Yes, I am talking about packing up the van with the maps, auto bingo, and a cooler full of sandwiches and some junk food. Cell phones are allowed for emergencies only. (Yes, your office can get along without you). Many of us traveled like this when we were growing up and sadly too many of us have not attempted it with our families. There is no better way to get to know your family than to spend time in close quarters with limited distractions. The destination is not as important as being together. My husband, three children and I have traveled to destinations like California, Canada, Yellowstone and Michigan to only name a few. Two weeks seems to work quite well.
Between our children in school and us at work, we all live very structured lives. Children expect to be entertained and/or have their time structured. Therefore, it is more difficult for our kids to go with the flow. It takes the first few days to develop the loose vacation, go with the flow, “yeah, let’s stop and see the world’s biggest ball of twine,” before lunch, attitude.
The time we spend together has become the most memorable and fun. It kills me to hear friends respond to the idea of a “driving vacation” as one that is, “no vacation for me.” My response is that you have no idea what you are missing. We have spent many miles telling stories about when they were babies, stories about what things were like when we were young, and about things our parents told us about the “old days.”
On a long stretch of road in upper Michigan, I started telling fictional stories because I had run out of real stories. I grew up on a farm and proceeded to tell an extreme whopper about how we had discovered a sea serpent in our waterhole. Their little eyes grew larger and larger as the whopper got bigger and bigger, involving secret caves and culminated in saving the friendly serpent. The kids caught on quickly and took turns over the next 200 miles telling whoppers about things living in a secret closet they discovered in our study and about secret wells and animals in the woods around home. We laughed so hard at times we almost wet ourselves.
There are always some tense moments. When my son was two and strapped in a car seat on the way to Yellowstone, he would become antsy. Whenever we stopped for a bathroom break (and there were a lot because I was pregnant) we would find him a grassy spot and I would tell him to run. After a couple of days he would say, “Daddy, I have to run.” We would find him a spot and everybody was happy.
Occasionally the kids will give indications of needing space. It usually starts with the “she’s touching me” syndrome. As a joke on one trip I took our quilt and made a tent over my daughter be stretching in over the seats. It was a perfect private space. She could see out her window but was separated from everyone else. She read under the tent for awhile and later emerged with a refreshed attitude. My kids continue to do this on vacation. Sometimes they make the tent big enough for all of them and close us out. It warmed by heart to hear the giggling coming from the tent.
To pass the miles, we have done each others hair with beads, read, bought junk at the tourist gifts shops (it is all the same types of junk as when I was young) and we collect rocks at every stop. When we arrive home, we have had fun and our van looks like bears have ran-sacked a fast food restaurant dumpster. But, we have learned to live together in close quarters. We have cried, yelled and laughed hysterically together and learned a lot about each other, that could never be achieved at home or anywhere that separates the family. Go with the flow. Pack up the family and be patient because the right attitude takes a little work. See where the road takes you.