DOES YOUR VACATION FEEL LIKE THIS?: Surviving the Family Road Trip

Forget those “10 Car-ride Card Games”!  They wouldn’t keep my crowd happy for 200 miles, much less 2000.  Here’re some strategies that worked for us:

v    The Seat Shuffle!  Number the van seats and put the numbers in a hat.  Each morning, bring out the hat and everyone picks a number–That’s their seat for the day.  It’s totally random and so totally fair, and “mixes it up”so people get a new neighbor every day.

v    Start Early! You can almost double your daily mileage with this simple plan!  Havthe car packed, gassed, and ready to go the night before. In the morning, a gentle nudge of the kids and a sleepwalk to the car seat (pjs and pillow in tow!) and your family is on their way.  The kids fall right back to sleep, trust me!  And if you wake at 5, you can log 3 hours of light traffic before you have a wide-awake and hungry car!  You’ll stop for pancakes with 200 miles behind you, and, best of all, your crew’s  still fresh for the day’s drive!  (anyone who hasn’t read Bill Cosby’s behind-the-wheel account of driving his snoring family over the Brooklyn Bridge, should look it up!)

v    Everyone Votes!  When planning your trip, each person–even the pre-schooler– should get to choose ONE component.  I had 4 sons, so you can imagine the mix I got:  my oldest needed a wilderness backpack, my 2nd –born city-kid wanted to hear live music.  My next was a pro baseball fan, and my youngest just wanted a beach.  So, there were some compromises… it turned out to be a RIVER beach, not the Pacific… but that float trip down the Salmon turned out to be a favorite memory, not only for this child, but for our entire family!

v    Play Candy Poker!  A jelly bean is a dime; a jolly rancher is a quarter; a chocolate kiss is a dollar. (hint: watch meltable “money” if you’re driving in the South)  If you’re 6 years old, you can learn Texas Hold ‘Em.

v    Set Quiet Times!  Silence soothes the driving soul, so get out blankets, ipods, books.   Set a time limit (30 minutes) or a destination (like til we get to the city limits of St Louis).

v    Expect mess!  My confession?  I allowed Spit Ball Wars in order to get home from Chicago one August.  Just make van cleanup a daily ritual…while waiting for a table at the restaurant or as a chore at the campsite. 

v    Change the pace! Why succumb to daily drudgery of long drives with little time to play or even recuperate?  Try a longer – even a full day–of driving, and then 2 full days, out of the car, to play!  Something else to consider: if you have enough drivers, drive through the night!  I used to do this, just to survive a van-ful of adolescent boys!  But my 13 year old surprised me one year, using a “drive through the night” as his One Special Vote—the ONE thing he chose to do!  I guess it was the feeling he had remembered – all snuggled together, in the dark car, with soft music (usually something the kids thought was hysterical like John Denver) and the occasional flashlight of one his brothers making stray swipes across the ceiling, whispered conversations as lights of cities and bridges flew past, and of course, those gas stops, where any kid lucky enough to be awake was sure to get a little package of donettes from the quikmart.

v    Invest in a car DVD player! Watch your family favorites, of course.  But also bring documentaries (people, sites you’re visiting), history flicks, National Park videos.  I even tried Gilligan’s Island, and some other series from my own childhood, to bridge the generation gap!  Visit your local library for cheap movie rentals before you leave town.

v    Start themes:  “We’re only going to eat at Dairy Queen from Key West to New Jersey”.  Get out and walk across each state line.  “Every time we see a Waffle House we have to stop.”  Play the Capitals game. 

v    Make a Digital Diary of your road trip!  With a simple digital camera and a portable printer that runs off your cigarette lighter, you and the kids can “shoot” a diary of your trip… people and places you pass, plus all the events INSIDE your car too! Collage your photos on a big poster, taped to the ceiling of your van.

For more Surviving the Road Trip strategies, catch me at Melanie@toughlovetravel.com. We parents have to stick together, so survival advice is free! 

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