Going on the Family Road Trip

We are visiting my parents in Lincoln, Nebraska. I know: thrilling, yeah? Then we found some terrific fares to Spokane, Washington. So, after some consideration, we’ve decided to drive to Nebraska!

First the bad news: It’s 24 hours as the robot drives from Spokane to Lincoln. We are bringing our 8 year old girl and 4 year old boy. We’re going to take 4 days each way… which brings me to my good news.

Now the good news: We’re going on a Griswold family vacation. I’m going to be Clark looking for the biggest ball of twine and yelling “Hey underpants” at the bartenders. We pretty much follow I-90 from Spokane to Rapid City, and then take a diagonal to Lincoln. My plan is pretty much mapped out, where we’re rarely driving 4 hours without stopping somewhere cool, from Custer’s Battlefield to Devils Tower to the Badlands. Nothing is too kitchy, from the Archway in Kearney to the Black Hills Cosmos. Cement dinosaurs? Check. Chuckwagon and rodeo in Cody? Check. Wall Drug? Big 'ol check!

On the way back, we’re devoting a whole day and a half to Yellowstone.

And some ugly news: I have never done a road trip of this magnitude as a father. “Where do you live, on an island?” Why, yes, in Hawaii. It takes about 3 hours to drive around Oahu. My previous mainland trips with the little ones haven’t lent themselves to long road trips, certainly not overnight ones.

Now, I’ve taken road trips as a child, but have nothing but fond memories of the places and things we saw. I’m quite sure my parents’ views might’ve differed. I know a few truths: that while I want my children to be awed by four presidents on a mountain, they’ll remember the indoor waterslide at the motel more. And while I’ll be delighted by winding through the Rocky Mountains in Montana, Anya and Grant will be asking “Are we there yet?” and “I have to go to the bathroom”.

Those of you with small children, any advice? We’d like to limit their iPad/DS/DVD time, because we’re mean parents who want kids to enjoy the scenery and interact with us. I also concede this idealistic parenting may not last past the first rest stop.

We have done many a road trip. My daughters looove them.

Pack new fun crafty, booky, snacky things. Wrap festively if possible. As the head of wellness policy in our school district, may I suggest dental floss and Froot Loops as a happy little diversion. Make your own necklace! Then eat it! 20 minutes of silence.

We did one movie a day.

Bring a ball or frisbee for stretching out the legs on potty breaks.

Read up on license plate games, etc. “I spy” is fun for awhile. Bring music – Silly Songs with Larry is a great album (Veggie Tales, but not religious at all).

Your kids are the perfect age. I applaud your vacation ideas.

Good for you! My wife and I love road-tripping with the family. Here’s my advice, some of which you probably already figured out without me:

Do long, ground-covering drives at night while the kids are sleeping; try to not have any very long (more than 1.5 hours) stretches during the day.

Childrens’ Museums and Science Museums are great fun for kids, and it may be worth your while to purchase a year’s family membership to a museum with ACM or ASTC reciprocal admission agreements and visit several of them on the trip. (ACM recently switched from a free-admission reciprocal policy to 1/2 price. I believe ASTC reciprocal admissions are still free.)

Since you indicated Rapid City as part of your route, I’m sure you know that the Black Hills are great fun. Specific recommendations: Broken Boot Gold Mine (the kids will love panning for gold), Black Hills Reptile Gardens (I think your kids might be too big to ride the giant turtles, though), Black Hills Gold, where you can see how jewelry is made. I found Flintstones Bedrock City to be underwhelming as an attraction, but you seem to value kitsch, so YMMV. And of course, Mount Rushmore. Don’t minimize it. Even kids will appreciate that someone actually carved a freakin’ mountain.

Don’t even try to force the kids to be without some form of personal entertainment if they’ll be awake and stuck in the car for more than 2 hours. There’s only so much you can do to keep them from getting bored and hitting each other. Idealism is nice, but peace is nicer.

Your route and plans sound like a blast. My last big family road trip (i.e., more than a week long) was pretty much the same thing from the other coast - New York to Omaha, diagonal to the Black Hills, and then turn around and head back East on I-90 (until it splits from I-80 in Ohio). I am so jonesing to be able to take another one.

Go out and buy, in secret, a box of cheap travel toys: Wheelo’s, pot holder looms, etch-a-sketch, anything they don’t have already at home. Don’t let them open the box till you get on the road. The novelty will keep them interested and the trip will be done by the time the novelty wears off.
If you are going through Aurora Nebraska with kids, a stop at the Edgerton Explorit Center is a must http://www.edgerton.org/. The Aerospace Museum between Lincoln and Omaha is great (if you like really huge bombers - most females are not interested) and Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is a whole day’s adventure. Have fun.

We always played equipment-free “car games” like
-Geography. I say the name of a city, state, nation, river, ocean, etc., you say another one that starts the letter the last one ended in. So:
France. Exeter. Rhode Island. Denmark. Etc. (warning. there are a lot of places that end in A, and a finite supply of things starting in A, so grownups should avoid playing places that start and end in A). The driver can play too so its a whole-car game. When I was about 8, and my brother 12, we played one game that lasted 4 hours. your children may take a sudden interest in road maps.
-License plates - try to spot all 50 states (write them down).
-20 Questions. I think of a thing, anything. You ask me 20 questions to try and figure out what it is (the traditional first question being “is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?”)
-I Spy. a version of 20 Questions where the object to be guessed is something you just saw. (traditional starting words: "I spy with my little eye…

Do they still sell those puzzle books that come with an invisible marker? I use to love the shit out of those things. Ah, yes, they do.

