Happy first day of fall everyone in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re like me, this is a time of year when you’re energized and planning new beginnings including (hopefully) some fun family trips. But even as I watch the leaves pile up in my yard, I also like to spend some time reflecting on summer, that great season of beaches, barbeques, and long car rides.
After this summer, I know from road trips. At the end of June 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:
- Eating on the road
- Be a little sneaky
- Music, music, music
- A detour can be your friend
- Don’t underestimate driving times
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.”