Flying off for an exotic getaway has its charms, but when it comes to bonding time with family no kind of vacation beats the road trip. My family has logged tens of thousands of miles driving across the country to far-flung destinations and we've learned a few things in the collective months we've spent jammed together in a vehicle.
1. Drive a big rig.
Beg, borrow or rent an SUV or van if you don't own one. Yes, you'll spend more money on fuel but the extra breathing and stretching space will keep everyone in better spirits. One summer, we borrowed an older Scooby-Doo-looking van from someone and had a lot of fun mocking ourselves all the way from Minnesota to Texas and back.
2. Buy roadside assistance insurance.
On aforementioned road trip we broke down, so take it from people who have been stranded on the side of a forlorn road. For less than $100 a year you can get help if you need a tow or lock the keys in your car. This investment is worth making.
3. Ditch your diet.
Normally, I'm careful about food but all rules about healthy eating fly out the window on a road trip. Stopping at gas stations and loading up with junk food and drinks is the top thing my four children enjoy about a driving vacation. Plus, a lot of sharing happens, which is just nice.
4. Listen to books on CD.
Sure, movies are great for the people in the back seats but Mom and Dad can't participate. Our all-time favorite for anyone older than eight is Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre version of “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. You also can't go wrong with unabridged audio versions of classics by Frances Hodgson Burnett, such as “The Secret Garden” and “A Little Princess.” And if you can get your hands on the audio version of George MacDonald's “The Princess and the Goblin,” definitely listen to it.
5. Ban devices.
Remember when cell phones and iPads didn't exist? In those days people had to actually look out the window where they might see something interesting. If you can't do this the whole time, commit to part-time banishment of gadgets, such as the first two hours after every fuel stop or bathroom break. With everyone's heads up you can play Score, which involves calling out "score" upon spotting a yellow car, or "busted" for a police car. You can adjust the rules so players get varying numbers of points for finding all sorts of vehicles. In our car a player wins the most points for finding a yellow Hummer.
This one's going to elicit some eye-rolling from curmudgeons, but when was the last time you sang "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" as a round? It takes a bit of practice but once your gang does it properly everyone will feel cheerful.
Deep conversations are a good way to pass the time, but stupid ones work, too. Chances are someone in your family can generate good "would you rather" questions.
8. Don't over-plan.
Schedules and to-do lists don't belong in your vacation. Unless there's some reason to do otherwise, even your hotel room can be reserved while you drive, depending on where you end up and how people are feeling. And let younger vacationers occasionally pick your stopping points–they might choose something an adult might miss.
Instead of hoteling, find a campground and tent it. You'll save a pile of money and your children will appreciate the memories of cold mornings and campfires. We like to alternate between hotels and campgrounds so the kids can enjoy a swimming pool every other night.
10. Listen to good music.
The definition of "good" likely varies depending on who in your group you ask, but there is a genre you all can enjoy.
11. Play Rubberneckers.
It's a classic travel game that kids and adults love. Players accumulate points for spotting certain things such as signs, license plates, vehicles and businesses or performing antics such as waving at people in another car and getting them to reciprocate.
12. Don't drive too far.
Make sure to arrive at your evening destination early enough to have a relaxing dinner and to do something fun, such as swim in the hotel pool or explore a new city. Driving straight from sunup to sundown is not a vacation.
Do you agree or disagree with these suggestions? What road trip advice would you add to the list? Ping the comments!