Packing up the family for a road trip used to mean long hours of boredom, but today cars with DVD players, MP3 players and handheld video games have become a popular way to keep passengers quiet and occupied during long drives.
"Looking at how much cars have changed over the past few decades gives us a good clue as to how we spend our time on the road," says Mary Lu Laffey, editor of Rand McNally Travel News, pointing out the popularity of DVD players in many family vehicles. "There’s no denying the impact that technology has had on how we pass time in a car."
While these handy entertainment devices can keep boredom at bay, families may be missing an opportunity. "Today it may be quieter in the car than it was decades ago, but the trade-off doesn’t build many memories," says Laffey.
Close quarters, few distractions and long periods of uninterrupted time on the road set the perfect stage for family connections. Making time for some classic conversation may be the first step in getting some quality time together.
Find a balance between classic road trip activities and new opportunities offered by technology to boost family interaction, encourage interest in travel and bust boredom by checking out these suggestions.
Classic car games. Games like "I spy," 20 questions and license plate bingo will be brand new to today’s millennium generation and can be played by all ages. Get great ideas for car games at momsminivan.com.
New car games. Handheld game systems can be passed back and forth between passengers for a mini car tournament. Some games offer multiplayer options such as Big Brain Academy for the Nintendo DS.
Classic sing-alongs. Music soothes the savage beast—or bored passenger. Start a family round of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or get the whole car humming to the tune of some fun sing-along songs. Songs in a round, classic rock and roll tunes or camp songs are a good place to start. Find the lyrics to your favorite camp songs at scoutsongs.com.
New sing-alongs. Create a road trip soundtrack by downloading your kids’ favorite songs or travel-themed tracks from iTunes.com and burning them to a CD. Try satellite radio, like Sirius Radio (sirius.com), which offers specific channels for kids and families along with a signal you’ll never lose no matter how far you’re going in the U.S.
Classic books. Gather your favorite books or check out a new one from the library and spend some time reading to the kids. Kids can read too—reading out loud can strengthen your child’s reading skills and allow you to get in touch with the type of books they enjoy. Get conversations going with questions like, "What’s going to happen next?" or "Who’s your favorite character?"
New books. Try an audio book, often read by celebrity actors or the author herself and available in cassette, CD or MP3 downloads. Check out podcasts for kids by going to Podcast Alley (podcastalley.com) and searching under the keyword "kids." You’ll find cool broadcasts that you can download onto an MP3 player and plug into your car stereo through an adaptor.
Classic navigation jobs. Gather maps, state brochures and check out books from the library before you go. Then get the whole family involved in the travel experience by assigning jobs like map reader, sign spotter or travel journalist. Getting kids engaged in the actual travel part of your trip is educational and can help them understand how long it really is before you’re there yet.
New navigation jobs. Today’s families are experimenting with GPS (Global Positioning System) navigational equipment. GPS units for the car or map software programs loaded onto a mobile device not only help direct you to your destination, but also help find historical stops, amusement parks, restaurants, and most importantly, bathrooms along the way. Even a basic GPS unit, which costs about $100, can keep kids counting down the mileage and be used for geocaching—GPS treasuring hunting that can be a great way for the family to stretch their legs during a travel break. Find out more at geocaching.com.
Sharon Miller Cindrich is a mom and freelance writer who specializes in helping other moms and dads navigate today’s technology.