Family road trips: Share your best tips and stories

A couple weeks ago we saw spotted an article about ways to make road trips bearable (and fun!) for families. Being that we are in peak season for family vacation time, we thought it’d be fun to explore how families vacation together. We’re a mix of parents and children who recall family vacations with good, great, okay or ugly memories.

Personally, my family always ran into mishaps on our road trips. So many mishaps that my mom likes to call us the Griswolds when we vacationed. One mishap included driving out to Boston and Cape Cod in our Mercury Topaz (a little too small for a family of four). My dad believed in driving ’til you drop at the time. So we dropped at a Bates-like hotel on the Cape where we tried to avoid spiders while using the shower while plugging our noses at the smokey smell of the room. Another included camping near the Black Hills where some crazy guy almost lit the campground on fire trying to figure out his portable grill. But the ‘traumatic’ mishaps at the time always turn into family lore and funny laughs for years to come.

So what vacation lore represents your family? Do you have tips or suggestions for family vacation? Do you enjoy or dread your time together?

–Meggan Ellingboe, assistant producer

  • Janet McClelland

    I just got back Monday from a 2,800 mile road trip to New York State, where I used to live. My son, daughter in law and two grandkids flew and I met them there. It worked well — I love to drive (listened to 17 hours of Oliver Twist on cd) and was able to bring life jackets, beach towels, and all the other cabin gear we needed once we got there. I’ve taken road trips every year since I moved to St. Paul 7 years ago. I’ve been gauging how our economy is doing based on what I observe. Truck traffic is up, people are driving nicer cars, and the towns I drive through are looking better kept up. I love road trips, short or long.

  • Cathy

    As soon as school got out this year, we were off on a 17-day road trip that was just a few miles short of 5,000 miles. The girls are now 13 and 9, and it was time to see the country. We saw 5 national parks on our way to and from Calif. where we visited relatives for a weekend. We tented it just 4 nights of the trip; we would have camped more but it just takes too much time. Road trips are a great way to see all of the country. Though this trip offered just a glimpse of some beautiful national parks, now we all know what we’d like to see more of, even if we don’t get back while the kids are still at home. Our road trips are also a chance to reconnect with one another, listen to podcasts, and be bored in the car together. We’re thrilled to be able to offer these experiences to our kids and to have them ourselves.

  • Dave

    Surprise packages. When I was a kid, my mom would wrap up little trinkets, comic books, puzzles and put the name of a town on the package. When we got to that town, we’d unwrap the package and be entertained for the next stretch down the road.

  • Adrian

    I grew up with road trips that were measured in days, not hours or miles. We would load into our big Chevy van at “zero dark thrity” as my father called it, and drive until suppertime. My brother and I each had a bin of toys under the bench seat, and a small cooler full of paper and markers seat belted between us, both for entertainment and to keep us from poking at each other. I loved travelling like this, and still do.

    Now I have a child of my own, and am about to take off on my first long roadtrip with him. He is ten months old, and has just learned to crawl and pull up, so he’s only happy when he’s in motion. We’ll see how the drive to Oregon goes!

  • Connie

    I live in Fargo, but originally from Atlanta, so when my three kids were young, we drove from Fargo to Atlanta and Florida many, many times. They really were great trips. The kids were always good, played games, read, watched movies, and talked, alot. I think it was great bonding experiences for them with each other, as well as my husband and I.

  • Steven Wilk

    Books on Tape/CD from the local Library


    Kevin Kling

    Bud not Buddy

    Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum

    We leave tomorrow for our road trip with Stephanie Plum and Vince Flynn

  • Naomi

    My son (13) and I had our best family road trip ever this year to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We put 1100 miles on the car in 5 days and had lots of fun.

    I agree completely with the speaker about involving your child in the planning process. This year, I told him that he was going to plan it all, and guide the car. My son did a little research before leaving and we bought maps as we went. Using the internet on our phones, we found how to get to the next stop. I just drove, my gave me all the directions to get everywhere.

    On this trip we went hiking, camping, rappelled down mine shafts, white water rafting, a sunken ship boat tour, a sunset tour of Painted Rocks National Shores, a brewery tour, and rode a steam engine to a logging camp. We didn’t make it to Canada and Mackinaw Island like we were hoping; we needed a couple of more days.

