Going on a Road Trip – Family Style

Genie Davis November 20, 2011 No Comments

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Road Trip in Florida

Driving offers many rewards for kids, including sights like these - Florida's old route A1A.

Like any other form of travel, road trips take time and planning, especially with the children in tow. I’ve always preferred road trips to almost any other form of vacation transportation, although time constraints versus long distances or overseas trips obviously preclude them. For us, the advantage is being able to tote a lot of your own food, which saves money and keeps the family healthy. It also means being able to stop en route from point A to point B and sightsee along the way. And it means being able to take that bottle of shampoo or baby formula along without worrying about TSA regulations this week.

Still, I know what you’re thinking: small children get restive enough on a three hour flight, how will they be after eight hours on the road, or eight days of road travel. So, with holiday season meaning travel time for many of us, let’s take a look at how you can make road trips easier on your kids and your pocketbook.

Our Road Travel Tips

First of all, car travel means you’re spending a longer time getting some place than if you just hopped on a plane. But if you factor in TSA screening, luggage check in, and tarmac delays, maybe flying isn’t quite as simple as you thought. On top of that, there’s luggage fees and the simple equation that if there’s more than two of you traveling, a tank of gas may still be the cheapest way to go versus four or five airline tickets. However, longer trips may mean you’re staying over night to get to your final destination. So, of course, factor in the cost of an extra overnight stay – and make that stay count. Don’t just pick any old highway stop – find something that will be interesting for the kids to do nearby, even if its a miniature golf course instead of a grand museum or landmark.

Older children will enjoy a road trip more if they feel they can help shape the itinerary. So let them help with the research – whether it’s through picture books or over the Internet, or an idea they’ve gotten from a movie or television. Depending on their ages, let your children come up with ideas of things they’d like to see or places they’d like to stay.

And, be sure to include their interests. If your kids love pizza, find an authentic Italian restaurant not just a take out place near a motel. If they love sports, think about a local minor league, college, or even a high school game along the way. If you’re searching for an historic spot, ask your children what they like best – an outdoor monument, an art museum, seeing dinosaur bones – and look for something that will fit their top choices when you pick a route, an overnight stop, or plan a total car trip vacation.

Road Trip to Amarillo Texas

Crossing Texas border on the way to Amarillo!

Sometimes you’ll find things along the way that just call out for an unplanned stop, so if you can, be flexible. Build in a few extra hours of daylight fun time, even if you end up using them at the hotel pool when you arrive. Having these extra hours were particularly precious to us when we took a long drive from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Amarillo, Texas. We were able to stop at the wonderfully informative displays at the Route 66 Museum, and at a huge roadside installation of religious art both along the I-40, simply because we had the hours to “splurge” on these treats. Driving on backgrounds between Los Angeles and San Francisco we’ve found everything from a butterfly migration grove to a diner in an old train car and farm stands with delicious spiced peas as a snack. If you find a place you like, or that looks like you’d like it, just stop and check it out. You’re not wasting time, you’re enjoying it. After all, it’s not like you have a plane to catch, right?

Road Trip Detour to Death Valley

A trip to Vegas detour: Death Valley - nice view!

Next, be sure to keep the car you’re traveling in comfortable and clean. Always clear out any food packaging or empty cups at every stop; keep tissues, wet wipes, pillows, and throw blankets handy. Older kids should be responsible for their own belongings in backpacks or satchels – and make sure they’ve brought along their “necessities” whether those are i-Pods or favorite stuffed animals.

You should also have some road games and informational material handy. When you get your own maps, get one for the kids to look at, too, so they can see where you are. Keep guide books handy, and read from them when you make a stop.

You’ll also keep the kids from getting bored if you involve them in your actual traveling. Let them help read maps, follow a GPS, or read driving instructions aloud. The youngest travelers can be kept busy with simple but still fun games from counting car colors to looking for flowers and fauna, fast food restaurants, or landmarks along the road.

Also, be sure to allot plenty of time for simple stops – bathroom breaks, gas station fill-ups, and even road-side picture taking. All these stops will keep the kids comfortable and allow them to stretch their legs.

On the other hand, be sure that you’re reaching the goals you need to make during a travel day. If you need to be, or want to be, off the road by dark, plan accordingly. If you know there’s a restaurant or grocery store stop you want to make and there are hours that you simply must hit to enjoy a meal, make sure you allow yourself the time to arrive at such a destination. The worst times we’ve had on long drives have come when we’ve ignored the knowledge that the “good” restaurant in the middle of a national park closes for lunch at 2 pm, and with the next eaterie miles away, we spent hours subsisting on trail mix.

Lastly, if your children are elementary age or older, and taking the road instead of to the skies means missing some school, contact their teachers. In many cases we were able to create a journal or a report on an historic sight along the way to make up for other missed work. Or you may be able to get a homework packet to take along. Happy driving!

Related Articles:

Get Your Kicks on Route 66
Discovering Roadside Attractions
Where Are We Going? GPS, Maps and Old-Fashioned Common Sense
San Mateo Coast Road Trip: Santa Cruz to San Francisco

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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