Three Ways to Keep You (and Your Family) Sane on Road Trips

Learning to Enjoy the Journey


We just got back from a road trip to Yosemite. On the way out it was just the boys and me for the roughly 8 hour journey. (My husband met us there.) I was more than a little nervous about this, not least because of my unique ability to get lost even in my own neighborhood.


I like road trips… and I don’t like them. When Ryan is along, I love the extra opportunity for long, mainly uninterrupted talks. We always end up covering some surprising conversational terrain as the scenery outside the window whips by. But at the same time, I often just want to be there and be done with it.


And with small kids in the car, you just never know what’s going to happen. We’ve survived several inconveniently-timed stomach flus (with all the cleanup fun that entails), sung thousands of verses of “Old MacDonald” (desperately incorporating questionable-at-best farm animals like the snake, the owl, and the dinosaur) in the hopes of lulling an infant into sleep or just plain submission, and made lots of extra stops to find a needed toy or snack or just take a running around break.


Road trips have gotten easier–my boys are getting older and I’ve found that you cannot understimate the usefulness of portable electronic devices–but I think I’ve also gotten a little bit better at planning and more importantly, attitude. Here are my three tips for successful road trips.


1. Don’t be afraid to bring a whole lotta stuff.

I pack what sometimes feels like the whole kitchen for car trips. A huge bag full of snacks, both healthy (grapes, fruit squeezers, …) and not quite so healthy (crackers, granola bars, and chocolate) and plenty of drinks. I also pack a big entertainment bag, with toys the kids only get to see when we travel–sticker books, some little windup toys and kaleidoscopes, a portable bead maze thing. Books are good too, especially ones that are new or newish. My younger son can’t read on his own yet, but he still likes to look at books or use his Tag reader. (Thankfully, both of them seem to have avoided the motion sickness that strikes me the minute I read a written word in the car.) And of course, they each get to pick movies for their portable DVD players, which are always a huge hit because like little travel fairies, these DVD players only emerge on trips.

            I always feel like I am packing way too much, but the truth is during or after the trip I’ve never thought to myself. Geez, I really wish I’d brought fewer things to entertain the children with! Actually, it seems like no matter how much I bring, we always seem to eat or play through it all.


2. Allow for extra time. Better yet, just let go of when you will be there.

It’s supposed to be the kids constantly asking, “How much further?” and “When are we going to get there?” But, at least inwardly, it’s usually me asking the same questions.

            One of my trusted tools for life in general is lowered (or, at least, reasonable) expectations. Yes, I may have made a certain drive in a record number of hours once in 2002, but the odds are not great that I will replicate said record in 2013 with two kids in the car. So I plan for the drive to take longer even than I really think it should. Then if we arrive there earlier than the plan, wow, everybody’s pleased! Yes, it’s playing a trick on myself, but you know what? It works.

            Trips are so much easier when I’m not constantly counting down the minutes or miles until we arrive. I’ve learned the same lesson when I’m writing. When I stop obsessing over the number of chapters or pages I have yet to go, I tend to get a lot more done and enjoy the process quite a bit more.


3. Change the way you think about the journey.

The metaphor of the journey is a common one for faith and life. I use it in cliché-like proportions in my own writing. It’s funny, though. I like the idea of a journey when it comes to faith, but, at least since having kids, I haven’t liked real-life journeys too much at all. Just the thought of flying stresses me out for days in advance of a trip. Will I have everything I need? Will the kids lose it? Will they cry or kick the back of the seat in front of them until someone starts loudly bemoaning today’s lack of corporal punishment? Will I lose it? Will someone vomit? Will we miss a flight or get delayed and have to camp out on the floor of a boarding area somewhere? A single four-hour flight can yield quadruple that amount of anxiety time.

            Road trips aren’t quite as bad in terms of anxiety, but they often seem interminable, for me and for my boys. I am constantly wishing I could just close my eyes and teleport us to the place we are trying to go.

            What does that mean for my metaphor? Why do I feel comfortable with the idea of faith as a journey when actual journeys are often so uncomfortable to me? I have a feeling it’s partly because the idea of faith as a journey is kind of pleasingly vague. Most of the time it lacks the immediacy of a four-hour flight strapped into a cramped airplane seat with a cranky child beside you, or the sight of a long stretch of night highway when all you really want to do is pull over and take a nap.

            What does it mean to be on a journey? That you are going somewhere but that you haven’t arrived yet. That you’re in transition, that you can never quite get comfortable because you’ll be moving on soon.                    

            These are all apt descriptions of the spiritual life as I know it. But yes, they can also be difficult things in practice. Being on a constant journey means you can never quite get settled, and if you do allow yourself to get too comfortable, hold on because change is a-coming and you might not like it when it does.

            I guess when it comes to faith I am more comfortable with the idea that the ride is at least part of the point, that what we say and do and think on the journey is just as significant as arriving at the destination.

            What I need to work on is applying that belief to my actual life.

             Our Yosemite road trip went pretty well, I’m happy to report. As usual, we managed to eat through almost everything in the gigantic snack bag and most of the toys got played with too. We even managed to have a few conversations before the movie players got turned on. Then while they watched Scooby-Doo, I got to listen to whatever music I wanted–a rare treat.  It was a long drive but it was blessedly free of stomach flu and complaining (even by me!), and we managed to arrive at Yosemite more or less on schedule. And although I was happy to get there, I realized I’d actually enjoyed the ride this time.


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