Making the Most of Family Travel Time Back »

Written by Andrea Knox, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development & Resiliency Field Specialist.


Many families will hit the road during the summer months looking forward to a fun family getaway. While the destination may be the ultimate goal, the process of getting there can prove to be a positive memory-making experience as well. Yet, the process of getting there often involves a lengthy drive, which can lead to restless young passengers and stressed out adults. With some forethought, not only can the travel destination bring new experiences and build family bonds, but the road time can also become an opportunity to build family connections as well. The following tips will help you cruise down the road with a bit more ease this vacation season.

Have a Plan

  • Plan out your destination building in breaks along the way. Get children involved in the process, by choosing some of the unique places and small towns to stop at along the way. A local park may be a great stopping place for a picnic and to let children run off some energy. Give children a map to help track and navigate the route to your destinations. Keep a realistic distance in mind based on the ages of children. You will likely need to stop every two-three hours. Don’t expect children to be able to spend as much time in a car as an adult can.

Keep Things Interesting

  • Packing along a few everyday items and a list of travel friendly games will keep young passengers engaged and their mind off how long the trip is taking. Try to limit the amount of screen time (time spent on electronic devices and watching videos). Instead, take advantage of having your family together with limited distractions. Children will get more out of the experience by checking out the scenery and entertaining themselves.
    • Family Games: Family games may include old favorites such as “I Spy” or looking for certain license plates, wildlife, landmarks, colors, shapes, etc. The family can create their own games along to the way too such as counting certain items. A bag which serves as a kit of activities including cards, travel games, washable markers, pipe cleaners, notebooks, books related to your travel route or CD’s can be helpful. Adding a new surprise item each day can also keep children interested.
    • Individual Activities: The Children’s Creative Learning Center at Penn State offers the following inexpensive, but creative individual ideas to add to the kit of activities. With a box of foil children can make animals, hats and other fun things sparking their creativity. Supervision is needed however as small pieces can be torn. Using a cookie sheet and a set of letter magnets children can practice spelling and recognizing words. Have older children write down words they see on billboards and road signs and then create a story or poem using the words. Encourage older children to also journaling about the travel experience including where they have been and favorite experiences along the way. This will also make for a priceless memory piece.

Be Flexible

  • High expectations can lead to a larger let down when the vacation does not go as planned and things usually do not go just as planned. Don’t add stress to the trip by expecting perfection. Instead, slow down and enjoy the experience, imperfections and all.

Safety and Comfort

  • Above all keep safety as the top priority. Help the driver avoid distractions, make sure children ride in an appropriate size car seat or booster, and be sure travelers keep their seatbelts on at all times. Making sure children are comfortable will also help the traveling process. Provide sunglasses or a window shade to protect against direct sunlight, check that the air conditioning is flowing throughout the vehicle, and avoid overcrowding to allow adequate space for stretching and moving legs and arms. Have healthy snacks and drinks available as needed.

With these tips in tow, not only can your travel destination bring new experiences and build family bonds, but the journey getting there can also become a valuable memory-making experience as you make the most of your road time this summer.


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