Wednesday, July 6, 2016

10 Tips for a Successful Family Road Trip

Last year my family and I took a road trip from Phoenix to San Diego. We embraced the challenge that can come with having three young children, then ages seven, four, and three, in a car for an extended period of time. This year, we upped the ante by planning a road trip with our now eight-, five-, and four-year-olds, from Phoenix to Chicago. My wife and I have made this cross country trip several times, and can do it in about 27 hours. However, adding the energy of three children into a car was a feat of strength. Prior to the trip, everybody I talked to about the trip thought we were crazy for driving. However, we had a wonderful time and created some great memories. Based on this trip, I have compiled ten things that helped us have a successful road trip.  

1. Take your time. For me, this is difficult. When I get in the car to go someplace, I want to get there. However, once we decided that we were going to slow down and enjoy the trip, I started to have less apprehension. We looked for stopping points along the way and made sure that we had plenty of time to rest, stretch, and have fun.
Greetings from the Petrified Forest

2. Look for fun things to do along the way. Because we slowed down, I started to look for fun things to do on our route.
We stopped at some concrete teepees, complete with dinosaur statues (not really sure how those fit together), in northern Arizona. We drove on a musical road in New Mexico. We saw the Cadillac Ranch in Texas. We stopped in Holbrook, Arizona, which reminded us all of Radiator Springs from Cars. I enjoyed looking for those great sites that are normally missed when flying down the interstate.

3. Have activities. My wife is the master of this. We used
jellyroll pans as lap boards for the kids, which kept the Legos from scattering, provided a surface for coloring, and kept spills from going all over the car. We printed out a list of types of trucks for our four-year-old to look for, read about each state from a 99 cent state book that we got at the dollar store, and my oldest checked off license plates that we saw on a map of the United States.

4. Have checklists. Anybody who knows me knows that I love checklists. We gave our kids laminated checklists of things that they had to do to earn screen time, buy a something at a pit stop, and have a treat. We made the checklists to preempt our least favorite forms of badgering, and buy a little sanity. The checklists should be tailored to your family and things that you feel are important for your kids.

5. Create a road trip playlist.  My most important song for the playlist is On the Road Again by Willie Nelson. Our car trip rule is that this song has to be played every time we get back on the highway after the car has been turned off. Other road trip essentials are Holiday Road (Lindsey Buckingham), Route 66 (Natalie Cole), I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) (The Proclaimers), Eastbound and Down (Smokey and the Bandit Soundtrack), Life is a Highway (Tom Cochrane), and I’ve Been Everywhere (Johnny Cash). We also really like listening to Andrew Peterson’s Nothing to Say every time we cross into Arizona. We use song time to teach our kids about other music that we love as well, so we had a lot of The Beatles, Weird Al Yankovic, and The Beach Boys. Our four-year-old can now identify The Beatles when he hears certain songs.

6. Little Thinker. Our kids’ nanny used to bring over Little Thinker cassette tapes. These are hour long stories that describe adventures and then give kids the opportunity to draw the adventures out. The kids loved them. We went to the website and downloaded Little Thinker MP3s to use on the trip. Whether the kids are drawing or just listening, they absolutely love these stories, and I love that they are using their imaginations while listening.

7. Help the kids see the trip’s progress. We tied a string across the back seat, with a cutout of our car attached to the string and 18 knots tied evenly to represent the 1800 miles that we would have to drive. Every 100 miles we made a big deal about moving the car to the next knot. And every time a kid would ask if we were almost there, we would have them look at the string to determine how close we were.

8. Have family time. We did family Mad Libs, played 20 questions, and had story time where my wife and I would tell stories from growing up or from early in our marriage. These were some of the sweetest times that we had together in the car. Our kids really liked the Mad Lips, with the staple adjectives (poopy), nouns (brain), and actions (karate chopping), and we got to read through the Mad Libs that we did on previous road trips and relive those memories.
Quiet time...

9. Keep car clutter to a minimum. After countless road trips, I finally realized that I do not need to keep my tools in the cabin of the car, where space is a commodity. They can be in the trunk. We also kept the large bags of road trip food in the back, with a smaller bag in the car for that stretch of the trip. I moved anything not needed immediately – tie downs, spare bulbs, fuses, and belts, air compressor – into the trunk. I had never done this before, and it was amazing how spacious it made the cabin feel.

10. Prepare for the worst. We kept a “car sick kit” with us, and the one time we needed it we were ready. This included stain spray, a change of clothes for our car sick prone child, plastic bags, paper towels and rag towels. Our stop to clean up and get moving again was less than five minutes. Try to top that, NASCAR.

...Good for everybody.
After several days in Chicago, I asked my five-year-old what her favorite part of the trip was so far. She very quickly responded, “The drive out here.” I was shocked that that was her response, so I asked her why. She said, “I really liked the time we spent together, and I laughed a lot at the games we played.”  Sometimes the best part of the journey is truly the journey itself and not necessarily the destination.

Or, as one sage said, “It’s 106 miles to Chicago. We got a full tank of gas, half pack of cigarettes. It’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!”

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