As Spring Break approaches, I’m reminded of the nostalgic family road trip. As a child, I don’t remember a single vacation that was not taken on the highways of America.
When our holidays rolled around, we rolled out of the driveway in our simulated wood-paneled wagon, which was awkwardly hitched to the pop-up camper. Today, people fly, and the family road trip has slipped in popularity along with the fondue parties and potluck dinners of yesteryear. I say we bring it back.
But first, you need to be prepared. Thus…
Top 10 Tips For Surviving a Modern Day Family Road Trip:
1. Don’t Leave the Directions to Dad, Leave Them to the GPS
The problem with dads isn’t that they don’t have good directional skills. It’s that if they get lost, they have too much pride to admit that they don’t have good directional skills. Your father might knowingly drive 1500 miles in the wrong direction before he pulls over and asks for directions. Luckily, this isn’t 1973. Google Maps and Waze take out the guesswork and keep your trip on the right track.
2. Let the Whole Family Plan the Trip
This is a trip for everyone, so plan it that way. Let dad find that secret fishing hole off the map, mom that quaint little antiques village, the little ones might enjoy an authentic soda shop, and your teen any wi-fi enabled scenic (or non-scenic) area where they can Snapchat the friends they left behind. Get everyone involved!
3. Take Everyone But the 15 Year Old
If done right, everyone in the family will generally have a good time…with the exception of a 15-year-old. You must reconcile with yourself that the trip will suck for them. They will be without their friends, their Xbox and their room with its locked door. Heaven forbid you drive into one the last remaining dead zones in America where cellular service is not provided…in that event, your 15 year old might actually lose his mind. Better to leave the 15-year-old with an ex-military uncle and enjoy your vacation.
4. Forbid Any Mobile Devices or Electronics for the First Mile
In a utopian vacation far, far away, the kids would leave their mobile phones and iPads at home and the family would engage in Barry Manilow sing-a-longs and play License Plate Bingo as the miles rolled away. Forget that notion. Go ahead and ban all screens but lift that ban by mile one. Your sanity (and theirs) will prevail.
5. Kids, Always Sit Beyond the Reach of Your Parents
Inevitably, all children will irritate their parents so much that someones arm will flail from the front seat with harshness and purpose. Remain beyond that reach. If you have the luxury of a third-row seat, take up residency there. Trust me on this one, kids.
6. Don’t Choose Your First Camping Trip as Your Road Trip
Ahh, the smell of rain on the tent, the feel of a good night’s sleep on the ground, and the refreshing quarter mile walk to the latrine. For some, bliss. For most, a hellish experience. If you have never camped, don’t even think about this option for the family trip. Better to stick with 1000 count sheets and room service if you don’t know how to unzip the sleeping bag.
7. Make Going Potty Every Few Miles a Game
You will make great time traveling 70 miles per hour on the open road, but if you factor in five or six potty breaks, it really comes out to about 35 miles per hour. Might as well make it fun! Take a selfie at every restroom and pin it on a map! There’s even a restroom on Interstate 10 that straddles state lines in New Mexico and Arizona. Good times.
8. Double Up as an Uber Driver
Back in the day, my mother told my father never to pick up a hitchhiker. Now that those hitchhikers can pay instantly with a credit card through an app, it’s a game-changer. It’s easy to make a little extra travel cash and meet some interesting people. Plus, having a strange new passenger to sit between the kids awkwardly prevents any sibling fighting in the car.
9. Go Airbnb, It’s More Like Home
Roadside hotels tend to be stale and boring. Make the most of the new share economy and stay with complete strangers through Airbnb. The kids will enjoy playing hide-and-go-seek in a new home and there’s never a valet charge. Really, nothing feels as comfortable as a cozy bed right next to Gladys and Earl.
10. When Visiting National Parks, Get Out of the Car
America’s National Parks provide some of the most breathtaking country that can be seen from the inside of a car. Be an adventurer. Park and see it from outside the vehicle. Many of our parks have trails that lead to more beautiful views, the potential to see wild animals, and vending machines full of sweet, delicious snack foods.
Life is a journey and is best experienced as a family. Sure, the road might hold unexpected potholes and detours. But as the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
It’s time to gather the kids, load up in the car, and drive beyond the horizon. In discovering what lies down the road, you might just discover something more important in life.
Mike McDonell is President of Kidventure and a blogger. His greatest adventure, and the one that provides him with the most humble reason for existence, is being a parent.