There’s something about the open road that makes a fella feel alive. It’s a chance to take the wheel and steer into the great unknown…to control both your destination and your destiny. And until the day when robots take over and self-driving cars strip us of our rightful place at the wheel, the road trip will continue to be one of the great joys of fatherhood.
Of course, after a few miles on the road not everybody always feels the same way. If you want to keep the are-we-there-yets to a minimum, try these tips from a fellow dad to make the hours fly by as fast as all those telephone poles you’ll be seeing out the window. So get ready to embrace your inner Clark Griswold, hit the highway with your family and savor the experience of a Great American Road Trip.
Make it historicWhen I was a kid, we took a road trip to Canada that led us through Montana, making an unplanned stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument—site of Custer’s Last Stand. Ever since, I have felt a personal connection to that event, even though it took place more than a hundred years ago. That trip made history real to me for the first time.
Whether you plan ahead or wing it, try to find at least one attraction that brings the past to life for your kids. Stop at a museum, memorial or, at the very least, a reasonably priced tourist trap. History happens all over the place, and odds are good that no matter where you’re headed, there’ll be some along the way.
Make it a gameThere are all kinds of road trip games. I’ve always been a word guy, so the Alphabet Game is my personal favorite. The name of the game is, well, pretty much all there is to it: Be the first to spot every letter of the alphabet, in order, and you win.
With this or any other car game, the rules are ultimately up to you (and your passengers). So when you all find a game you like, try modifying it to suit your trip. For instance, if you’re on a very long drive through not-very-interesting country, you might find a way to make the game easier so that nobody gets frustrated. Here’s a good list of road trip games from Edmunds to get you started.
Make a playlistMy family is going to Texas to see my dad this summer. To set the mood, I’m making a playlist featuring my favorite Texas acts: Willie Nelson, ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I’m also sprinkling in Texas-themed songs, like “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and the theme to Dallas.
My point is this—if you can make a playlist that exposes the kids to some new music and gets them excited for their ultimate destination, you’ve done your fatherly duty. (Of course, some of the songs on my playlist are more for me than my girls…but after a few hours, even kids become remarkably receptive to non-“Wheels on the Bus” material.)
Make it the bestestI grew up in Kansas—arguably the middle-est state in America. It’s also home to the world’s biggest ball of twine, the world’s deepest hand-dug well and the world’s largest prairie dog. Despite my belief in Jayhawk exceptional-ism, I accept that mine is not the only state that lays rightful claim to some superlative attractions.
No matter which direction the road takes you, you’ll almost certainly come across something worthy of the record books (or failing that, at least worthy of a little gas and a few minutes). And never mind if some of these monuments are a letdown: Sometimes it’s enough to be impressed by how unimpressive something is. (That’s a little dad advice for you.)
Make it yoursWhether you’re a take-your-time kind of dad or a beat-your-best-time kind of dad, what matters most is that you’re on the road with your family. So have fun! Take the opportunity to connect with your kids and to rekindle old family traditions…or even make new ones (family traditions, that is).
And always remember that in life, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. (More dad advice—feel free to use that.)
Zach Land is a Hallmark writer, husband and father of two girls. When he’s not road tripping, he enjoys playing guitar, taking naps and referring to himself in the third person in online bios.