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Are you a road tripping family? We drove 11 hours each way to Chicago for spring break, and we just did another road trip down to Norfolk, Virginia a few weekends ago. It all leads up to the mother of all road trips–we’re headed to Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore this summer (planning to knock 8 states off our family’s “Visit all 50 States” goal). It’s a big travel year for us–but why? Two reasons: one, I am embracing the idea “Don’t let your dreams just be dreams,” where we’ve talked about going some of these places for years and years, and then we never go. So we’re going! Life is too short and the years are going by fast, which leads me into number two: my kids. At ages 10, 10 and 12, they are at a wonderful age for traveling (we never traveled when they were all little!). So we’re taking advantage of this time in our lives. And I’m learning a lot about doing road trips with tweens. Here are 9 Tips that are working for us.
Involve them in planning
One of the ways we’ve encouraged excitement about our family travel is by getting the kids to do some research and report back to the family. For our Chicago trip, they were each given a museum to look up online, and then at dinner they would tell everyone about the exhibits and what they were most excited about. Not only does that take some of the work off Mom (and I appreciate it!), it gives them ownership over the vacation and gets everyone motivated about visiting each site.
Let them pack themselves
They’re not babies anymore! Give over the packing chore to each child, with a little guidance about weather and other necessities (I give each kid a printable packing list). This gives them the control and ownership they crave at this age, plus it takes this off your to-do list! Each kid packs a suitcase and a “car bag,” which has their personal stuff (books, DS, snacks, activities for the car, etc.).
Set the expectations
Sitting together in the back of the car can get real old, real fast. So before we leave, we talk about how to treat everyone, what the rules are about electronics and watching movies, and the general plan (what time we’ll stop for lunch, etc.). Keeping everyone in the loop has avoided a lot of arguing and confusion.
Prep some music & podcasts
We have had to set some limits on music (as in, playing Hamilton the whole way through twice is plenty), but we plan ahead and download a favorite playlist for each kid so everyone gets to hear their favorites, and we take turns. We also load up on some of our favorite podcasts; right now we’re loving Sawbones, Good Job Brain! and How to Do Everything.
Use technology wisely
We have a general culture in our family that screens are not to hide behind–for example, they play XBox in the living room and it’s cooperative–so we keep that up on road trips. They usually play Mario Kart collaboratively on the 3DS, but they’re also currently really into Picross. That being said…
Give them alone time
Constant togetherness, like the close quarters in the car, can be too much for some kids. Be sure and stop occasionally to let everyone spread out, get a little exercise, and have more personal space. We also let “alone time” mean putting earbuds in and staring out the window for a while.
Pack some surprises
On this last trip, I ordered invisible ink books, the same ones my sisters and I had way back when we did road trips with our mom in the ’80s. They were a big hit! I had also stopped at the library ahead of time to pick up a bunch of Calvin & Hobbes books for them to read on the way home. With future trips, I will delegate this “fun” job to one of the kids so they can be the one getting cheers for the novelty and surprises.
Let them buy souvenirs
Whether they have to use their own allowance or you give them a budget, letting the kids choose and purchase their own souvenirs helps them remember the trip in their own way (and teaches them about money a little). We always buy a Christmas tree ornament for each trip we take, and then it’s fun to reminisce when we’re putting up the tree in December. On our Chicago trip, one of my girls bought a sweatshirt from the Museum of Science and Industry, so it was a souvenir but also really useful (she wears it every day!).
Give them choices
Independence is so important to tweens, so give them an opportunity to make choices (for themselves and the group) and assert control occasionally. As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to do so on any road trip–what to pack, where to stop for lunch, what to visit each day, and more.
These tips for Road Trips with Tweens can apply to younger and older kids as well, but I’ve found that (so far) this is the BEST age. We’re really enjoying our kids right now. They’re self-sufficient but still like to cuddle and engage with us. They appreciate some alone time but still like to play together (all three of them, even older brother). This is a great age to travel with, because you’re not dealing with the demands and needs of toddlers and preschoolers. It’s so much fun!