Car trips can be part of vacation fun when families are prepared. William Slonecker, pediatrician and author, encourages families to discuss past vacation likes and dislikes with their children.

Then, parents can narrow destination choices before asking for input on three activities.

Plan together

Although four-year-olds probably won’t offer practical suggestions, seven-year-olds may. Ann Owen, a professor of psychology and sociology, adds that parents should be enthusiastic planners and set discussion guidelines – everyone’s opinion is important, but parents make the final decision. According to Ann, planning vacations together can help children feel they have a significant role in the family.

Stop regularly

On car trips, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that families stop every two hours for this age group, and Slonecker says that young children should not spend more than two consecutive, eight-hour days in the car. He encourages parents to prevent restlessness and increase blood circulation by having children pretend to swim laps or move their feet to music at intervals.

All-passenger participation

Activities that promote all-passenger participation are a great way to connect as a family and share in the road trip experience. On long car trips, Jami determines the halfway point and celebrates the "We’ve Made it Halfway" victory with her six children. She plays upbeat, energizing music and everyone moves to it. The tradition keeps the family involved, and the moment is memorable.

Set aside devices and talk

With the use of electronic devices – DVD players, MP3 players, cellphones and handheld electronic games – families can be in the car all day and fail to say more than a few words to one another. Bob Waliszewski, director of Media and Culture at Focus on the Family, equates vacation car time to mealtime – families are all in one place at the same time.

"I used car time to discuss big ideas," Waliszewski says. "I don’t know that it was fun, but it was engaging." He would ask questions like, "A lot of your friends are able to watch [fill in the blank]. In our family, we don’t watch it. How does that make you feel?" They also talked about spiritual concepts, how to witness and their kids’ relationships with Christ.

Waliszewski is quick to point out that electronic gadgets are not intrinsically evil. "But I’d say that 90 per cent of the time in the car should be spent with the family and only 10 per cent with electronic gizmos."

From Focus on Your Child’s Discovery Years, April 2008. Published by Focus on the Family. © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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