    At the end of the trip, my son told me had more fun than going to Disney World! This trip had memories with my son I will cherish forever.

  • Claire PG

    I’ve been a road trip junkie since day 1! With relatives spread across the country, we were routinely tripping it across the west growing up. One little trick I remember my parents doing was packing little “presents” for us to open long the way … little books to read, snacks, games – all things we would have had anyway but when you add the element of unwrapping something … it’s that much cooler! It sure made the 11 hour car trips go by much faster when you had a wait every hour to open a new present. Plus, my younger brother and I would share our new treasures … rather than fight about it!

  • Audrey

    We have a friend that gives his young children a roll of quarters at the start of the trip. Every time they ask, “How much further?” They have to give their dad a quarter. If they fight in the back seat, they pay a quarter, etc.

    It becomes a game for the children is to keep as many quarters as possible! (Of course the parents have to lay down the rules at the beginning, and stick with it…)

  • Nick Raden

    Our roadtrips usually consisted of heading to Chicago to visit our relatives, and our mother would often read to us a great portion of the way. Road trips were a great time to get us all into a book, and got us hooked on such books as Harry Potter. This led to us often reading stories as a family before bed, and has fueled my love of literature to this day.

    Of course, my brother and I would still fight and be problematic, which also continues to this day (we’re 21 and 22 now).

  • Karla

    We have never been a fast food family and whenever we are on the road, we only eat at diners or cafes, never a chain restaurant. We’ve had some great pie for $1 and hot roast beef sandwiches with potatoes and gravy. Love seeing the locals in action.

  • Laurel

    Don’t forget the MUSIC!!! When going to the West we played Son’s of the Pioneers and Grand Canyon Suite…and Gene Autry music….It got us through the long stretches of land…..also….don’t forget to eat Mexican food at a local cafe….don’t do Taco Bell….We also read Louis L;Amour novels. It was the best entertainment for the kids and parents. We could talk about so many issues, history…etc.

  • Joan

    We went on a trip across the US when I was young. My three sisters and I, my parents, and the Ford Country Squire. One of the moments we remember often is driving through Nebraska. My older sister saw the “do not pass” road sign along a desolate stretch of road and said, “Do not pass what?” we laugh to this day- 40 years later!

  • Greg Linscott

    My wife and I have 4 biological children (13,12, 9, and 5) and are in the process of finalizing adoption of 3 more (4,2,and 8 months). We will be driving from SW MN to Michigan and Maine to visit family in August for a little over 2 weeks. I have found the ideas interesting… One suggestion for accommodations –

  • stephanie

    Greg – How big is your car?! Congratulations on the new additions to your family!

  • Jeff

    Listening to the conversation on air and promoting someone wearing headphones while driving is one of the most unsafe things I have heard. I hate seeing people driving with headphone/earbuds on. You can’t hear emergency vehicles or things going on around you. A person should NEVER wear headphones while driving.

  • Linda

    When I was young and traveled with my family, my mom would pick up a travel kit from the local library. There were different activities and road bingo. It kept me busy for hours. I have great memories of traveling with my family in the car. It seems like it was the only time that we could have really deep conversations about life.

    As a grownup, I enjoy taking trips with my husband. He is happy as long as he can drive and find a local NPR station. BTW, Minnesota has one of the best NPR stations and coverage in the country.

    My challenge is how to keep him happy when the trip gets long. He does not passenge well and usually ends up rifling through the glove compartment or driving me crazy. Any ideas on how to keep someone like him happy? 🙂

  • Stephanie

    Jeff – Completely agree about the headphones! I also think it is illegal. We’re doing letters later this hour, I’ll mention it.

  • Greg Linscott

    @Stephanie- we upgraded this year to a Ford 12 passenger van. We will tow a small trailer (designed for a motorcycle) to accommodate the extra gear. 🙂

  • stephanie

    @Greg – That’s hardcore!

  • mark

    My father and mother were teachers so in the summers we would load up our converted school bus (with mini-kitchen, bunkbeds and tent) and take off for 2-3 weeks out west. Thankfully with this bus there was plenty of room for us 6 kids.

    In the sixties when hitchhiking was quite common we picked up a family of 4 who were catching rides to the west coast. The rode with us for a couple days which was quite memorable .

    Some of my best family memories come from those long rides and adventures on the road!