There comes a time when every family just needs to get away. A chance to break free from routine chores, routine meals and routine experiences. It’s too easy for families to get bogged down in the ordinary tasks of everyday life. In other words, it’s time for a spontaneous road trip! The unstructured atmosphere of a mini-getaway weekend provides the opportunity to reconnect as a family. Let children eat pizza for breakfast and do cartwheels in a hotel hallway. Get silly by demonstrating your swan dive skills in the pool. In other words, relax and have fun with your children. It may provide just the atmosphere for late night snuggling and a chance for children to share fears or questions they are experiencing. So throw some clean underwear and toothbrushes into a suitcase and hit the road with your family.
A Mystery…or Not?
Betty Olson, a family mediation counselor in San Diego says “Some of our favorite family memories were waking up our son on a Saturday morning to announce a mystery trip. Ryan hopped in the car…playing 20 Questions with us to determine where we were headed. Sometimes it was just a hotel with a pool 10 miles from home, yet we enjoyed the experience of a mini-vacation.”
Mystery trips can remain a mystery for parents also. Just head out somewhere and rejoice at finding a place to stay for the night. Take turns having a coin toss at various intersections. “Heads” means you turn left, “tails” finds the car heading right. (You may end up driving in circles!) Families on a budget might head out on mystery day trips, returning home in the evening, full of unique memories.
Another way to celebrate spontaneous getaways is letting children pick a final destination. Set a budget and watch children work out the details. Ask them to be creative in finding lodging. Can you stay in a college dorm or a youth hostel? Call a hotel directly and ask “What specials are you offering this weekend?” “Do you offer free children’s meals?” Don’t hesitate to ask for a free room upgrade. The Hampton Inn Landmarks site, www.hamptonlandmarks.com lets you find numerous attractions within a geographic location. Children can decide between visiting the insect museum or a pretzel factory. You might find unique destinations such as the 60 foot Nutty Narrows Squirrel Bridge, high over a major thoroughfare in Longview, Washington. Alexandria Indiana is home to the world’s largest ball of paint. Who needs a week at Disneyland when your family can apply another coat of paint to the giant paint ball?
Getting There in Fine Humor
Before leaving on your trip, let each child fill a backpack with semi-quiet toys and items for the trip. Libraries offer books-on-tapes (or CD’s) to help pass the time. Wrap a few toys to give children when restlessness sets in. Some families designate a child to be the “on-road-comedian” and read jokes from a book of jokes and riddles. Try some low key devotions. (Make sure the driver doesn’t close his or her eyes to pray.) Take turns reading from a new family devotional and conclude with a lively songfest.
The drive might rekindle positive memories for adults. Zach Hansen, a teacher at Annie Wright School in Tacoma Washington, states, “Spontaneous travel helps me feel alive. I really like the line from Blue Highways when William Least Heat Moon writes, ‘There is no truth but in transit’. It has never been about the destination for me, and the winding byways of the Oregon coast in particular have always provided me adventure and renewal. Three children later, however, I can still find renewal, provided I pack enough diapers, wipes, snacks, and art supplies”.
The back packs are full, water bottles distributed and you’re heading down the road. Now what? Try stopping at places you normally bypass. Is there a great park on the outskirts of town? Check it out. Perhaps each child could be allocated 1-2 “stops” they select to visit. If a roadside stand announces “Free Cheese Samples” stop and learn the difference between Roquefort and Swiss. Get brave and eat lunch at a truck stop. The atmosphere is one your children won’t forget. Be sure to show your children the coin operated showers most truck stops offer. Why eat at McDonald’s when you can eat with the Big Boys at Edna’s Truck stop?
Incorporate new experiences into your weekend adventure. When stopping for ice cream, encourage everyone to try a new flavor. If your family is sports oriented, visit an art museum. Stop at the museum gift shop before entering the museum to purchase 4-5 postcards. Let children try to find the actual displays depicted on the postcards. Back at the hotel room, read to your children from the Gideon Bible in the nightstand. Explain the Gideon’s ministry of putting Bibles in hotel rooms around the world.
Spontaneous getaways teach children valuable skills in problem solving. What happens if the hotel swimming pool is closed? Should you buy gas at the start of the trip or at the destination? How will you find your way back home? What are “early bird” specials at restaurants? Since the purpose of a spontaneous getaway is to be spontaneous, let children get involved in the decision making process. Let them figure out which church to attend on Sunday morning. Watch with pride as your ten year old asks the hotel staff to recommend a church in the area. A new church experience provides the opportunity for discussions about worship styles and denominational differences.
So the next time family doldrums hit, tell your children, “Let’s hit the road!”