Animals Childhood Family Vacation

Keeping your sanity on family road trips

Having logged a lot of miles with the family over the last few weeks, I feel it is important to remind everyone of some important things to take note of when you are traveling as a family, or encountering those doing the same:

  • Overestimate. As parents, I highly recommend you tell your kids that your destination is about an hour farther than it really is. The “Are We There Yet” game has been ramped up by technology, so anyone who can get their grubby little paws on a smart phone can say, “Siri, how long until we get to Disney?” Well, if your kids think Disney is now in Tampa, you’ve built yourself in a cushion of expectation. “Remember not to ask about Disney, but Tampa, son!” An expectation of a four-hour trip when only three hours remain? Golden.
  • Play the lottery. Buy scratch-off lottery tickets. Lots of them. This is not a pro-lottery stance. It’s a pro-quiet stance.Tell the kids that for every hour they can be calm, quiet, not assault each other, etc., you will see if you are a big winner, and if maybe this vacation can turn into a lifetime at the beach or Universal Studios or the Liberty Bell or wherever. Chances are, the most you will win is an extra ticket. Well, that and extra quiet. Which is, let’s face it, priceless. But the kids will always be thinking that the big winner is just on the horizon. Sure, you may hook them onto a lifetime of unreasonable lottery expectations, but this is about surviving this trip, not the future.
  • Embrace technology. Wire ‘em up. Get kids DVDs, video games, hologram simulators. I don’t care. Get it. And don’t give me this, “Back in my day…” stuff. Trust me — if your parents could have parked you and your three older sisters (not that I am drawing from any particular family), you’d have all been tethered to ALF reruns for the duration of your car trip to Gramma’s place in Mississippi. Let’s not pretend you’re better than this. You know how I know? Because I once thought I was better than this. And then I drove from Florida to South Carolina with a child screaming the entire time. The next trip, from South Carolina to Florida, involved a child who sat hypnotized by Elmo the whole time, and who did not scream, but only occasionally muttered, “La la la la, la la la la, Elmo’s world…” I choose technology for my sanity.
  • Play the license plate game. You know the drill. You played it when you were a kid. Write down every plate you find. Here’s the added bonus, though — remind kids that big trucks often have two plates — one on the trailer, one on the cab. When you’re on the interstate, keeping their heads on a swivel will keep them occupied.
  • Don’t judge. If you are at a restaurant — especially one near an interstate, and you see a family with all four people’s faces shoved into the lighted displays of their phones, don’t assume that they are a disconnected family that should put down those phones and, by gum, have some decent family time at the dinner table. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve been in the car starting in Atlanta and we’ve made it to Montgomery, AL, and, quite frankly, we’ve enjoyed this together time, but we’re going to take a quick exit break to (a) use the restroom (b) have some food and ( c) have a moment of solitude while we find out what the World Cup scores are. After all, some of those people at the table may have driven the ENTIRE time, and a few minutes of me-time .. I mean … him-time is acceptable.

There are scores of other ways that can make your trip an enjoyable one, but I think these are a good starting point. Using these tips, you are destined for an unforgettable family vacation. And it’s an hour closer than you realized!

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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