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There's nothing more exhilarating than hitting the road with your family to explore all the wonders the world has to offer. What’s more, it’s beneficial. “Relaxing together and spending time is an important part of growing a healthy family,” writes child psychologist Dr. Renee Clauselle.
The trick is doing it well at 65 mph.
Here's how you can build traditions, instill lasting memories, and throw in a few life lessons while putting the pedal to the metal and turning up the volume on adventure.
Packing it in
You might not be able to travel light, but you can travel right. Get off to a good start so other bumps you might encounter along the way—weather, traffic, illness, car trouble—don’t put a damper on your trip.
Pack all the must-haves—tissues, Tylenol, snacks, water, non-perishable foods, a paring knife, utensils, extra sweatshirts—within arm’s reach of the passenger. Put the non-essential junk in the trunk.
Regulate the number of souvenirs from museums, zoos, and roadside attractions by giving each child a shopping bag (younger kids can decorate theirs) to hold precious gets and place the empty bag in the trunk as if it’s already full. If it fits now, it’ll fit later.
Regardless of your car’s spacious interior, there’s no room for boring. Make sure the kids are occupied with plenty of activities.
Jo Liegerot packs a stuffed animal or pillow pet, and a favorite blanket for each of her kids—Miles, age 7, and Lark, age 6— for the twelve-hour drive from her Brooklyn home to grandma’s house in Brevard, NC. “A reading lamp is also critical, as are game booklets and pencils in the car seat pockets,” she says. Cookie sheets—easily stackable and stored under the seat—make for instant tabletops, good for eating, journaling, coloring, or playing cards. Edges keep markers and crayons from rolling off on winding country roads. And they’re magnetic!
Go and let go
It doesn’t have to be your way on the highway. Children will be more cooperative if they have a say in the itinerary. Learn about the route and destination beforehand, and let each child plan an afternoon of activities, whether it’s picking a picnic spot, a swimming hole, a landmark to visit, or a weird restaurant native to the area. Let them choose music on the radio for an hour, or even a theme for the day. The rule here: no groans from the peanut gallery.
Grandma can wait
Turn off the GPS and get lost. Go off the beaten path. Your kids will appreciate living in the moment, and you just might find something more interesting than your intended destination.
“The value of family road trips is in the sharing of adventures and coming up with new traditions,” writes Dr. Clauselle. Following circuitous garage sale signs, directions for a billboard attraction, or simply driving down an arbitrary road can provide your school-age Magellans with exciting and rewarding discoveries.
“My husband is a meanderer, so we’ve had numerous adventures discovering local parks and children's museums,” says Liegerot. “Now we look forward to stopping at places like Roadside America in PA, a musty must-see we almost didn’t see. The trip is not a means to an end. The joy is in the journey.”