Why on Earth would sane parents pack up their car and strap in their children for a cross-country road trip, that may take 10 times longer than a plane ride to the same destination? Here are some of our reasons for choosing to take our kids on driving vacations.
Who doesn’t love to fly? (well, OK… a lot of people don’t like flying). The benefits: you get there quickly, you can sleep and use the bathroom whenever you’d like, and kids are utterly impressed by the grandeur of airplanes. However, with our 4 kids and rising air travel prices, we decided to start visiting our families by car instead of by plane. Making several trips a year by car to visit my family (1100 miles north in Chicago) and my husband’s family (750 miles south in Mexico City), we actually began to see some advantages of road trips.
Yes, there are tantrums… meltdowns… complaining… a million bathroom stops… but there are also so many benefits. Some parents are scared to try road trips because their kids “don’t like riding in the car.” With more “practice” and better preparation, parents can learn what works for their family and everyone will be able to enjoy the journey. Here are the benefits my family has gained from our road trips:
1) “Are we there yet?” You’ve heard it a million times, even in the first hour– before you’ve even reached the highway! In the age of instant gratification, there aren’t a lot of things we still have to wait for… Traveling by car however, does take time. Kids who get used to riding in the car for periods of time will develop patience, and slowly begin to tolerate future, longer road trips. Little world travelers can build up their endurance with local car rides. Start with day trips, slowly increasing the time in the car until you are able to drive to a weekend getaway. The only way to develop patience is to practice, even if there are some challenges along the way. Kids who get accustomed to traveling seem more adaptable and flexible in their daily lives.
2) Driving allows us to appreciate natural beauty and makes geography more concrete. Not only do kids learn map skills as they follow along on the journey, but also they experience landforms in real life, instead of learning about them in a book. I will never forget the first time we drove to Mexico City, and spend hours and hours driving through the mountains. From the backseat we would hear “montaña!” “valle!!” “montaña!” “valle!!” “montaña!” “valle!!” over and over as they pointed to the mountains and valleys. Even our almost 2 year old was joining in! In addition to landforms, car rides give us the incredible chance to witness different climates, habitats, ecosystems, and environments.
3) If you pad your travel time, and leave time for exploration, road trips can inspire kids, encourage exploration, and allow your family to discover hidden sights that are off the beaten trail. City kids can witness expansive green spaces, and kids who grew up in rural areas have the opportunity to drive between rows of skyscrapers. Kids from the desert may pass through tropical areas, while families from the mountains may revel in the faraway horizon on the plains. We recently spend a week driving out to western Texas to explore the area around Big Bend National Park. We gave ourselves extra hours to reach our destinations on the way, so that we could veer off the set trail and be more spontaneous. Exploring old forts and ghost towns excited the kids, and fostered their curiosity. In the park, we let them dictate when we should stop the car to hike down and look for an animal or take the perfect picture.
4) Besides all of the educational aspects, building family bonds while reconnecting in the enclosed car is a wonderful advantage of road trips. Without the distractions of TV, school, and work, traveling nurtures conversation and can unite a family. Some of our family’s favorite inside jokes and funny memories come from our numerous road trips, when we are giddy and slap-happy after days in the car. In addition, family therapists frequently recommend that parents talk to their kids in the car, where they aren’t forced to look eye to eye; the act of driving and looking out the window tends to be less threatening, and teens will open up more to their parents under these circumstances. To me, this is the greatest benefit: uninterrupted time together, discovering and learning as a family.
What do you think the benefits are in road trips? Do you prefer to travel by plane or by car? If you have survived a road trip with kids, we want to hear about it! We will be featuring families on day 7 of this series. Send us an email with the answer to these questions, and a picture or 2 of your family to kidworldcitizen (at) gmail (dot) com
- How many hours was the trip? What was your origin and destination?
- How many kids were along for the ride? What were their ages?
- Tell us a favorite memory from a family road trip.
- What’s your favorite travel tip for families deciding to do a driving vacation?