6 Ways to Make Your Family Road Trip Educational (and Fun)
A Travelocity poll found Americans to be 65 percent more likely to take a road trip in the summer of 2016 than they were in 2015. Lower gas costs, and increased prices for flights, are two major drivers of this shift. Cost isn’t only the factor, though. Thirty-three percent of the 1,000 respondents said the biggest attraction of taking a road trip is the journey – not the end destination.
For families, a road trip offers a wealth of opportunities for bonding, adventuring, and even some learning in the process. It’s a great way for parents to impart knowledge during the summer months, without kids thinking of it as an extension of the classroom.
As you plan your next road trip, consider these suggestions for making it both educational and fun:
Visit National Parks
This summer the National Park system turns 100 years old — though several of the parks date back even further than that. Yellowstone National Park was deemed such in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant; Yosemite and Sequoia National Park received special designation in 1890. As the rest of the country has changed drastically through human development, these parks remain just as they were hundreds of years ago – untouched by technological advancements in the United States.
The average cost to enter a National Park is $30 to $50 per vehicle — or you can purchase an annual pass, with unlimited access to all National Parks, for $80 per vehicle. Considering the annual pass costs less than a typical amusement park ticket for one person, visiting the National Parks is both an affordable and educational adventure. Plus, the money you spend is funneled into funding, to help preserve and protect the National Parks, and the animals that reside within them.
Before you hit the road, do a little research on the history of the National Parks system, and the specific ones you’ll visit. Tell your kids about why the park was founded, who is credited with discovering it, and why it’s an important place. When you arrive, your kids will already have background knowledge of the park, and can explore some of the places they recognize.
Visit Family and Friends
There’s no need to go somewhere exotic, when the people and places you already know are happy to welcome you. Sit down, and plot out the places where you have family and friends living across the country — and then plan a road trip route to visit one (or a few) of them. If you have enough time, you can plan several destination stops.
Ask the people you’re visiting about where they like to go, what there is to see, and what you absolutely can’t miss while in the area. No one knows an area better than the locals; so start your road trip plans with them! Let your friends know you’re looking for specific educational opportunities, and start building an itinerary around their suggestions.
In an increasingly digital world, in-person visits to see family members are becoming a rarity. Show your kids the value of reconnecting with real hugs and conversation, by road tripping to see the people you care about.
There is so much to learn from nature, and spending some extended time with Mother Earth can really drive those lessons home. Whether your family prefers tent camping, sleeping in an RV, or bunking up in a cabin, spending a night or two out in the elements is rejuvenating. There are plenty of camping opportunities at the National Parks, but you can also look closer to home, at state and county camping options.
Take advantage of the change of scenery to unplug from your electronics, and really delve into the natural surroundings. Recent research has found that taking a hike has a tremendous positive impact on participants, and leads to less anxiety and depression. So build a campfire, pitch a tent, hike a trail, or just sit still and enjoy the calm. Your kids will learn more about nature on a camping trip, than from any textbook.
Revisit Places From Your Childhood
Family history is an important part of a child’s education, too. Go beyond just telling stories about the town you grew up in, and the trips you took — head back to those places, with your little ones in tow. If you still live in the area where you grew up, pick a spot you visited with your family as a kid, and recreate the trip with some brand new memories; or, head to places where your spouse grew up.
If you hail from another country, you might return to your roots with your kids (and maybe even your parents or siblings), and show them where their ancestors lived. Take plenty of pictures of your kids with these places, and the people from your childhood — you might even start your own generational family tradition.
Find Cultural Attractions
So many times, when parents want to plan “fun” vacations for their kids, they look to the usual ideas — amusement parks, water parks, or resort hotels. There’s certainly a place for that sort of family fun, but if you want to add an educational element, you need to look a little deeper. Find out what areas of the country have strong children’s museums, aquariums, and zoos; then research those attractions online. Some world-renowned family attractions, like the St. Louis Zoo and the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, are completely free to visit. Other museums offer free admission days, or discounts if you purchase tickets in advance. Paying for a museum or zoo for the day costs much less than a hotel, and will return dividends when it comes to educational outcomes for your children.
Make your next road trip more about experiences, and less about how quickly you tick off the miles. By adding educational elements, your kids will come home with new knowledge and awareness about the world around them – and you’ll get to spend some quality time along the way.