When I was a kid, my parents would take my brother and me on long road trips. It was the 80s, minivans were hot, and seat belt laws were not. My little brother and I would roll around in blankets on the floor of the car, eating snacks, taking naps, and passing the hours with our imagination, since no portable DVDs or iPads were conceived of yet. We loved the Disney trip, we loved the national park — but if you asked either of us today, we’d cite the silly songs sung, the favorite stories told, and the seemingly endless hours spent bonding on our way somewhere, as the best memories of road-tripping.
Fast forward 30 years, and I now have five young boys (plus one due in April!) Though we used to take one or two children frequently on planes — even overseas — we simply have no other option but to road trip now that we have a large family of seven. Our road trips have, by necessity, focused our resources and our energies on our greatest priorities: trips that maximize memories and minimize cost. For our family, some of those road trip destinations have been fishing holes, off-roading trails, and the most beautiful mountains in Western Colorado. We spend money eating some special meals out, hitting some relaxing hot springs, and sometimes touring a museum or enjoying a day alpine sliding, but one of our favorite things to do in Colorado costs nothing but gas and time.
We love to listen to audio books, especially the dramatic production of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, on disc while exploring the roads of the the Rocky Mountains. The jeeping trails in that part of the country take you to places most uf us rarely see: waterfalls, streams, and fields of wildflowers. It’s a beauty that often leaves a trip to the movie theater feeling dull and unexciting. We listen and laugh, and sometimes tear up, as we listen to meaningful stories told to us in the context of God’s creation, so effortlessly maintained. At the end of the day, we go on trips as families because we truly desire to experience something out of the ordinary. We want to be with the ones we love outside the normal context, against the backdrop of something extraordinary.
But regardless of how well you schedule your itinerary, plan out your snacks, or organize your activities, there will inevitably be the drama of family. I’ve learned to consider that a good thing. When we look back 30 years from now, my kids may or may not remember that exciting water park we went to, or the amazing funnel cake we ate. They will, however, remember the collective effort of a family that loved one another enough to spend time, cramped in a car, doing what they do best: Enjoying the journey of being a family unit.
A Big Family’s Guide To Managing A Road Trip
- Make a snack schedule, i.e., pretzels and apples at 1p.m., fruit leathers at 2 p.m., etc.
- Don’t offer unlimited drinks unless you want to have to stop on the side of the road
- Purchase inexpensive disposable plastic cups for passing out bulk snacks
- Make a schedule for general activities, i.e.. 9-11 a.m.: books, quiet reading, workbooks; 2-4 p.m.: movie, etc.
- Get headsets for DVD system or for personal music/movie devices
- Schedule video games and electronic entertainment for later in the day when kids are wearing thin
- Give each child a small bin or backpack for his/her personal activities
- Hang a tote from the back of the passenger seat with wet wipes, paper towels, tissues, and plastic bags for trash and potential carsickness episodes.
- Rather than taking out all bags for each family member for each night/leg of the trip, consider packing all members of the family in one bag, per night/leg of the trip. That way, when you arrive at the cabin, rental, hotel, or campground, you can take out one large bag for that particular location, and repack dirty clothes in the same bag once that destination is over.
- Pack toiletries, contacts/glasses, medications, and first aid for the family in one large carryall bag, so that it is always available and ready in any emergency situation.
- If you plan to swim on your trip, consider packing a specific swim bag.
- Give specific jobs to each child on a road trip: cleaning out trash in the car, checking lodging for left items before checkout, packing up dirty clothes, music DJ, snacks, etc.
What other ideas do you have? We’d love to hear them!
This post is part of BlogHer’s Family Fun on Four Wheels editorial series, made possible by Mazda CX-9.