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Rediscover the Road Trip Making Family Trips a Chance to Thrive, Not Just Survive


For most of my early childhood, my parents drove a second-hand 1977 Ford Econoline van with a customized (sort of) interior.  It was not what we’d consider a luxury ride, then or since. There were no plush captain’s chairs, no TV/VCR, no seat belts. The air-conditioning was not to be relied on, and only the passenger and driver’s side windows could be opened. When the sliding door broke — soon to be followed by the passenger door — anyone wishing to exit had to shimmy past the steering wheel and out the driver’s side door.

Inconveniences notwithstanding, the old van served its purpose. We logged a lot of miles in that white beast, many of them on family road trips — making our way to Grandma’s house in Texas, or to one of Arkansas’ many state parks, with the odd trip to Colorado thrown in.

Now that I’m a parent logging miles in my own 10-year-old van, I can say with conviction that traveling with kids is… forgive me… no day at the beach. The planning, the packing of bags, the over-stuffed car, the flurry of things forgotten, the ignored bathroom reminders, all take their toll. It’s easy to be exhausted before we even roll out of the driveway.

But does it have to be that way? Is it possible that we’re doing this wrong?

I’m old enough to remember traveling with actual maps — and not the kind printed out from MapQuest, either. Real maps, folded accordion-style, or bound into a road atlas. Maps without the zoom in, satellite view, or live traffic updates we now take for granted. You could swat a fly with your map, or fan yourself, but that was the extent of its peripheral utility.

Entertainment was different, too. We looked out the windows at the scenery. We read books. We listened to music. Satellite radio and wi-fi were not to be dreamed of, so my generation traveled with Sony Walkmans — and as many extra batteries as we could afford. When the battery supply ran dry, or we tired of listening to the same six cassettes over and over, we played games. We talked. We made fun of each other.

These are the kinds of road trips I want for my kids.

But it seems to me that the ubiquitousness of Google Maps, interstate highways, readily-available fast food, and portable entertainment devices, have made us less tolerant of car trips than we used to be — not more.

Nineteenth-century pioneers invested four to six months traveling the Oregon Trail. So how is it that the knowledge that our entire clan will be together in one vehicle for six hours sends many of us into a movie-downloading and device-charging frenzy? Lest anyone accuse me of being a Neo-Luddite, rest assured: I’m not urging you to pack a covered wagon with bacon and hard tack, and head to Oregon, or to throw your iPad into the nearest canyon. (I’m certainly keeping mine, thank you.)

What I am saying is this:

What if we embraced family road trips as a privileged opportunity — instead of a burdensome preamble to the real vacation?

I pose the question as much to myself as anyone. Yes, there are things we’ve learned along the way — principles that make road trips a bit easier, more pleasant, and more beneficial for our family. But I haven’t mastered this. I’m just doing the best I can.

Aren’t we all?

So… what if. What if we considered a family road trip a blessing, and not a curse? What difference would it make?

Such a perspective certainly won’t prevent flat tires, or carsick kids, or gas stations with dirty bathrooms. But maybe, just maybe, by reordering our hearts and minds a little, we will find redemption of those “wasted” hours in a harvest of richer relationships with the ones we love best.

God bless you and yours,


Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll feature a series of posts on how to make your family road trips more rewarding, more relational, and more fun. (If you want to make sure you don’t miss any posts, subscribe via email at the top of this page.)

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