play with. Also, it has a ridge, so she can play with various messy things on it (like putty or craft items) without it getting all over the car, or she can eat on it and any messes typically are contained. A cookie sheet might not be for you, but figure out what your lifesaver is, and never ever leave home on a road trip without it.

Pack a cooler and lots and lots of snacks to avoid whining at the gas stations, and don’t forget a water bottle for everyone.

Our favorite road snacks are granola bars, nuts, mozzarella sticks, dried banana chips, cherries, jerky, crackers, and raisins. We try to spring for the good stuff, because in the end it’s still cheaper than eating on the road. Often, we make a lunch of our snacks to avoid fast food on the road. Having water bottles is great, since they are easy to fill at rest stops and we can avoid juices and other sugary drinks. Finally, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t keep some treats like La Croix and premade coffee drinks in the car, too.

Dare I say, get a paper map?

Looking at a paper map we can fantasize about the places we could go to, whereas as the smart phone just tells us how to get from Milwaukee (Point A) to Point B. Thus, paper maps = more epic adventures. Reading a paper map is also, in my humble opinion, an essential life skill, like making hard-boiled eggs or sewing a button back on. A road trip is the perfect opportunity to share this essential skill with the kids.

Drive on!

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