Mini Van Beats Jet for Family Time

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Isabella, Olivia, Jake and Soni

Last week our family embarked on yet another Spring Break vacation.  We packed our luggage (mainly beach wear) and five bodies into our 2004 Toyota Sienna (154,000 miles and counting) for a long drive. This year’s last minute idea was to go to Naples and then Marco Island.  Sunshine and warm weather was only 1,360 miles away. Our 20 hour drive (getting the heck out of town) seemed like an even better idea when it snowed a few inches on the Friday we took off.

Our family has been taking long road trips for years and you would be amazed how well our kids are trained to enjoy this experience.  Years ago we bought dual DVD movie screens to clip on to the back of the seats and the kids would watch movie after movie thinking it was really cool to be up at 1:30 in the morning watching TV.   In a few short years with the advent of the iPhone and the amusing apps that come with it, the movie screens are no longer needed.  Now dad just needs to up his data package for the month when we travel.

While it’s nice to save around $2,000 in airfare, that’s not the only reason we drive.

While on the road, we talk about all sorts of events, people, and places we would like to explore.  My favorite thing we do together in the minivan is sing,  especially my girls.  Too bad none of us can sing very well, but nobody seems to care.  In a few short years I have converted my family to loving country and Christian  music and they must know most of the words to over 250 songs on my playlist.  When you drive 20 hours each way, 250 songs is barely enough.

One of my favorite vacation budgeting ideas was to give each kid some cash every trip and let them decide what to use it for. This helps them understand what things cost and decide what they value.  They cant ask me for money for anything!  It has worked out very well over the years.  Rather than just giving them the money this year, I surprised them with a task.  I created a list of 50 insightful questions for them to answer that would help me understand how my kids feel about a lot of things.  Those of you with teenagers, especially boys, know how hard it is to get more than one word answers out of them.  If they answered all of the questions I printed out, they would each get $100.  “Really dad!?” was the response I got as they laughed and thought this was the easiest money they ever made (I was going to give them money anyway, but now I got a ton of really interesting information for my money).

Here are some of their answers to the questions:

What’s something about yourself that you hope will never change?  “my nice hair”

What fear would you like to overcome? “Worrying”, and “fear of failing”

What memorable lesson have you learned from your parents?  “live life to the fullest” , and “have patience”

What scares you about the future? “not having a family or not being successful”

What does success mean to you? “be happy”

What is your earliest childhood memory? “fishing in Perry’s Pond”

What’s the most important quality of a good friend? “loyal, fun. similar ideas of fun”

From having them answer these types of questions, my wife and I learned a lot about our kids.  We learned quite a bit about what makes them happy, sad, scared and what motivates them.  We wish we would’ve started this years ago.  We will keep these with their school photos to look back on when they are older. I think it’ll be fun to see how their answers change.

We ended up driving straight through to Naples and were greeted with warm and sunny weather for the entire week.  The kids managed to spend the money they earned as they were instructed that they couldn’t bring it back with them.  Although it’s hard to spend that on the beach, so we made a special trip to the mall.

Another big change this year, my son has his driver’s license and took the graveyard shift on the way there.  My oldest daughter was “the closer” and drove the last two hours on the way home.  That may have been the most stressful two hours of the trip as it was only the second time she had ever driven on an expressway.  They both bragged about their taking the wheel on the family trip to their relatives as though it was a right of passage and they were becoming more like adults.  That was really cool for me to see and they will never forget the first time they helped drive on a family vacation.

Of course you don’t get these kind of travel memories on a jet and the kids will hopefully appreciate a true road trip when they are parents.  I know my family will never forget the one we’ve just taken.


Related Posts:

The Real Griswold’s “Quest for Fun”

 “Shut Up and Take My Money”

Have You Been A Good Parent Lately?


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  1. Great story Brad. I remember road trips with my family in the Buick wagon. No DVDs or cell phones. How on earth did we survive? Love your ideas for giving kids a fixed trip allowance so they can make spending decisions and the 50 questions. My daughter is 14 and I’m completely out of touch with her feelings. I’m going to follow your idea and make a list questions. Would appreciate seeing more of the questions you came up with for inspiration.

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