The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Family Road Trips


Lauren, Caden and Siena Hill at one of the massive pop culture structures outside of Fox Cave in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico.

Lauren, Caden and Siena Hill at one of the massive pop culture structures outside of Fox Cave in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico.

TRAVEL | By Christopher Hill –

As the summer vacation planning season dawns, we are left with some very important questions, the most important of which is where to go. Summer vacations provide invaluable time to connect with family members and create fun family memories. Instead of pointing out a selection of cruises or foreign country tours, I thought I would focus on a vacation that provides a plethora of memories, both the positive and negative varieties, and adds a critical detail not found in the other vacation types: complete exhaustion and a true test of survival.

Of course, I am talking about the regional or cross-country family road trip. It is truly a rite of passage for any family. I can’t think of anything more fun than cramming the entire crew in a metal tube for days on end, seeing sights the kids have no interest in, all in the name of family bonding.

To make certain that you come back with the same number of family members as you left with, it is vital to make the trip fun. To do so, you have to take some real time in planning the journey. Looking at brochures does not count. For our family, I spent time channeling my inner Clark Griswald to map out the trip. We started with the region we wished to examine. For our last trip, this put New Mexico in the crosshairs. Then, I used a few websites to find fun, quirky things that would never make any travel brochure, including cultural sights, historical landmarks and other peculiar things like the world’s largest paper airplane. All of these become fantastic photo ops that your kids will relish years from now.

I used a few websites and books to research. Roadsideamerica.com and roadtrippers.com are great places to start. Jeff Bahr wrote a compendium of unique places in his book Amazing and Unusual USA. Roadtrippers.com also allows you to map the trip, which includes mileage, directions and gas costs. Their mileage was definitely a bit off, but overall, it works well enough to keep your trip organized.

Christopher, Christy, Caden, Siena and Lauren Hill at the natural wonder White Sands National Park in New Mexico.

Christopher, Christy, Caden, Siena and Lauren Hill at the natural wonder White Sands National Park in New Mexico.

For our New Mexico trip, we would have added Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Park without the websites, but we would not have found the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, the World’s Largest Paper Airplane location or Cadillac Ranch, just three of many locations that made the trip incredibly notable for our entire family.

The locations add to the fun, but they also provide a chance to introduce your kids to the music of your youth. Who knew my son would love old school hip hop and Run DMC? The kids had CDs of their own to choose from and introduced us to some of their favorite offerings, although the Frozen soundtrack was not allowed as a choice for obvious reasons.

No summer road trip is complete without car games. A good visual scavenger hunt or the old favorite license plate game can really break up a kindle marathon. Make the prizes fun. For us, it was to pick the next type of music. The kids took it very seriously, at one point, a bit too seriously. Momsminivan.com has a lot of these games ready to print and play.

Sure, there are easier ways to travel and with far less planning involved. For us, the preparation helped to create a fantastic collection of remembrances. At no point did any of our monkeys complain that they were bored, and we traveled a ridiculous amount of miles over terrain that was sometimes spectacular but often forgettable.

Think about the trips you made as a child. Few are more memorable than a family road trip. For me, it was sitting in the backseat with my sister to my right and my grandmother to the left, travelling from Maryland to Pikes Peak Colorado in a powder blue 1976 Ford Pinto. Thirty-eight years later, I still remember feeding prairie dogs and watching a man cliff dive inside a restaurant, panning for gold – just to name a few moments. Some of the best times were back at the hotel with my family and my GG. We took a lot of trips all over the world during my youth, but that trip holds more memories than any of those.

Try it. I’m not saying you will love every minute, but if you and your kids survive, you will build long-lasting memories with cool visuals attached. Who knows? Your family may even learn a few things.