Over the years, we’ve logged a lot of miles on America’s highways all in the name of the “family vacation.” For instance, in 2002 when my twins were in kindergarten and my singleton was a mere preschooler, we traveled more than 1,400 miles roundtrip see the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. You’d think carsick kids, freak snowstorms, and lots of backseat bickering would teach us a lesson but that was just the beginning of our byway bonanzas. Over the years, I continued to zealously map out insanely long driving itineraries. A trip to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, and then a detour to Bryce National Park was a mere 1,100 miles packed into seven days. Piece of cake.
But the ultimate interstate insanity occurred in 2008 when I booked a trip to Zion National Park in Utah. And then tagged on Arches National Park. And then–what the heck–tossed in Snowbird ski resort. We traveled 1,985 miles in 9 days. What was I thinking?
I don’t deliberately set out to drive halfway across the country. It just happens. I have a tendency to think, “as long as we’re in the neighborhood, we might as well visit [fill in the blank].” And although we have plenty of great memories of these vacations, we also have our share of nightmares simply because we took on too much driving.
The bright side? We’re learned a lot of tricks that I can now pass on to you!
- Don’t rush. Try to limit the daily drive to three hours. That’s usually the absolute melt-down point for most young kids.
- Do a little research to see if there’s a kid-friendly point-of-interest along the way and use it as a motivator. Go ahead and dangle that carrot. “Hang in there kids! Only one more hour before Dinosaur World!”
- To avoid the “Are we there yet?” trap, laminate a map highlighting your route so the kids can follow along on their own.
- Rent a van. Long road trips put enormous wear and tear on the family car. But if you rent a spacious minivan instead every child gets plenty of space. No more elbow-to-elbow which helps to eliminate the annoying, “Mom! He’s touching me!” Plus, it seems like the vacation begins the moment you get behind the wheel of a new vehicle.
- Unplug. Yup. You heard me. Portable DVD players are OK but you have to whisper in the front seat so the kids can hear the dialogue in the back seat. (I don’t think so.) And if they plug into their iTouches or iPods, then you never communicate. What’s the fun in that? You might as well take separate vacations. Instead we download hours of podcasts and burn them onto CDs to play in the car. The stories we listen to always spark some great family conversations. Check out iTunes for a huge variety on hundreds of topics. My favorites: The Loh Life, This American Life, Dinner Party Download, What Would Rob Do?, and The Moth. (Please note: These may not be appropriate for young ears but there are hundreds of other podcasts with every audience in mind.)
- Don’t forget snacks. Lots of snacks. Lots of water. It’s inevitable: Five minutes on the highway, and someone always says, “I’m hungry. Who’s with me?”
- Remember: It IS the destination and NOT the journey. Kids don’t care about beautiful scenery. They just want to get there…now!
Happy Holidays to all! And happy trails to those brave enough to hit the highways with their multiples!