-Mad libs. Never gets old.

Your 8 year old would love Cosmos in Rapid City, too.

Concur on license plate games and I Spy. There are also some car games that are of the ‘what would you do?’ variety that are fun to play - what would you do if someone gave you a baby dinosaurus? What would you do if up was down?

Thanks all, for the ideas, keep them coming. I remember those invisible ink books! One movie a day sounds like a great idea as well. Perhaps we can use the iPad/DS games as a reward. I don’t plan on driving overnight, but one of my plans is leave the hotels early, like 7:00am-ish. Not only do I get more of a head start, but Anya & Grant can sleep for a couple hours in the car.

A bit more on the trip planning, so far. We’re taking 4 days there and 4 days back. We have two non-travel days, where we’re staying two nights in the same area. Rapid City toward Nebraska and Yellowstone on the way back. I appreciated the advice in the Yellowstone IMHO thread.

We’re breaking it up in 4-hour blocks. There’s always an attraction or park splitting up the day. Our breakfasts will be those mini-cereals at the hotels (unless they offer breakfast). Our lunches will be PB&J at parks. Our dinners will be restaurants that capture local flavor (mmm, Rocky Mountain “oysters”)

We have our hotels reserved, ranging from motels with waterslides to historic Old West hotels to log cabins. We even lucked out with a room in Yellowstone itself (must’ve been a cancellation).

Museum of the Rockies (my kids love dinosaurs!)
Little Bighorn Battlefield

Devils Tower National Monument
*Cody Nite Rodeo with Chuckwagon dinner and show
*Yellowstone National Park (day and a half set aside)

South Dakota
Deadwood (we’re staying in an Old West hotel downtown)
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Rapid City Dinosaur Park (Cement dinosaurs on hilltop)
*Wall Drug (Don’t even tell me not to waste my time here)
*Badlands National Park

*Great Platte River Road Archway Monument (Museum on a bridge over I-80)
*Chimney Rock

(* on the way back)

Since we have a whole day in Rapid City/Black Hills, we will see more stuff. I like that Broken Boot Gold Mine you suggested. Funny you mentioned the Cosmos. When I was younger, we visited the Black Hills and I begged my parents. They dismissed it as a tourist trap, but now I can and will! Power, unlimited power!

We try to get off this rock about once a year, with some excellent destinations. But the driving alone will probably be our most ambitious one.

Bozeman, Montana is just outside the north entrance of Yellowstone and along I-90 - I recommend the American Computer Museum.

If you have extra time in the Black Hills, the Crazy Horse Monument is well worth a stop, as is Custer State Park.

Wall Drug is the quintessential road trip tourist trap stop. I would say it’s not to be missed.

The South Dakota Air & Space Museum outside of Rapid City is pretty cool.

I thought Chimney Rock was kind of meh…not much more than a quick stop to stamp your National Park Passport (you do have one, don’t you?) and snap a few pics. Scotts Bluff National Monument is a little more interesting, and the view from up top is pretty neat.

There are a lot of cool spots sprinkled throughout that area, but never enough time to see them all. I’ll add a few more for consideration: Carhenge outside of Alliance, Chadron State Park (has a swimming pool), The Bordeaux Trading Post, and Fort Robinson State Park.

We used to play “A to Z”. The game started with everyone looking for the letter A on a sign. Whoever saw one first would call it and get a point. Then everyone looked for a B and so on. When you reached Z and finished, whoever had collected the most points from the alphabet won. (You can introduce a rule that if nobody spots the current letter within a certain time limit, then you skip it and move on to the next letter.)

It was a good car game because it got people looking at the scenery outside the car. Plus because it depended on the scenery you were driving through, you couldn’t develop a consistent winning strategy.

Having been to Wounded Knee and to Wall Drug I gotta warn you, there is NOTHING IN SOUTH DAKOTA. We looked at the map and said, hey, there’s a town coming up, Scenic. We’ll stop there for lunch.

There was a general store and an outdoor jail. That was literally it. We then looked at the BACK of the map and saw that Scenic had, like, population 30.

I will humbly suggest the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, SD. It’s a big honkin’ active fossil dig with a roof over it and a museum. Nicely done, overall.

Not all of the areas you’re going to be driving through have scenery that’s going to be even slightly interesting and you might want to time your movie/electronic times based on that.

Otherwise I will say that we took family vacations in the car every summer for 3 weeks and without the ability to read in the car I would have gone nuts. My brother would end every 2-3 hr driving session bouncing off the walls because he was just so incredibly bored by the driving process and things he wanted to look at were gone too fast.

Be prepared to adjust to your kids personalities (and in car personalities are different than normal) Don’t torture yourselves for the sake of an ideal in your head that ends up ruining the trip for some or all of you.

The kids do have access to our iPad, iPhones, DS, DVD players, etc. I harbor no illusions that road trip will be everyone singing 99 bottles of beer and looking with rapt attention at the scenery. I fully expect stretches of South Dakota, Nebraska, and eastern Montana to be brutal, even for me the driver.

I once went on a long drive in Texas with my brother and his family. His kids spent the WHOLE trip with their eyes glued to their iPads. Did not look up once.

I’d like to make it a little more fun for my kids.