Look into the back seats of vehicles these days as they speed by, and you will see children transfixed to their screens. It’s no shock this is the current norm given that screens are often built into vehicles now and part of the standard package! I find it disappointing that in our lives today even road trips are no longer opportunities to leave our screens behind and engage in what should be such unique sensory experiences.
In one sense, I clearly see the positive for adults in having kids occupied by screens — it makes our trips quieter and more peaceful with no back seat bickering and whining. But there’s a cost: a profound loss of time to unplug through daydreaming, observing, connecting and engaging in a much more essential kind of fun!
Awareness of our surroundings and empathy toward others help us develop into curious, passionate, problem-solving adults. And the only way we develop these abilities is through becoming seekers, continually observing and exploring the world around us.
Focus on the Journey, Not the Destination
My common lament is that since our heads are always bent and focused on screens these days, we miss the many opportunities to behold what is unfolding in the real world right in front of us. Road trips give us a perfect chance to lift our heads UP, open our eyes, and actually experience every single moment of THE JOURNEY. Today we are all about the DESTINATION—doing whatever it takes to reach the END GOAL as quickly and seamlessly as possible and without ever asking the question, “Are we there yet?”
In terms of what truly matters, it isn’t even remotely about the destination. Quite surprisingly, it is about “the little things” along the way and taking the time to appreciate the breathtaking sights on the journey. And there is no better way to do so than by gazing out a window as you are traveling 55 miles an hour across our awesome country.
We can witness and learn so much from simply watching and observing—from the ever-changing natural landscape, to animals and people going about their daily business, to the weather patterns, to the vehicles themselves and their designs and license plates, to the people in the vehicles and to the worlds that are unfolding inside the vehicles themselves. Looking out the window may appear at first blush to be a passive activity, but actually it is nothing of the sort. Keenly observing where you are going makes you an active participant in your own experience. You are utterly engaged in the moment with your senses fully alive.
Additionally, car rides can be perfect opportunities to connect with your travel mates through singing songs, sharing stories, and playing games. Our license plate game was born from that same game we played throughout my childhood road trips, along with car bingo and hangman. And if you need a little more inspiration, here’s a cheat sheet of 40 road trip ideas for kids that offer quick and easy ways to pass the time.
My family road tripped extensively—traveling cross country multiple times in a motor home or with camper in tow. I truly believe these experiences helped me develop my curiosity and introspection toward the world and others, and formed the basis for my creativity. For me, the best part of these journeys was having an extended period of time to freely wander inside my imagination. When I gazed out the window I felt like I had been given a key to unlock so many discoveries and insights—about nature, about the small towns we were passing through, each with their own unique story, and about the people I saw engaged in life in their vehicles around me.
3 Ways to Bring the Wonder to Your Next Road Trip
Here are three tips for making your children’s next road trip a journey to remember!
- Embrace the Boredom
Don’t be afraid of boredom. It’s natural and okay for kids to experience occasional bouts of boredom on a long car ride. Learning how to handle boredom is an essential skill for children as it encourages them to think creatively and actively engage with the world rather than wait to be passively entertained. Try to avoid your instinct to jump in and solve your child’s boredom problem. They may just surprise you with the conversation, observations, and playful musings they come up with on their own!
- Be a Role Model
If you’re going to ask your kids to skip the screens, put yours away, too. Let your kids see you looking up and looking out at the world. Wonder aloud at what you’re observing: “Look at that cloud over there. It looks like a dinosaur eating a tree.” Or, “I wonder what our life would be like if we lived in this town we’re passing through. Let’s pick out our house!” Musings that begin with the phrases “What if. . . ” or “I wonder why. . . ” offer rich conversational territory to explore.
- Surprise Them With Some Spontaneity
Add some spontaneity to your travels by pulling over to take in a scenic view, exploring a playground in a random town, or taking a longer, but more interesting route that gets you off the interstate — even if just for a portion of the trip.
Safe travels, everyone!