The other day in the car, my 8 year old daughter and I were talking about random subjects and it came around to the topic of grand wishes, the kind you get from a Fairy Godmother, or a Genie.  It became a very interesting conversation and opened windows into personalities.  I asked, “If you had one wish, what would you wish for?”  She, of course, replied, “More Wishes!”  No, I said, that is against the rules of wishes (Refer to the Aladdin Disney movie for all the rules of wishes.)  So, after much discussion, she finally decided that her wish was… “I wish I was so cute, that if I wanted something in the store, they would want to just give it to me, and give me some extra money as well.”    WOW !  This girl knows how to make a grand wish!   Needless to say, reality may be a little harsh for her, and her egocentric perspective will expand with a bit of maturity (I hope).  But REALITY was not part of the conversation.  It’s just all in fun.


This great image is from the “Are We There Yet?” movie. Funny movie, and a lot of opportunities for conversations.

CONVERSATION is the THIRD kind of magic recommended in my little mini-series focused on enhancing family road trips.  The introduction to the series starts here.

Make the opportunity to talk and listen to each other while you are all “TRAPPED” in a nice small intimate space.  Find inspiration in what is seen, family stories, and random topics.  Younger children love to listen to the rhythm and observe the give and take of engaging conversations, especially if some of the discussion includes something positive about them.  Around 2 – 3 years old, they will be insisting on being part of the conversation, and they will get better and better at using their words to express themselves as they grow.

Trying to start a conversation when folks are tired, hungry or cranky may or may not work.  Sometimes, a random topic may just be the perfect thing to distract from the irritation.  Other times, it may be best to try some quiet time activities (coming soon in a new post) to soothe the nerves.  Choose wisely.

Find and talk about the unique things that can be seen through the window.

We enjoy the ongoing conversations that are inspired by the natural scenery, waterways, quaint towns, and urban jungle that we pass by, as well as the imaginary “What if…” ideas that arise as we pass billboards advertising the lottery.   Traveling by car offers a unique opportunity because of the intimate setting of friends or family who have chosen to be a part of the adventure.

It is fascinating to come across larger than life dinosaurs, or colorful unique signs, that lead to creative conversations based on open ended questions “What would you do with a real live…”  or “What kind of sign could be made to represent ME?”  “If I had a pet care business, what would I name it?”

Everyone has something they love to see.  I happen to love old dead trees, with just the main branches remaining that define the aging personality of the tree.  My daughter loves horses.  So along the way, we make sure to point out these things, and talk about the uniqueness of the ones we have just found.  My family loves to catch my attention by exclaiming, “Now THAT is a Debbie Tree!”

As we were traveling to Silver Springs the other day, we passed a gas station that had old race cars attached to the roof over the gas pumps.  We took a picture and texted it to Grammy – who we knew would love it.  And that led to a lot of fun conversations both in the car, and on the phone to Grammy !  OK, so electronic devices can be used in creative ways to make some family magic !

Share Family Stories

  • When I was a little bitty boy, just up off the floor
  • We used to go down to Grandma’s house every month end or so
  • We’d have chicken pie and country ham, and homemade butter on the bread
  • But the best darn thing about Grandma’s house was her great big feather bed.”                  John Denver “Grandma’s Feather Bed”

Children are so eager to hear what life was like when their parents were children !  My daughter calls them Fun Family Stories, and wants to hear them all the time; stories about the crazy ways my brother like to torture me (he was a lovable pest!); stories about each of her grandparents and great grandparents, their careers and ways they lived, especially the ones she never got to meet; stories about when she herself was younger.  She LOVES to hear the story of her birth.  Now that my son is a teenager, he is not so apt to ask for stories, but he is able to re-tell some of the family stories we have shared, esp. about his crazy uncle.

If you have a chance to get to your hometown (any place you were growing up), give your children a tour of your old stomping grounds, the place you lived, where you went to school, your favorite hangout.  My children have loved going to our favorite places to eat… experiencing the BEST Chili-Cheesburgers ever, or those homemade tamales, and, of course, the best ice cream shop in town. (if they are still around).  Let the stories roll !  Although, sometimes I wonder if it is the children, or the parents who like these tours the best.

PLUS, we making our own family stories along the way, and telling family members on the phone, or as soon as we see them.


Enjoy Discussing Random Topics

Some families excel in chatting about the most random topics.  Sometimes our family does, sometimes…  not so much.   Nothing much is really needed, just some imagination and willingness to embark on a new subject and listen to each other.  Sometimes, you may need some conversation “sparks”.

SONGS can provide ideas for random topics:  “The Wheels on the Bus” can lead to talking about where a person might like to go on a bus;  “America, The Beautiful” can lead to discussion about best places in America  that each family members have seen in real life, or in pictures.

Some families may like some ideas, or questions to help delve into these random topics in the car.  Families may want to sit down and write out some questions, or “conversations starters” on little slips of paper and put it in a container to make your own “Conversation Box”.  Then when traveling in the car, anyone can initiate the activity by asking others if they’d like to randomly draw one out and start an interesting conversation.    This box can even begin with as few as 5 – 10 questions.

In my Kindermusik Summer Adventures Camp “On the Road”, the students enjoyed discussions about specific destinations, for example: camping, discussing what they would pack, as well as “What if..?’ questions.  What would you do if a raccoon was getting into your family’s cooler?  What would you do if the tent collapsed while you were sleeping?    Our four destinations included:  the beach, a county fair, fishing at a lake, and camping in the woods.  Once we got started with the “What if…” questions, the kids got on a roll making up their own questions, and we got a bit silly !  This was a perfect way to connect during snack time.

Through the Melissa & Doug website, they offer “The Box Girls Family Dinner Box of Questions”, for those families who would like to have some excellent questions (86) already set up in its own little box.  I’m SURE it can also be used for some fun conversations on the road!      Is anyone familiar with other resources for family conversations starters?

Here are a few examples:

  • Using one word, how would you describe our family?
  • What special talent do you wish you possessed?
  • What are your most and least favorite family activities?
  • What do you think is the greatest invention of all time?
  • What do you like most about the person to your right?

Taking conversations to the next level does several important things for our families:

  1. Great conversation helps us slow down, be present with each other, listen, and give the gift of attention.
  2. Good conversations help provide the opportunity to encourage each another.
  3. Well thought out topics/questions give us a “roadmap” to go beyond surface conversations, to get past topics about daily activities, or about what is in front of us.  These random topics provide a non-threatening way to engage our family in a more meaningful way.
  4. Silly topics/questions create a space for laughter and imagination.  Having fun together is a perfect way to connect as a family.
  5. “What if” questions may help family members learn creative new ways to handle difficult situations.  “What if a big kid at school was preventing a smaller child from playing on the playground?  What would you do?”   There are many right answers, explore lots !
  6. Great conversations give children a way to learn to express themselves through words with people who care about them.  This is HUGE in so many aspects of their lives, and will influence their comfort level in talking with others, in speaking in front of groups, in learning to write well, AND when there is a bigger issue they have to face talking to their parents about.

Great conversations simply give us the opportunity to get to know each other better.  Each person feels they have a chance to talk and be heard.  The more we know, the closer we get.


How do you initiate conversation on your road trips?  What conversation starters can you recommend?