Kick, kick, kick, kick.
“I told you kids to stop kicking the back of the seat!”
Kick, kick, kick.
That’s what my father-in-law remembers best about a family road trip to Yellowstone. Although my husband’s family spent hours and hours of wonderful time together at their nearby lake cabin, that vacation was their only road trip.
My mother’s definition of a vacation was “no kids.” We took two weeks crossing the country by station wagon when we moved from Connecticut to Washington, and that was it.
So my husband and I didn’t have a blueprint for successful summer family road trips. We started small and learned as we went.
But we didn’t start too small. By this I mean we didn’t try to take long trips by car with toddlers and preschoolers. At that age, children see within a small circumference the world around them — they see the interesting animals, the beach, the playground — and they don’t care if it’s around the block or halfway across the country. Long stretches in the car put unnecessary stress on them and on us.
Our first trip was a five-day vacation to Whistler. We stayed at a campground with wild rabbits running around, and we stopped for a tour of the British Columbia Museum of Mining on Howe Sound (underground tour through creepy passageways is a major kid attraction. Visit www.bcmuseumofmining.org). At Whistler we stayed in a condominium where we could swim in the pool at night under the stars, took the gondola to the top of the mountain, and watched the zany performers in the Village. We didn’t try to make too many miles or cram too much into each day, and we made sure each day had an adventure kids would enjoy. We didn’t want to be dragging them along on an adult vacation.
My daughter remembers our rambling Oregon Coast road trip as her favorite, maybe because we took the “White Whale,” a relative’s converted camper/van. Remembering that miles of scenery hold limited attractions for younger children, we stopped at Fort Clatsop near Astoria (you can dress up in native and pioneer costumes), rode the dune buggies at the sand dunes in Florence and, of course, spent time at the spectacular Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.
As the kids got older, we involved them in deciding where we should go for summer vacation. We wondered about a Yellowstone vacation. The kids were excited about seeing the animals and hot springs, but we explained to them how long the drive was and how many hours they would be in the car. Would they rather try somewhere closer, like Crater Lake? “No,” they said, “we want to go to Yellowstone!” Because they’d made the decision to take the trip, there was not one complaint on the way over.
Again, we made sure to do a kid attraction each day. We camped in a teepee at Lolo Hot Springs in Montana, and one day we visited an old jail that had housed Wild West bandits. When we got to the gate at Yellowstone, we parked just outside. The kids ran through the archway and began taking photos of the herd of elk they immediately saw. “It’s so exciting to be here!” my daughter enthused.
One of our last all-road trips (one not involving a plane ride) was the other “must- see” Western destination, Grand Canyon. As the kids were teens, we all planned the trip together. Would we like to do the city of Las Vegas part? Definitely! We looked at the map and decided that while we were there, we’d like to go to Zion as well, but not all the way to Bryce — too much park scenery for one trip. That adventure, too, was a rousing success.
But however much you involve your kids in the planning and make sure you take their interests into account along the way, a road trip does involve hours of … well, time on the road. Videos are one solution for long stretches of empty countryside, but for a more family-oriented experience, it’s fun to listen to story tapes or CDs. Those tales unfurled over the miles have become a part of our family’s shared repertoire of memories and phrases.
Car games work well, especially for younger school-aged children. Seattle Woman publisher Marianne Scholl and her family invented a card-free “Mind Uno” game. One person says a word, and the others say another word that has some relationship, however tangential, to the original word. After a few rounds, the players try to make connections back to the original word. Another game is to say a word — such as “electricity” — and think of everything possible that’s connected to it, writing each idea down as you go. On long stretches where there’s some human habitation, the alphabet game is a winner (find a sign or make of car beginning with each letter of the alphabet, in order). At tourist destinations or on the road, see if you can find a license plate from every state.
Need more ideas, including “Counting Cows,” “Scavenger Hunt for Road Trips” or printable games? Go to www.momsminivan.com. There’s even a “Pirates of the Caravan” game to combat the “aaarrrrrrrr we there yet?” blues.
Beats kicking the back of the seat.
©2008 Caliope Publishing Company
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