Let’s Take an Old Fashioned Family Road Trip


If you really want to experience the USA, you need to visit it the old fashioned way with a good ol’ family road trip!  Here’s how. 

Ahh, the good old fashioned family road trip.  Does anyone do it anymore? And we don’t mean riding along in your mini-van equipped with TV’s DVD players, and every video game known to man.  We mean the cooler with ice in the car, goodie bag of treats for the kids in back, and the family road atlas to guide the way.

Believe me, we have the gadgets and we know you do too, but don’t you remember the amazing experience of taking a road trip with your parents and siblings – without all those fancy gadgets?  No, it wasn’t all good.  Did we say it was?  There was fighting, puking, extreme boredom, sleeping and more.  But there were the joys too.  The things we don’t do as much anymore when we are all together because the world of electronics has pulled us away from our families.

Well, may we make a suggestion?  This summer, give it a try.  Don’t go anywhere crazy or expensive; instead, try doing a road trip to learn more about the special places in your own state.  I’ve only lived in my state for about 5 years and I really don’t know that much about it.  Sure there would be some research to do to find those special places, book the hotels and check out the right restaurants to stop at, what lakes, rivers or falls to visit and all the attractions, but any vacation requires a little work ahead of time.  How about putting your kids to the task?  Let them hook up to all that electronic gadgetry and find the places they’d like to visit within their state lines.  As you well know, there’s a wealth of information out there on the internet and your kids know just how to find it!

Tips for packing:

My husband says I am an A number 1packer.  I really can fit PJs, shoes, workout clothes, a couple of business casual outfits and a suit in a carry-on.  It has taken years of practice, but with his travel schedule, I get plenty.  Here’s what I’ve learned that might help you pack for your family road trip.

Ironing clothes For a family road trip, it might not be necessary that every item be perfectly wrinkle free, however, when clothing is ironed; it usually takes up a little less space.  Just something to consider.


Mix and Match I always try to have outfits that mix and match.  If one day your shirt stays clean and neat, stash it away to use with another pair of shorts.  I find I can take fewer items when I can mix things around and create four or five outfits out of the pieces for three.  This of course also takes up less space. 

Rolling into a Ball Doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but certain items of clothing can be rolled and it into those little nooks and crannies of other garments, in shoes or in the corners.  How about socks, they’re perfect for rolling, undies, light PJs, you get the picture.

Day by Day Put together an itinerary of your trip so that you know what events you will encounter.  Will you be swimming? Going to a special concert or dinner? This will help you to pack accordingly. I lay out my itinerary and then go from the closet to my bed, laying out every outfit I will need for each day, and for each of the events we’ve planned.  Once everything is laid out day by day, I begin to cut back by using the mix and match system and making sure I only need either black shoes or brown shoes for a trip – not both!

Special Clothes Most family road trips don’t require too many dress up clothes, but if a dress shirt or special skirt are needed, I find that drycleaner bags wrapped around a special item really helps to keep it in good condition in the suitcase.

Soft vs. Hard Soft sided duffle type bags generally fit better into trucks and storage places because they are squishable!  We have tried both hard and soft bags on road trips and the only reason I would choose hard sided is because most of them have wheels and a handle and I don’t have to lug all my things around.  Been there, done that, too old for it!!

Tips for Entertainment:

Ok, this is the biggie.  Without electronic games, what’s left?  IT’s time for you to go back in time to the days of your own family road trip and bring back some of those games we used to play.

Travel Bingo You must remember Travel Bingo.  It came with a board that showed pictures of cows, road signs and trucks.  You had to find them along the road, mark them on your card and keep going until someone had five in a row, or a BINGO!  Yes, much cheating was done during this game. “You didn’t see the cow because it was on MY side of the car!!”  Today there is a magnet form of this game which could be fun, until all the magnets fall between the seats…I guess retrieving them could be a game in itself!

Today you could let your kids do a digital photo version of bingo.  Hand them a list and let them take photos of the things they find.  No more cheating!!


The Alphabet Game Who doesn’t know the alphabet game? We even play that from home to Tampa which is only an hour away!  Simply follow the alphabet and look for the letters on road signs and billboards.  Certain letters are always a challenge like J, X and Z, but that helps the game to last more than 5 minutes!!

A sister to this game is the one where you use the alphabet but you go to the grocery store and purchase items.  Each person adds onto the list and it becomes a fun memory game to see who can get through the entire alphabet of items purchased.  Just repeat this line, “I went to the store and I bought….”

We also do one that is similar but involved categories.  For instance, choose food.  The first person selects any type of food, say, “Brie cheese”.  The next person has to think of a food that begins with the last letter of the last food mentioned.  “Egg salad” would be a good reply, and the game continues until you get sick of it!!

Books on Tape When games get tiring, we have found that books on CD’s are a nice way to while away the time.  Find something interesting that everyone can learn from, or a comedy CD that can have you rolling on the floor until the next overnight stop!

Reading If your child can handle reading while driving, this is a great time to start a book series or maybe even finish one.  I used to enjoy the Little House in the Big Woods books and my brother was big on MAD magazine.  As long as he wasn’t on my side of the car, I didn’t care what he did!


Surprise Goodie Bags I don’t care how old you are, everyone wants a surprise goodie bag for the trip.  Even my husband is happy to find magazines, his special crunchy treats or gum in his sack.  My kids each have a tiny suitcase that I fill with treats and toys and small items to entertain.  I read somewhere that one couple does something similar, but they dole out the treats when they are needed the most.  This sounds like a brilliant idea to me!

