I spend a lot of time on the road and I’ve learned that the drive is a lot of fun when you make it about the journey and not just the destination.
Here are eight of my favorite ways to make getting there part of the fun.
1. Take the Scenic Route
The interstate might be the fastest way to get where you’re going, but trust me — the back roads are much more interesting. The interstate highways tend to pass through the most homogenous parts of a city (think big box stores and fast food restaurants) and that can make every place start to look and feel the same. When you slow down a bit and start exploring off the beaten path, you’ll see more small businesses and really see how the locals live.
Scenic byways offer pretty scenery and many highlight historical and cultural stops along the way. Some features interpretive displays for the history buffs in your group and others have audio features you can listen to without getting out of your vehicle. If there’s not one along your route (you can check at scenicbyways.info), ask state tourism departments and other travelers for the most interesting way to get from point A to point B.
2. Plan a Playlist
Instead of popping in headphones and leaving the driver on their own, make a road trip soundtrack. Radio stations come and go, so ask everybody to suggest songs or a favorite podcast to listen to on the way. I listen to books on tape on really long trips and I know several families with older kids that listen together as well.
You’ll could end up chatting though the drive anyway, but listening to something new might just give you something new to talk about, either on the road or when you arrive at your destination.
3. Get Out of the Car
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but actually getting out of the car can help make a road trip feel shorter for everyone. Sitting still for too long is rough on the body and the mind. It can lull a driver into complacency and make everybody restless and crabby, so try to maximize your stops with fresh air and a little physical activity to take the edge off.
If refueling isn’t an issue, plan bathroom breaks for rest areas or roadside parks to take in a little soothing green space. Take your snack bag to a picnic table and relax in the fresh air. Stretch out on the grass. Let the kids run wild on the playground or take a little hike to take photos or explore for a few minutes. If you only have time to stop for gas, try to take a moment to move around. (And see tip#6 for more ideas.)
4. Pack Entertainment Bags:
I bring entertainment bags for my toddler when we go on vacation, but I’ve totally started stealing the idea for myself. Day packs or small tote bags are great, because you can repurpose them later on your trip, but even a plastic bag works.
For kids, pack books, small toys, paper and art supplies (colored pencils are great because they don’t melt in a hot car like crayons) and a clipboard or flat surface to use them on. I always bring a great book or a magazine I’ve been dying to read and a travel journal. Cards, travel games and portable DVD players and gaming systems work well for everybody.
5. Send Road Mail
While you’re documenting your trip on social media, take a second to send a pic or a snap directly to friends and family. It’s fun to virtually tag along on another person’s adventures, but even better when they share something especially for you. If you really want to take the experience to the next level, try snail mail.
There are postcards and greeting cards at most gas stations (although you might have to look around a little bit), so pack stamps and jot down mailing addresses so you drop a surprise in the mail. Finding a mailbox can be a little trickier. If you don’t see one at your stop, ask the clerk for directions to the post office.
6. Make Fuel Stops An Experience
Stopping for gas doesn’t feel like a NASCAR pit stop if you have a little fun with it. Take your time and really take your surroundings. Gas stations are strange and wonderful little ecosystems. Check out the different license plates in the parking lot or challenge your travel buddies to see who can find the weirdest souvenir. Truck stops and gas stations stock some seriously odd stuff.
And if the coffee or donuts from an attached coffee shop, bakery or restaurant actually look good, sit down and enjoy them. If a place is busy, that’s a good sign. If it’s full of locals, that’s even better. I’ve had some good food and absolutely great baked goods at places attached to gas stations and truck stops, so be open to that possibility.
7. Bring A Goodie Bag
Speaking of gas stations, they have an irritating tendency to disappear when you get really hungry, so pack a few simple snacks to tide everyone over until the next stop. I like non-melty, minimally crumbly stuff like cereal bars, dried fruit, nuts and small crackers. If you don’t eat it on the way, you can snack on it later in your trip.
You can also bring water, juice or soda, but keep the quantities limited. (Unless you’re crossing the desert or something. Then by all means, keep an emergency stash!) Stopping for the bathroom once or twice is normal. Getting out to pee every few miles wrecks the trip for everyone.
8. Hit the Brakes
If something looks interesting, stop. Make it a road trip rule. After all, you might not pass this way again.
Pull over for historical markers, enjoy the view from that scenic overlook and take silly selfies at ridiculous roadside attractions. You never know what you’ll learn or what you’ll discover until you take a chance. Sometimes the best stops are the ones you never intended to take.
What about you?
What are your favorite road trip traditions?
How do you break up the monotony of a long car ride?
What are your tips and tricks for traveling with kids?
What’s your favorite place to stop to stretch, fuel up or explore?
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