Some years back, when our boys still wanted to spend their days holding our hands and exploring together, we started taking family road trips. My husband, a perfect Type-A planning machine, also happens to navigate the open road with a stamina for driving equivalent to a seasoned triathlete.
We pile our stuff and ourselves into our SUV, send our dog off to live his best life at my in-law’s cabin for a few weeks, and follow our hearts and Google maps, searching for adventure.
For some, this kind of trip might cast us as a family that’s lost their marbles, especially now that our boys are teenagers. Hours self-contained together in the car. No boundaries. No personal space. Smells that even rolled-down windows can’t always mitigate.
But honestly, even though this type of travel isn’t for the faint of heart, it’s worth every mile. I’ve learned more about my husband, teens, and even myself on these journeys than I ever imagined.
And as I look ahead to our one summer left before our oldest heads to college, I reflect on the life lessons I’ve gleaned from the road.
7 life lessons I’ve learned traveling with my family
1. Leave space for silence
I spent hours singing, playing car games, and trying to entertain everyone. I’m learning that if I turn my voice off (which is hard for me), my kids talk more, and I get to listen in and, in the process, learn so much about who they are.
2. Be flexible
As our kids get older, their voices on what they want to do along the way have led us to some hidden gems off the beaten path that we never would have placed on our road map.
3. Make fun the priority
As a teacher, I have difficulty trying not to make everything a learning opportunity. As they age, their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness drive the learning on these trips far more than I make them stop and read every description carved on a monument or sign.
4. Embrace the gross
Again, as a middle school teacher, I am immersed in a level of gross that’s hard to top. However, I’ve seen some pretty gross rest stops, gas station bathrooms, and questionable AirBnB spaces that don’t live up to what we thought we booked. I’m learning that it’s not the end of the world, and it’s easier to just Clorox more and complain less.
5. Make everyone try new things
I have one adventurous eater and another more particular. One cautious kid and one thrill seeker. Whether it’s food, an excursion, or a new experience, encouraging everyone (including myself) to do something outside our comfort zones helps us see the world outside of our lens and gives us so much to talk about.
6. Start and continue a tradition
On our first road trip, our boys, now young men, threw a football in every state we visited. It’s something that they still look forward to all these years later.
7. Treasure all of the moments
We all know how fast it goes. Everything. Each moment of these trips, big and small, chaotic and calm, is a gift of time with our family that will be a memory in a blink. Even though it’s hard to put the phone down, turn the podcast off, or wake up from a nap — take it all in as much as you can.
As I finish writing this, I watch my boys toss a football on the lawn outside the Rhode Island State House. I’m breathing in the summer air and watching the sunset on another day of our magical summer trip, seeking the next lesson I will learn on the open road.
More Great Reading: