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Lessons Learned from a Family Road Trip Across America

A good friend of mine took a cross-country road trip a while back with her family, and I was eager to invite her to share a post about her experience. So today I’m welcoming Carol to share about the lessons she learned about family travel while driving from Seattle, Washington to Washington DC.


Four Kids. One mini-van. 8,000 miles back and forth across America.

Our family road trip this summer was a success. There were no trips to the E.R., we didn’t lose a kid – not even once, and nobody peed in their sleeping bag. Yes, it was a success.

Every family is unique. Our kids are aged 16, 15, 10, and 7, two boys and two girls. I have learned that traveling with MY family of six calls on the ability to respect, yield, and see the big picture.

niagra falls sm

  • Respect

I know that each person is different and will experience things in their own way. When we cut through the corner of Utah and entered Wyoming, we stopped at a beautiful Visitor’s Center. We saw elk and buffalo (or bison as my son corrects me). When we went into the building packed with remarkable taxidermy, my 7-year-old daughter tightened her grip on me and said, “I don’t like it here, I want to leave!” Clearly she was uncomfortable with the real stuffed animals, so after a quick glance around, she and I left the building.

Skip ahead a week. We were ready to visit the Smithsonian Museum at the mall in Washington, D.C. Our first pick was the Museum of Natural History. Within five minutes of entering the museum, my daughter was clinging to me in tears. She was afraid of the taxidermy – oh yeah, I learned that back in Wyoming. While my logical mind knew the foolishness of fearing taxidermy, my compassion for my daughter reminded me to respect her. She is seven. She does not experience things the same way I do, and that’s okay. I can respectfully adjust and accept her as the child she is. My husband stayed at the Natural History Museum with the older kids, we planned to meet up again in 90 minutes, and my daughter and I walked to the Art Museum next door and had a delightful time.

mt rushmore sm

  • Yield

Traveling with my family also teaches me to yield to what’s important to someone else. My husband enjoys football. In Ohio, he wanted to visit the NFL Football Hall of Fame. I had no desire to go there, but I could see that it was important to my husband. While my focus was often on hitting the road and reaching our next destination before dark, I knew enough to yield to my husband’s special interests – they were important to him. And it turns out that the morning he and my 16-year-old son spent at the Hall of Fame was thoroughly enjoyed by them both – well worth the visit.

putt putt sm

  • See the Big Picture

I try to keep a clear perspective of what is important and what is not. This means minimizing my pet peeves. A couple of years ago I left my purse at a Chinese restaurant. I got it back intact a couple of hours later, but I have remembered the experience. So now, on this giant road trip, my husband became a bit of a nag every time we left somewhere. “Do you have your purse? Do you have your visa card? Do you have your phone?” It was a little annoying. BUT it was not nearly the annoyance I would have felt if I actually HAD left my purse, visa, or phone behind. Backtracking hundreds of miles for a forgotten item would make me very cranky. Seeing this big picture allowed me to tolerate the nagging peeve, knowing it could save us from the bigger problem.

Cherished moments along the way also clarified the big picture for me. We saw some great things on our trip – the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore. But the GREATEST things I saw on our trip were the moments together as a family. Seeing my 16-year-old son play putt putt golf with my 7-year-old daughter: that was great. Watching my husband and kids playing in the swimming pool together – almost every night! – was great. It reminded me that traveling is less about the destination and more about the time spent together.[clickToTweet tweet=”Traveling is less about the destination and more about the time spent together. #familytravel”

[clickToTweet tweet=”Traveling is less about the destination and more about the time spent together. #familytravel” quote=”Traveling is less about the destination and more about the time spent together.”]

The ability to respect, yield, and see the big picture were fundamental to our successful trip. And in reflection, the ability to respect, yield, and see the big picture helps with success at home too.

Thank you Carol for bringing focus to one of the great reasons for families travel, to enjoy each other! Make sure to check out Carol’s other post on why they love KOA campgrounds.

Plenty of time is spent researching where to go for your next family trip, but also these THREE important family vacation ideas and lessons are crucial to having a happy trip.

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