I wrote this essay almost twenty years ago. Now that the kids are grown, I’ve been reflecting on the magic of road trips, especially when you have the kids along. Reading this today, I think it holds up. What do YOU do to make road trips more interesting for kids, or grandkids?
We take as many car trips as we can, to as many fun and interesting and offbeat and historical places as we can. Certainly part of it is by design, as I am frequently in the middle of writing and researching a book. But the more meaningful part of it is the shared experience and sense of adventure; the chance to live life together as a family and, of course, for my wife and I to watch as our children discover, learn, grow, and just simply find their way.
Some of my finest memories up to this point are tied to family road trips, particularly in our home state of California. Like watching the kids pose against a giant artichoke in Castroville, California. (“Artichoke capitol of the world.”) Panning in the exact same spot where James Marshall famously discovered gold in 1848. Prowling the stage where Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin performed at Monterey in 1967. Sifting for clues on the lonely road where James Dean met his fate in 1955. Or the kids laughing hysterically as Dad navigates the sometimes-sickening curves along Highway 1, one of the world’s most gorgeous coastal drives.
And of course, we have a few basic rules of the road…
- Have at least a few pieces of music that become your own family soundtrack. For us, “Gene Autry’s Greatest Hits” plays a big part of any trip.
- No DVD/video players on board. In my opinion, they are divisive and help defeat the purpose of traveling together. I remember once, someone I worked with was showing off his shiny new Navigator with hi-tech DVD system, boasting with glee that now he’d never have to hear his kids in the car ever again. As sad a commentary as I’ve ever heard.
- Make it fun for the kids, no matter what. In years to come, when they recount these days, it should be fond, relaxed, whimsical times they recall, not over-taxed and over-complicated moments of stress.
- Leave things open to chance. If it feels right, take that unexpected exit. Too much planning can suck the life and spontaneity from a trip.
- Eat at unusual, non-chain joints when you can. Fast food places don’t need your business as much as Big Bad Bubba’s Bar-B-Q. (And Bubba’s food is better!)
- Meet people along the way. Be they locals or fellow travelers, it can really enhance your experience to hear about others’ experiences.
- Take lots of pictures. Later on in life, you’ll probably wish you’d taken even more.
- Be patient. Kids may not love the open road as much as you do. If that’s the case, start small with day trips and maybe you’ll wean them into it.
- Give your kids choices. Spur their imagination with what’s out there and let them be a part of deciding where you visit/what you do.
- Take your time. After all, life is shorter than we’d like it to be. Perhaps we can make it at least seem longer by slowing down a bit.
With that, I can hear our daughter’s voice right now.
“Are we there yet, daddy?”
No, sweetheart. Not yet.
Then our son.
“Are we there yet?”
Not yet, buddy… Soon.
But no matter how close we really are to our destination, in my mind I always sort of hope we don’t get there for awhile. Because I love watching miles pass by with my family. And I know that in the years following their eventual leaving of the nest, I will miss that question terribly. After all, what better reminder that you’re a parent than hearing those wonderful little voices asking that classic question from the backseat (even if you’ve just pulled out of the driveway.) Are we there yet?
Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks), Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. He is excited to be contributing to RVTravel.com and looks forward to helping to lead you places you may not have discovered otherwise. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com.