A few family road trip tips


 I know from road trips. At the end of June, 2009 we drove 2855 miles over an 18-day period. Starting in Delaware, we headed first for Wisconsin and then continued on to Kansas City before heading east through Saint Louis and Lexington (with a detour to Bardstown, Kentucky for some Stephen Foster and fried chicken) and then back home. Our August trip to Vermont and Labor Day weekend in Manhattan brought us up to a grand total of over 4000 miles for the summer.


A few pertinent details that might make this all more vivid:

  • Our car is small and it kind of smells like BO.
  • The CD player didn’t work for the first 850 miles.
  • Boy oh boy was there ever candy yessirree. And deep-fried sauerkraut.
  • There was no toy that had a screen in the car with us.
  • We tried to stay at 60 miles an hour or under. We succeeded, kinda.
  • Scooby stories? Four or five. Crying? 20 minutes total.

And lest you’re now plotting to hop in your own car and drive without stopping to Delaware so as to rescue my offspring, I offer this anecdote: at the end of the super-fun, week-long visit with family in Wisconsin that involved attending a major league baseball game I asked Tommy what his favorite part of the trip so far was and he said, “driving out here!” as it were the most obvious thing in the world.


And no, I didn’t pay him to say that.

Nor did I drug him.

And no again, I’m not some kind of evil genius.

Which brings me to Road Trip Tip #1: Attitude is everything.

Planning road trips is important, and so is making sure you’ve got enough books, stickers, and black licorice. But the most important thing you can do before, during, and after long car trips is to treat them as if they are fun. Think of those hours of driving as special family time; you’re all together without interruptions, a veritable miracle in this plugged-in age.

So what can you do? Share music. Tell stories. Read favorite books from your childhood aloud. Let the kids get a little bored and then look for license plates or play word games. Give them snacks they never get at home. Talk about where you’re going and where you’ve been. And although I’m not one to proselytize about the virtues of old-school car trips, I’d like to suggest that traveling without screens and headphones – at least part of the time – is a good idea. Because really, how much time do we all get to really listen to each other?

I promise you: If you treat the time in the car like it is something special, something fun, something to be shared, your children will respond in kind. And before you know it, you will have actually made it all the way across the interminable expanse that is Pennsylvania (or Nebraska, or Iowa, or Texas…you fill in the blank). And maybe you’ll even be looking forward to the trip home.

This post is the first one in my 2009 series of Road Trip Tips. Other tips in the series include:

And if you like this post, you might also want to check out my end-of-summer series from last year, titled originally enough, “What I Learned on My Summer Vacation.”

Road trip tips

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  1. Sara says

    My guys love road trips — solid family time – as well as uninterrupted time for audio books! We are huge fans and have listened to Dr Seuss, Frog & Toad, Thomas the Tank, Cricket in Times Square, Magic Treehouse — almost all borrowed from our library. Part of our road trip planning always involves being prepared with good audio books and snacks. Great post – it definitely can be fun getting there.

    • says

      Thanks all – we did have fun. Sara, I think audio books are a fantastic way to spend the time, but for some reason Matt and the boys don’t really care for them. They’d just rather be read to by someone who is actually in the car. Fortunately for us, no one gets carsick. I’m going to do another post later where I talk about fun things to do in the car that don’t involve a screen – audio books will definitely be on the list.

  2. My Boaz's Ruth says

    *cheers* We did a lot of road tripping, growing up. And there was NO DVD players in the car. But I remember it with a lot of fondness. it’s one of the things getting me to try NOT to depend on the DVD player built in to our van (we haven’t turned it on yet to see if it even works. But I do know its there)

  3. says

    You raise an interesting point My Boaz’s Ruth. I actually know someone who paid to have the DVD player removed from a new car because she didn’t want it there. That seems a little extreme to me – I have a feeling that my approach would be more like yours.

    Happily, our little car doesn’t even have power locks, let alone any kind of fancy electronic equipment!

  4. Sherri Martin says

    Years after the last posted comment, i have found your little blog, and am left smiling. My 3 children and i also caught the travel bug when we went on a very sudden and completely unplanned trip from Tennessee to California in less than a 24 hours notice. I packed all 4 of us (Daddy was deployed to Afghanistan at the time, so it was just me and the kids) in 1 main suit case, a toiletry satchel, and packed food in 2 small lunch size coolers… we also had no TV/DVD/Game system anything in the vehicle. Driving across the country was one of the scariest endeavors i’d ever partaken for one simple fact: Driving puts me to sleep! LOL But after the first 3 hours, the next 3 days were AMAZING! We had great weather the first day, and enjoyed snow storms that worsened over the next 2 days as we took a more northern route across the country. After we hit California, we drove back at our leisure and went out of our way to enjoy states we’d never had the privilege of seeing before. We zigged north and zagged south as we made our way back to TN. Once in TN we decided to go ahead and make the “short” drive to the east coast and spend a few days on the beach of the Atlantic. We enjoyed 17 states in 3 weeks, and enjoyed many of them twice. Traveling across the country and back with my 3 kids was by far the most amazing and educational experience for this little homeschool family.
    You’ve inspired me to take on Europe next! =D

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