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Home » Car Games, Our Trips, Trip Planning

Looking Out the Window, And Other Low-Tech Road Trip Fun

Submitted by on August 19, 2010 – 7:00 am4 Comments

Playing MASTERMIND Attaché: Siblings Unite!

If you grew up in a family like mine, a piece of duct tape stuck firmly to the exact mid-point between the seat my sister and I sat on the ENTIRE way from Michigan to Colorado, sans interstate. Without Nintendo DS, Wii, and DVD players, we had no choice but to develop the skill of spitting out and sucking in saliva before it hit the seat. I once learned to french braid my hair in the fourteen hour span between home and Colonial Williamsburg. Other families went to amusement parks, had cabins, and even sported season passes to the community swimming pool. No such luck for two sisters forced together for our own good.

Let’s face it, the slippery-slope we call the technology curve is a blessing and a curse for today’s road tripping families. We have GPS and geocaching, iPhone apps, and even paperless books. Flat tire? No problem. Call a tow truck or just push the assistance button on the dash. Did Elroy and Judy Jetson ever secretly share their tape player as their rocket took the self-guided tour of Gettysburg?

As a mom of three young kids, I have a love/hate relationship with digital entertainment on our road trips. When they were younger, yes, a Teletubbies DVD or two bought us enough time to not completely dread the annual 3.5 hour drive home for Thanksgiving. This summer things changed. Loading my iPhone with educational and toddler-friendly apps was entirely well-intentioned, before it backfired. The problem? Three kids, one toy = eight straight hours on the road. Did anyone see clumps of my hair at the wayside?

Let’s talk about the DVD player, shall we? The network of RedBox DVD kiosks along the main interstate corridor is an efficient way to find, rent, watch, and return movies for less than $2/day. The downside? With great power comes great responsibility. I personally owe the Academy an apology for producing the world’s youngest movie critics.

With the GPS system pleasantly chirping commands to turn left, stay in the right lane, and to “when possible, make a u-turn,” not only can you answer the question, “Are we there yet?,” you can pinpoint the exact minute you’ll arrive. My oldest son obsesses over the arrival time like an outtake from the movie Rain Man. One day, I let him just hold the GPS unit and tell me when to turn (note: make sure your child actually knows left from right before you try this at home).

Then I had an epiphany.

I realized we stopped looking out the window. We didn’t play “I spy!” and look for license plates and road signs and try and find the moon and the sun out at the same time. Technology was making all of us crabby. So we unplugged.  And just for my oldest son’s benefit, I openly defied the GPS lady. On a whim, we stopped at a donuts shop and found lakes with skipping stones. I scrounged up wooden clip boards and blank paper and encouraged sketches of where we’d been.

The whining was hard at first and I’m the last thing from a martyr. They’re still too young and I’m still too impatient to completely cut movies and the iPhone out of a full-day road trip. BUT, we established a system whereby each kid can use three, and only three, ten minute intervals on the phone that day. Movie choice is on a rotating basis and we wait for a more challenging moment fire up the laptop (for us, the hour before a meal stop). As it turns out, our public library has free, educational videos and even books on DVD.

Easy to store in travel compartments, or just behind the seat, are travel-sized board games and playing cards. Card games like Crazy 8, Old Maid, and Go Fish are other excellent ways to build math skills and pass the time. We even bring these games into restaurants with us, allowing other patrons to enjoy their meals.

With another diatribe off my chest; technology is part of the world we live in. Our kids learn differently and in ways our brains are trying to adapt to like old dogs with new tricks. Each family has a different tolerance level and a different idea of quality time. Unplugged kids will survive. We did.


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  • Traci says:

    Duct tape…snort! May brother and I had masking tape separating us actually. Good for you for putting your foot down and limiting the technology, but also for knowing when to give in. I’m a big fan of DVD-aided mental health.

  • Carol says:

    I like the duct tape idea…but I think my parents would have preferred to use it on our mouths and hands!

    The kids survived but did you??

  • Liz says:

    After roadtripping successfully for most of our 2 boys’ short lives pretty much tech-free (well, we tote an ipod loaded with music and podcasts), we took our first trip with a borrowed DVD player this summer. We were driving from Memphis to New Hampshire, which took more than two 12-hour days, so we thought we’d break out the forbidden fruit.

    It went OK–we let them watch one movie the first day and 2 the next, which broke up the big stretches of time between stops. But I don’t know if it made the trip any easier. Maybe we traded whining about when will we get there for whining about can’t we watch another movie.

    I’m a fan of staring out the window (See my recent post, Make Friends with Boredom), listening to music, playing old games. We’ve started making up limericks to pass the time, too. I figure people have made long trips without movies for a while. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’d rather watch a movie with my kids in the theater, anyway.

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