Road Trip with the Kids – Unplug to Plug In

[tweetmeme] Twice a year, my family of four escapes my adopted city to head “home” to the west coast of Newfoundland.

The past two summers, we’ve foregone the regular flight pattern through Halifax (and/or Montreal) to get into Deer Lake on the west coast, and actually made the long drive home. The drive can be somewhat daunting – it’s a good 2.5 days of travel (that includes an overnight stay in either Quebec City or somewhere in New Brunswick; as well as an overnight ferry from Sydney, NS to Port aux Basques, Nfld). The trip itself covers 2000 kms from Ottawa, Ontario to Corner Brook, Newfoundland; but it’s a wonderful opportunity to see different parts of Canada. Of course, I’m prejudiced – the scenery gets prettier and prettier the further east you go!

That first year, though, I’ll admit that the thought of such a long drive, being several days in the car with my young kids, and taking the ferry was something we approached with mild trepidation. Yet, we jumped in, and embraced the experience – and, surprise, surprise, found out that we liked it very much. So much so, the drive itself is now an important part of our annual summer vacation. The journey there and back truly is a terrific part of the experience.

Here are some tips we found helped make the experience enjoyable:

1. No building a cocoon. No family member is allowed to check out. We all have to engage in conversation, and tell stories. That means no (or very limited use of) personal electronics – no iphones, cellphones, blackberries, etc. that might take you away from the family environment and into your own cocoon.

2. Play some family drive games. I’ll often pull some car bingo games off the net so we can look for Volkswagons (punch buggy, anyone?). We might play a game of “mad, sad, and glad” (which gets especially interesting when my four-year-old has to share tales of things that have made her mad, sad, and glad that day). Or we might get things going with “tell us two things you think no one knows about you”, or “tell us how you’d spend a lottery win”. There’s something about the anonymity of sitting in the backseat that makes kids open up more than when you’re sitting face-to-face, as any parent can tell you. Some of our best conversations have started that way.

3. Stop often. Kids will be kids, after all. In enclosed spaces, the best of friends will get on each other’s nerves. Don’t drive until you hear yourself saying, “if I have to stop this car….” Plan the stops, don’t be rushed, and ensure everyone can get out, stretch their legs, and burn off some energy in a positive way.

4. When the DVD player is dragged out, watch something together as a family. (Since we’re Disney fanatics, we go through our library of classics, and bring along movies we can all enjoy. You can never see enough “Toy Story” or “Mulan.”)

5. Try to appreciate each other’s music selections. (Parents can singalong to a Jonas Brothers song, just as the kiddies can enjoy some classic Beatles.)

6. Stay somewhere with a pool. ‘Nuff said.

So, don’t be afraid of the long road trip. Embrace it. The journey will be fantastic, and with a destination like Newfoundland, you’ll also end up somewhere fantastic. I promise, you’ll be amazed at what you find along the way!