Earlier this summer, my kids and I embarked on a 600-mile road trip without my wife. Many people thought I was crazy, including, most notably, my wife. As is almost always the case, she was right.
The drive from our home in Florida to North Carolina was a grind and the fact that we had to turn around and do it all over again in just a few days was downright brutal. The in-between part while we were on what some might call a “vacation” wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either, although we did walk in a park at one point, which was lovely.
To make a long story short, when it was all over and we arrived home late on a summer evening, I was tired and beaten and very glad we had made the trip. Much like exercise, traveling with your kids is a great thing to have done. And now that I’m a grizzled solo road tripping veteran with four days of experience under my belt, I have a message for dads everywhere: Take the road trip.
Here are five reasons why:
1. A solo road trip beats watching YouTube videos
Really, what else do you have to do during the summer? Work? Watch YouTube videos? Sit inside and stare at your air conditioning unit while saying a silent prayer of thanksgiving?
Taking your kids on a road trip by yourself is better than all these things. Kind of. It’s much harder, but ultimately more rewarding. Unless you’re a brain surgeon or something; I assume that is also rewarding.
And while YouTube is a wonderful invention, if you’re anything like me, you’re sick of your kids devoting their lives to it. Now is your chance to get them out from in front of the TV or iPad and into a car where they can sit for 10 hours or so. Sure, they will probably use their devices somewhere along the way (i.e., the whole way), but screen time in cars doesn’t count as screen time. That’s Parenting 101.
In addition, if your kids are young enough, you can convince them that there is no technology available that allows them to access YouTube in a car. You will likely be able to keep this charade up for about two hours before you start indiscriminately throwing account passwords into the backseat for any child to feast upon.
2. You will gain a deep personal knowledge of interstate restrooms. All of them.
Never underestimate the value of public restroom knowledge. And since you will be stopping at every restroom you pass, you will quickly become the world’s foremost bathroom expert. The Stephen Hawking of interstate toilets. You will dazzle guests at your next dinner party with your newfound knowledge. Even better, you can provide invaluable assistance to random strangers you meet at the McDonald’s on your way home.
“Oh no, don’t stop at the rest area at mile marker 135,” you will say with an air of profound authority. “Wait for the one at 182. It’s much cleaner, has a lovely picnic area, and vending machine selection you won’t believe.”
“Yes, thank you,” the stranger will reply. “I just asked if I could borrow this chair, but I’ll keep that in mind.”
3. It will help make you a more confident parent
Society has a way of subtly suggesting to dads that they are lesser than as parents. Most of us know this isn’t true, but like all parents, we have our doubts and insecurities. And while taking a road trip won’t cure all your fears and worries, it will likely blunt them. I mean, it’s hard to get too worked up about taking your kids to the grocery store or the mall after you’ve survived a thousand miles of interstate highway and several nights in a hotel room.
Taking them to the beach by yourself will still be a nightmare, particularly if you have more children than hands and some of them can’t swim. There is nothing you can do to make that experience better, but otherwise, a nice, long solo road trip is a bit like a parenting vaccine. It builds up your immunity to the daily irritations and challenges.
4. You will entertain other hotel guests at breakfast, bringing them immense joy
Picture yourself sitting down to a quiet meal at one of those free continental breakfast buffets at a mid-level chain hotel. Suddenly, a small tornado of noise and energy spins into the room, knocking into the cereal box display and overturning a napkin dispenser.
It’s a harried dad with three small children!
The children are understandably excited by the bounty set forth before them. It’s not every day they get to choose their own sugary breakfast foods from a plastic display case and then not eat them. Meanwhile, the dad spends the entire 20-minute fiasco racing back and forth from the buffet to the table where his children are precariously perched on bar stools, which they just had to sit on. He stops only to slosh a few sips of coffee into his mouth and down his shirt. What a sight!
Now, flip it so you are the dad instead of the child-free, relentlessly relaxed hotel patron. Sure, this scenario is a lot less fun for you, but at least you’re making other people smile. You can’t place a dollar value on that.
5. Think of the great story you’ll have to tell for years to come
Have I ever told you about the time I took my kids on a road trip by myself? This will be your opening line for any conversation for at least the next five years. It works everywhere: doctor appointments, weddings, dinner parties, open mics.
You will delight friends, acquaintances and audiences with your tale of struggle and strife. They will laugh and cry right along with you.
But your most important audience will be the people who also experienced the journey first hand. The ones who have tried doing a solo road trip themselves and were with you in the car for every painstaking mile.
“Hey kids, remember when we drove all the way to North Carolina?” you will say to them years later on a rainy summer morning. “How we played in that park where your grandmother used to play when she was a kid? And caught fireflies at night? And how on our way home we stopped at that rest area and none of you would get in your seats so I finally gave up and we ran around the picnic tables for what seemed like hours until it started to rain on us and we piled back into the car wet and smelly?”
And they will remember.