Road trips I took with my father when I was a teenager and even into college years were special. These were typically his sales calls, where I got to see him in action. He’d invite me to go with him to one of his implement dealers and introduce me, making us both proud. Sometimes, he would take me to a county fair where he displayed some of his farm machinery products and then go to his favorite steak house. He always asked for an end cut of beef that arrived incinerated. It was an easy time. No lectures. None of the power struggles we had back home. Although I was clearly on his turf, he treated me as an adult and friend. Road trips help foster a more adult-to-adult connection that serves as a foundation for a positive relationship as the young adult leaves home.
The Benefits of a Road Trip
With my own children, I wanted to share the experience of road trips. My youngest daughter and I took a road trip as part of a class project to a small town called Upsala, Minnesota. We visited the oldest person and historian of the city in a nursing home. Unfortunately, what stands out in my memory was that his fly was down the whole time we talked to him. We stopped and had dinner on the way back and debriefed the visit that gave us some time to discuss aging and nursing homes. I hope she remembers some things from that trip as the idea of ending up in a nursing home may be in my future. My oldest daughter and I took a day trip to Duluth, Minnesota, about one hundred and forty miles north of the Twin Cities. At the time, I had my first convertible, and we played tunes and put the top down all the way back. We stopped at a gas station along the way, and a person at the next pump remarked how he liked the hot car we had. Suddenly Dad was pretty cool.
My daughters chose to attend a college five miles from home, so a long road trip was out. Unfortunately, the shuttle service back and forth to campus was in. My son, on the other hand, wanted to take a look beyond the Twin Cities, so we headed off to look at two schools, one in Illinois and one in Indiana. We had a great time and a lot of conversation. The parent-child dynamic disappeared as we enjoyed the comradery of the road. We reminisce about an interview with a crazed football coach at one school and some extremely hot Chinese take-out from a local restaurant outside Chicago. Although we didn’t have any set rules for our road trips, there are some guidelines to consider.
Rules of the Road
It’s imperative to think of this as play versus work and enjoy the journey even if you have a specific destination in mind. Sitting in the front seat, either driving or riding shotgun with your young adult, fosters a certain buffered intimacy that sitting at home, face to face does not. Kids of all ages rise to the occasion and bring their best adult imitation to the ride. There are no rules, but I’ll mention some strong suggestions or guidelines:
- Leave the lectures at home, Dads and Moms. There is plenty of time to share parental wisdom and guidance once at home.
- Work on listening and getting to know your child. Engage them around what is important and of interest to them. If things start to gravitate to an argument that is escalating, table it, and say we can talk about this when we get home. Make the trip about connecting with each other and not solving outstanding conflicts.
- Fun is required. Find stops on the way that would be fun to visit. Stay in a hotel with a pool. Hit an amusement park along the way, shop, etc… Eat some new and different food that may reflect the local culture and cuisine.
- Enlist your child in activities that make them feel more equal or adultlike. Have them drive if they have their license, while you nap with one eye open. Let them choose music to listen to, some of the time, and ask them to translate what you hear. Allow them to pick the restaurant.
- Enlist their help in planning the trip and talk up how much fun you will have and the things you will do. Then once you return, reminisce about your experiences and laughs you had along the way. Planning and debriefing are ways to extend the enjoyment of a road trip. Our kids grow up so fast; we have to be intentional about spending extended time with them and act upon this. Once they leave, we may never get another chance.
Incidentally, I took my first road trip with my mom three years ago. At the age of ninety-seven, I packed her up and took her from the assisted living center in North Central, Florida, to the Amelia Island and other Beach towns nearby in Georgia. We stayed overnight and drove back through Georgia the next day. My prediction was that she would fall asleep as we drove over four hours back to the assisted living home. Not a chance. Wide awake the entire trip, but we had a great conversation. Although my now ninety-nine-year-old mother is declining, the memory of that road trip brings a smile to my face. It’s never too late for a road trip with your kids or your parents.