This summer, Mike and I sold our house in Massachusetts, packed up our minivan, and drove, from our old home in Massachusetts to Silicon Valley, California! Mike’s new employer had given us a moving budget, and when we looked at it, we could ship our minivan, buy plane tickets, and come out over budget. Or we could drive, stay in nice hotel suites the entire way, and break even – or at least come close. For me, it was a no-brainer to drive! Here are some of the benefits we experienced by driving, as well as tips for a successful road trip with kids.
Benefits of Road Trips for Families
Road Trips Are Educational
One of my earliest memories is of the first BIG road trip I went on with my family: from a small town in Utah Valley clear down to the southern tip of Mexico. I was four years old, and in retrospect it was pretty incredible that my parents took their five young children on that trip – particularly where neither one of them spoke a word of Spanish. The trip was hardly perfect, but it transformed my life and makes up some of my fondest childhood memories. When the 1985 Mexico Earthquake struck a few months later, I was devastated. That single trip had taught me to love Mexico.
Our cross-country road trip was not quite as adventurous as the one my parents took me on, but I know that my kids see the United States and Canada differently for the drive. They got to see some of the diversity of these two countries, both geographically and culturally, in a way that simply isn’t possible through media or textbooks.
Road Trips Promote Family Bonding
Modern-day life is busy. Even if tasks are complete (and are they ever, really?), we are surrounded by multi-media distractions. I really enjoyed having hours of time where we didn’t have much to do besides sit and talk. Mike and I had a lot of great discussions that had been put on the back burner for way too long because we hadn’t made the time for them at home.
We brought books, toys, and – yes – even a DVD player (we used it once) and tablet (we used it twice, at the end of the trip) for the kids, but most of the time we talked, and the kids talked amongst themselves. It was really cool to listen to seven-year-old Emma and five-year-old Johnny talk for hours in the back seat, and four-year-old Lily made up all sorts of entertaining games to entertain one-year-old Anna in the middle row!
Road Trips Can Be Flexible
It might sound strange, but to me it was much easier to face six long days of driving than a flight across the country with four kids. Sure, we would have survived the flight – we did fine on a nearly-as-long flight to Florida – but it would have been something to get through and be done with, not to mention that we would get here and then have to find a way to get around until our van showed up. Driving, we were able to stop and see things and even tweak our route to adapt to our interests and needs. I had wanted to see Niagara Falls ever since I first learned it existed. On this trip, I got to, and it was incredible! We also changed our route to avoid the same kind of traffic leaving Canada we had faced getting into the country.
Tips for a successful Road Trip
Have I convinced you to try road trips? Or were you already an enthusiast? Here are a few things that can make a road trip go more smoothly:
- Pack light. We packed our kids’ clothes in their school backpacks – a trick I learned from my own parents. You can fit five days’ worth of warm weather clothing in a child’s backpack if you are careful, and this way they can carry their own stuff into the hotels. Plus, backpacks take up way less space than even small suitcases!
- Stop when you need to, but drive if you can. We planned more driving breaks than we actually took, because when the kids were asleep it was much easier to keep driving! We did stick to the hotels we had reserved at the beginning of the trip, just so that we wouldn’t end up looking for a place to stay with tired-out kids.
- Spread the trip out as much as you can. Driving from coast to coast in six days was pretty tight, and we had some LONG days – because, with small children, even a basic bathroom break takes close to an hour. It would have been fun to take more time for the trip and see more fun sights, but Mike had to get back to work.
- Bring pillows and blankets. This made a HUGE difference for my kids! They were able to sleep in the car, and it helped them feel secure during what was a very unsettled time for our family.
- Bring books. We brought more than we actually needed, I think, but the kids really enjoyed having them.
- Bring one comfort item per child. This is something I have always done when we traveled – whether we drove or flew – and it has always made a big difference.
- Bring water bottles. I LOVE these Contigo Autoseal Kids Trekker Cups (Amazon affiliate link) – they never leak! The kids take them to bed at night, and use them in their school lunches.
- Bring music. I have yet to successfully get my kids listening to audio books (I keep trying!), but they love listening to music – especially the younger ones.
- Pay attention to holidays and events. This is probably obvious to most people, but Mike and I didn’t even think about the fact that we were leaving Massachusetts and driving straight to Niagara Falls Memorial Day weekend. We hit a TON of traffic at the border crossing! We also hit some traffic when we stayed in a town near Notre Dame college – right when they were hosting a home football game with one of their big rivals! I’m pretty sure we were the only ones in the entire (packed) hotel who were not there for the game!
- Make memories! Seeing Niagara Falls was the highlight of the trip for me, but for my kids staying in a particularly large suite in a middle-of-nowhere town was a HUGE highlight – especially after several nights in small rooms! Remember my trip to Mexico? I loved the pyramids, and the beaches, but I also remember ADORING a round green (!) bathtub in a hotel that we stayed in. I still appreciated the cultural and typical tourist destinations, but children see the world through a different lens, and that’s not a bad thing. They loved their hotel room, but they will also remember Niagara Falls – as a beautiful sight their mother adored.
Do you take your kids on road trips? What benefits do you see, and what tips do you have to share? What road trips should we take, now that we live in Northern California?Thank you for sharing!
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