The Wrong Way to Do Family Roadtrips

A veritable How-Not To plan and execute a family road trip.

There's a stunning essay in the current issue of Newsweek: The Family Road Trip: Strangers in a Minivan It's ironic that we picked up the Newsweek at the front desk of the Residence Inn in Scarborough, ME in the middle of our annual early-summer family road trip across northern New England.

Tinsley read it first, and then handed the magazine to me muttering something like "I think you'll find this interesting".

The irony didn't stop at the front desk. The article 's lead photo (below, right) is similar to one I took recently on our way down to Philly: a wide angle view of the family from the front of a minivan (above right). The main difference in the two photos though, was that in my photo, the family is happy and unplugged, whereas in the Newsweek photo, the family is miserable, plugged in, and uninterested in each other. Granted, our children are not teenagers and the essayist's are, but I think her problems run a lot deeper than that. Here are some of the things that it looks like they did wrong:

They didn't start the kids young on road tripping. They started with teenagers on a 1,200 mile journey from New Jersey to Florida. We started our kids the minute they were born. Well, the month they were born. Tommy is now a true Knight of the Road. He sits back there in his happy road trip world grooving on the sights, yapping at us, and looking at his kid's atlas and other books. Lilly, (2 yrs old) is still going through the boot camp phase, sometimes she'll scream at us for an hour or two (as Tommy did), but she's developing her little road trip routine. Tommy used to scream at us too, but now he's a champ. The key is to do a lot of short trips with the youngsters to get them used to the routine.

They avoided America by sticking to I-95, no Scenic American Backroads, no local restaurants, no history lessons about the country they live in. Getting there is the best part. They didn't know this. They were looking for a way to get through the drive rather than looking for ways to make the drive great. If you take a different return route, getting back is just as cool.

They distanced themselves with electronic gear
rather than interacting with each other. When Tommy got a DVD player for Christmas a couple of years ago, we thought that it was going to be a great addition the the family road trip gear pile. And for a while, it seemed like it was. While Tommy was wrapped up in Toy Story, March of the Penguins, or some crazy Superhero comic movie, Tinsley and I had the most wonderful conversations (note that the passenger parent wasn't watching a movie or tapping on a computer). But when we arrived at the hotel, or restaurant, Tommy was like a zombie. When we took away the DVD player, we got our son back.

She was too uptight
about what her vision of the trip would be vs. the reality of it. Our rule #3 Don't Sweat the Schedule goes right along with Take What They Give You, Don't Try to do Too Much, and Let Sleeping Dogs Lay.

They severed the seat belt of their daughter
. And then the author pats herself on the back for it because she used a low-tech tool (scissors) to do it. I can't believe this one, somehow the daughter got "inexplicably tangled in her seat belt. She was uncomfortable and started to panic." So they cut the seat belt. Nice move. Why not tell the girl to calm down, pull over at the next exit, and get her untangled?

In our Tips for Road Tripping with Kids series, we lay out a bunch of ways we've found success. I hope that these tips can help others avoid road trip hell as chronicled in Newsweek.

What do you think of this story?

1 comment:

Stacey said...

I appreciate your comments on the My Turn article. When I read the same piece, I actually sat down and fired off a Letter to the Editor of Newsweek in response. You can find what I wrote at my blog (the blog entry was called "Parenting Without Batteries"). I can tell you that I *do* have a teenager and pre-teen (along with two others younger children and a baby on the way), and I still don't think it matters WHAT age the kids are. Family trips are prime opportunities for making memories - think captive audience in tight quarters. ;-) I think it's terrible how too many families these days waste that precious time.