BOOM !  There goes a tire… but the driver of this family road trip manages to get it safely  to the side of the road…  and there are now three nervous children, and two frazzled adults in the car.   Mom takes a deep breath, and refocuses so she can see this as an opportunity.    She opens the back and pulls out the Nature Treasures Box and lets the kids know that now is a great opportunity to find cool rocks, or unique flowers off to the side of the road.  Or she may have grabbed a ball for a rousing game of hot potato.  This is safer, gives them a chance to move, and a focus on something other than how long it takes to fix the tire.  Of course, an older child who wants to learn to change a tire might choose to help dad.

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


Of course, planning effectively is important, but it is important to keep in mind that the primary goal is making good family connections and memories.   These cannot ALWAYS be effectively planned.   The element of variation and surprise may sometimes be what is enjoyed and remembered the most.

PLUS, and a big PLUS it is, a HUGE factor in the success of a family road trip is the UNDERSTANDING and gracious ACCEPTANCE that although plans are made and followed to the best of our ability, there are often times when these plans are altered due to the course of events.

Plans and preparations can be set up to accomodate this joyful randomness.

Plan for Extra Travel Time

Planning a few extra hours into travel time, in addition to eating and potty breaks, can alleviate the stress and open up opportunities.

Finding Unique Roadside attractions along the way.

MAPS and research don’t always show everything along the way.  Some of my favorite memories are finding unexpected and unique stops along the way, like a Reptile Museum, a CLOCK Museum, a gas station that also cared for large Bengel tigers, or a large abstract concrete tree in the middle of the Utah Salt Flats – a must-stop photo opp.  And, of course, ROCK shops had an especially strong draw for me and my family.   Sometimes SNEAKY PARENTS may know about these roadside treats, but choose to wait for the billboards to introduce it, and it can seem like the child’s discovery and idea.  This type of participation in the road trip process is powerful memory making  for the child.

FYI – There’s an APP for that !  This website for Roadside America offers a variety of ways to explore these unique places.

Set up your family’s guidelines before getting out of the car.   Although random encounters can be joyful, children can expect too much if a structure is not in place.

  • Let them know whether or not it will be an option to purchase items.  Our family does not usually have a lot extra for “souveneirs” or road side snack prices, and our children have come to expect that we will not be buying such things.  They doesn’t always prevent them from asking, once inside, but it is easier for them to accept the answer.  If not planning to eat there, provide a quick snack in the car, so they are less tempted.    The children may have their own money they can use to purchase souvenirs.
  • Set up a time schedule that is appropriate for your travel plans, and for the location.  The roadside Bengal Tigers and Concrete Tree took only about 30 min. each.  The Reptile Museum took about 90 minutes.  Let them know the time you plan to leave, and provide “notices” as the time approaches.  “We only have 15 min. left.  What will be the best thing for us to do here in that time.”   If you have older children with electronic devices with a clock and alarm, have them set it up to provide a reminder.  Children know that electronic devices are impartial,

Be aware, if the driver desperately needs a nap, it doesn’t mean they are choosing against family togetherness.  It actually provides a wonderful opportunity for children to tell the missing person all about their discoveries as they embark on the rest of the journey.  This solidifies their memories in storytelling form.  But actually being a part of it provides the best memories.

And what happens if there isn’t anything extra along the way?   Then there is more time for playing in the pool at the hotel, or more time to visit with friends and family, or more time to check out a movie, or stroll down unique shopping avenues.  Window shopping at night when the stores are closed is sometime safer on the pocket book, and makes for some great conversations… and possibly initiates future plans for returning to specific shops.


The magic of spontaneity may also be applied to a child’s “Road Trip Bag”.  Even though a child may want to help prepare the activities included, they may enjoy more of an element of surprise as to when it can be enjoyed.  On our family’s 5 day trip, in which we drove a moving van from Utah to Florida, my 3 year old son and I created Road Trip Packages, using paper bags of different sizes to hold, and hide, just one item, or a set of items. I also packed a few surprises without him.  It was a long trip, so we had a box of them in the back, set up so it was easy to get to.   I’ve seen several of versions of this, online or in magazines:

  • Some families mark these bags with numbers, and set up a time schedule, so that a specific package is to be opened at the end of each HOUR on the road.
  • Some families pack different KINDS of Bags to fit the occasion:  Family Games in the Car, Family Games at a Rest Stop, Quiet time activities,  surprise snacks, etc.
  • We were a bit more spontaneous.  When it seemed to be an appropriate time, we would stop, let him choose one of the bags out of the box, and open it when he was back in his car seat.
  • “Draw a Song Card” – print out the words to songs on card stock, 4 songs to a page, then cut the paper into quarters. (We did this in our On The Road camp, with the children’s art on the back, and laminated them !)  All the cards can be in a bag, and the children can take turns randomly drawing a Song card out of the bag to sing !   Most of the time, the children remember the words to the songs, but the parents don’t, or they can help fill in the parts the children don’t remember.  Have fun deciding how to do arm, head, and body motions to the words to get some movement going !

It is incredibly effective at helping break up the long hours in the car.  We had to be careful not to wait too long for my son’s attention span, for I am not one to cater to a whiney, grumpy child.  But that’s a whole different conversation.

It may be the exact same stuff we were going to pack anyways !  But this extra element of surprise can often spark that MAGIC that we are talking about.

BE OPEN to ADAPT to the Circumstances

During one road trip with my family, our car broke down one Sat. night late, and we had to stay 3 unexpected nights in Colorado Springs waiting for our car to get fixed.  With an attitude of “What can we enjoy here?”, we totally bonded during these 3 days, which, as it turns out, are among my most favorite memories as a child.  If my parents had been grumpy due to the car, or changed plans, instead of adaptable, it could have been a miserable experience.

You simply can’t plan for a 3 day extension of your trip, or that it rains 3 of your 4 days on the beach, but tripped up trips happen, and there’s lots more than one way to spend that time.  KEEP IN MIND the goal of family togetherness, and look for other opportunities to satisfy that goal.

How does your family plan and set up healthy randomness for your trip events?

Please share a story of how a flexible attitude resulted in a fabulous family experience on a road trip.