Conversation Starters You could just try getting a conversation going among all family members.  All you need are some good starters like, “If I won a million dollars, I would….”  Or if I was stranded on a deserted island I would want these 6 things….”  You get the picture.  Make it something that requires imagination and would provoke suggestions from others.  How about, “If I only had three wishes they would be…”

Snoozing Don’t you remember the joy of just deciding to bury your head in your pillow in the back seat and just let the sights and sounds melt away into one of those wonderful car naps?  I haven’t done that in so long it makes me sleepy just thinking about them!

Silly Songs This is something Matt and I would do on a daily basis riding around in our big old van when we were shooting the room by room show.  We would make up songs.  Usually it had something to do with whatever happened to be going on around us, but not always.  We had one about “Honey Hut” ice cream, there was one called, “I just don’t get it” and it would have my daughter Brittany and me crying we were laughing so hard.  Even my family has creating a song or two while traveling.  They are mostly about having to go to bathroom and there being none in sight.  I can’t repeat all the words but they had something to do with “Tickly Weeds”!  These are memories that can last a lifetime and become crazy little family traditions.  Don’t’ you agree things like these songs are what make up the woven fabric of a family?  I sure think so.

Other Road Trip Tips:

These suggestions aren’t a must by any means, but they do help to bring back a bit of the old days of traveling without all the bells and whistles available to us today.


Ice Filled Cooler We used to take homemade sandwiches, chips and dip, sodas and snacks on the road with us.  I believe it was because there weren’t fast food restaurants on every corner like there are today.  The big old cooler was stuffed behind the passenger seat of the car and one of us kids had to sit with our legs out straight the entire trip.  (Believe it or not, this was the best seat in the house, especially when it came to napping!) We would either stop at a rest stop or park or even eat while driving which was something really special in those days. And face it, even today; I think this would be a healthier and cheaper way to snack on the road!  With sandwich bags so handy, you can write the type of sandwich inside and let everyone grab the type they’re hungry for!

Road Atlas or Map Come on now, you know you can do it.  Before the GPS, we HAD to figure out where we were going by using maps and atlases.  It’s fun and can be quite entertaining!  I mean that facetiously of course.  Actually, hand the map to the kids and see if they can figure out the best route from point A to point B.  They just might learn something and find another attraction along the way!

The Road Less Traveled Visiting your own state is the perfect time to take the road less traveled.  You don’t need no stinking highways…travel the state route or country roads to really get a feel for the way people live their lives in your neck of the woods!

Start early, STOP early We used to leave for our trips at the crack of dawn, well it was actually still dark and we were in our PJs.  We slept for a while then dressed and stopped for breakfast – very nice.  Plus, we stopped a little earlier in the day so that we could try out the pool at the hotel and run up and down the halls!  Great way to blow off a little pent up steam.

Spontaneity Leave your days open enough to allow for something unusual to come up.  You may pass by a carnival or street fair and want to get a better feeling for a small town – and what better way than to mingle with the people?

Realistic Expectations This isn’t necessarily something you can pack; however, you better bring them along.  Fortunately, most of us remember the joys of the road trip and somehow forget the agony!  And, if your family is anything like mine, you will have to endure the agony part.  But just like childbirth, after a few years, you’ll forget all that and just remember the fun and the experiences.

Proper Preparation:

Here’s something we don’t usually think about before we head out on our trip; preparing for our return!

Clean House Consider this, at the end of your long trip home, you may want to enter a fresh and sparkling clean house.  So spend some time before departure, making that happen.
Stock the Frig.   Make sure your first meal home isn’t a frantic one.  Maybe plan on ordering a familiar pizza to get everyone fed and happy!

Never on a Sunday Sunday is probably the worst day to return from a vacation.  You know how it is, the laundry is piled high, everyone is tired, and the thought of getting back to reality overnight…is never a success!

Send some Home We have sent cheese, crab cakes, salt water taffy and just about anything else you can imagine home to enjoy after the vacation ends.  It’s nice to have it arrive shortly after your visit so the vacation can be extended just a bit longer!!

So, there you have it, our suggestions for this summer’s family vacation.  If you do try this, let us know how it went, send some photos of your state adventure and we’ll add you to the article.  We promise it will create new memories for your family and bring back some old ones that you can share with your kids.  What a great way to tie generations together.  Happy Trails!



  1. Harriett Reed says

    –What memories your article brings to mind–both mine growing up and also with my children. I will forward this to my daughter who is a very creative mom so she can add the ideas to her list. I really love getting your newsletters-of course I had rather watch your programs like I used to-years ago!! Thanks for the memories!!

  2. jeanne d says

    This excellent article needs to be in a published
    booklet! I know all the readers appreciate
    this. thank you!
    jeanne d.

    • Shari Hiller says

      Are you ladies trying to make me feel good? ‘Cause it’s working!!! Thank you so much for the compliments on the article. I have great memories of summer vacations with my family and I want everyone to feel that joy!

  3. Linda Baird says


    What a wonderful article, it takes me back to our family vacations with our daughter. We always stopped at places of interest, museums, Williamsburg, and such. Our daughter told us years later she knew there was learning involved, but enjoyed it. She is a Chemical Engineer, maybe those summer vacations paid off!

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