How to Love Grueling Road Trips

Dear Moms and Dads:

I believe the occasional grueling car trip should be a requirement for graduating childhood.

Hours of transportational incarceration belted onto vinyl seats in a confined space with limited airflow fosters critical lessons in patience, endurance, self-discipline, and dealing with combative siblings.

This current generation of whiny passengers, with their portable screens, headphones, smartphones, gaming devices, and unlimited entertainment selections, don’t know how good they have it. Their electronic devices are keeping them from experiencing the great long-haul tradition of road trip games. Consider these classic games that can only be played by staring out car windows and engaging with others in the vehicle.

License Plate Search Of course, the goal is to find one from every state – as a competition between individuals or as a unified team. Award bonus points for furthest state, Canadian provinces, and government plates. Spotting a car from Alaska or Hawaii earns triple points.

The Alphabet Game Find words on billboards, highway signs, and bumper stickers that begin with letters A through Z. It’s actually quite painful to pass a “Q” when you’re still looking for “P.”

Slug Bug (aka Punch Buggy) This game doesn’t work anymore. There simply are not enough Volkswagen Beetles on the road. So let’s begin a new game called “Camper Hammer” or “Ragtop Bop” anytime you pass an RV or convertible. Try it out and let me know how it goes. Same rules as ”Slug Bug.”

Counting Cows Each kid or team gets all cows on their side of the car. If you pass a herd, count fast and be honest. If you pass a cemetery on your side, your cattle count goes back to zero. Each round ends when the driver puts the car into park for any reason.

Count Anything Water towers, red barns, animal carcasses, windmills, motorcycles, cars with stuff on their roof racks, cop cars, church steeples, or anything! Have everyone in the car (except the driver) pick an item and see who wins. Hint: If you get off the expressway, unusual items like wishing wells, blue tarps, garden gnomes, and shiny garden spheres really start to add up. (It’s truly surprising how many blue tarps are visible from the road.)

Car Color Challenge Each kid chooses a color. First to twenty wins. Hint for mom or dad: silver always wins. So make sure the youngest child takes silver!

Odometer Math There are quite a few games you can play with your instrument panel. Have your crew guess how many telephone poles are in a mile. Point to a distant water tower, overpass, or other object on the skyline and have your passengers guess how far away it is.

Here’s the point. Parents, even if you have the budget to fly, you need occasionally to pile the crew into the SUV or minivan and hit the road. In recent years, I’ve discovered car games on road trips even work with young adult children. (Really!)

Let me know how it goes,

P.S.  Speaking of road trips. If you’re traveling through southwest Michigan this summer, stop at GROW in Saugatuck, the fabulous brunch restaurant owned by my son and daughter-in-law. Tell Alec that his old man sent ya.


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