Whether your inspiration is Norman Rockwell or Chevy Chase, a family road trip can be the highlight of the summer. You are guaranteed to create life-long memories. The question is will they be memories of joy, or of your bundles-of-joy pulling each other’s hair out? These few tips can make all the difference. They are things our family of four did on our month-long jaunt across the US. Please note: I have an equally robust list of things not to do.
1. Build anticipation and buy-in. About a month before we left, I gave each daughter fifty dollars and told each of them to come up with a list of things they wanted during the trip. Then they exchanged lists, and each girl was able to spend the money on those items and a few surprises. That $50 paid off big time. Since they were both excited about getting presents, they were both very helpful in getting the house clean. I dare say without this incentive, getting them to clean out the fridge would have been much more challenging.
On the day we left, I also gave both girls a $20.00 Starbucks card to spend anyway they wanted. My oldest likes the fanciest, most expensive drinks a barista can concoct, and rather than getting annoyed, which I have been known to do, I decided to let her have at it. One drink into the trip, her expensive taste changed quite a bit.
2. Bring pocket money. Combined, our daughters’ grandparents gave each $60. They thought they were rich. Since we stopped at the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, Wall Drugs in South Dakota, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon, the money didn’t go far. But knowing they could buy something helped keep them engaged, and was a good experience in budgeting.
3. Charge Your Children For Fighting. We charged each daughter $1.00 per fight. We had to collect a total of $4.00 before they figured out we were serious. Each time they started to prime the pump I would say, “I’m thirsty for Starbucks. Sure could use a dollar.” And that ended it. You must actually collect the money for this work. Threatening is only valid after you have proven you will take money from them, and kids catch on super fast.
4. Stock up on books on CD. We took advantage of our library’s CD collection prior to leaving Chapel Hill. Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid got us from Niagara Falls to Mt. Rushmore, and his Percy Jackson series got us home. Good stories kept the 13-hour drive days moving, the driver more alert, and the kids from talking. Since talking frequently ended in fighting, this was a good thing.
5. Eat wisely. We did not eat fast food the entire month-long trip, with the exception of Starbucks in the mornings. We did, however, eat fancier foods than we normally eat. For example, typically our house is well stocked with apples. On the trip we were well stocked with berries, cherries, and other healthy exotic treats like trail mix with chocolate chips. We stopped at grocery stores along the way for our meals. This is not a method for those in a hurry, and often took an hour. Prior to leaving, I also packed each child her own package of snack foods, including nuts, crackers, sweets, fruit leather, etc. so they would have something if they wanted it and wouldn’t bug us to stop. When I do this again, I will dole these snacks out twice a week instead of giving them all at once. That was a mistake.
6. Recalibrate the Parent-O-Meter. Running from activity to activity during a typical week can wear down a parent’s resolve. When you are in the car together it is a perfect time to recalibrate the parent-o-meter if you are willing to give up both efficiency and short-term reason. We did an equal amount of camping and hotel staying. When camping, our youngest daughter hated stuffing her sleeping bag in the stuff sack. Since we had a flexible schedule, we were able to wait the two hours – yes, two hours – it took for her to throw a tantrum and finally come to the realization that she was going to have to stuff the bag or we weren’t going anywhere. If we had been crunched for time, either her father or I would have been annoyed but also would have done if for her.
All in all, our trip ended up being pretty amazing. My favorite experience was seeing the buffalo at Yellowstone , while my kids’ favorite was being in Vegas. After our trip was done, our teenager announced that she missed being on it, which meant a lot considering she doesn’t even like to be in the same house as us anymore.