If you’ve popped over to my Syncopated Mama blog at all over the past few years (or even today, when I’m sharing our biggest trip yet), you’ve probably picked up on the fact that we like to travel.

A lot.

Don’t be afraid to travel with your preschoolers!

When our Gv was first born, we’d spend our summers camping in the mountains and then, when she turned four, decided we’d attempt to introduce her to that great American pastime: the road trip.

We’d taken a mini one the Thanksgiving before, traveling from our Florida home over to New Orleans, then up the Natchez Trace before spending the holiday with G’s brother in Memphis. Gv did quite well with it all, and between that experience and the fact that we’d spent the previous summers living in a tent in the woods with no facilities available made us feel like we stood a decent chance of a more involved trip with a preschooler being a success.

So we packed up the Subaru and hit the road, driving through 12 states (and one district!) for almost 4,000 miles. This is also when we first learned of the Junior Ranger program (find out more about it here), and although I had to do all of the writing while she dictated, Gv earned her first 13 badges.

That trip had a little bit of everything: some national parks, some big cities, some beaches, some museums, some friends and family…its variety was a plus during this time of figuring out what a road trip would exactly look like for our family.

We had a fabulous time, but what we didn’t expect was how much 4-yr-old Gv would get out of the whole experience.

We expected her to get something out of the nature-related destinations — after all, she’d already spent a big chunk of her life camping out in the wilderness and exploring the great outdoors. But we were surprised at how much she got out of the museums and historical sites – remember, she had just turned four!

Despite what we may think, young children gain a lot of insight from family vacations.

Here’s the thing we realized during that trip: even if kids don’t seem that interested in the moment, or if some of the material is tailored to an older crowd and goes a bit over their heads, these experiences are instilling something that will stick with them forever.

They will remember little details here and there from the trip (“I saw Dorothy’s shoes at the Smithsonian!”), which is incredibly satisfying at the moment, but the biggest payoff to road-tripping with your preschoolers goes far beyond those few little highlighted gems.

Family Bonding

Think about it. When you take a family road trip, you are spending time together as a family. A lot of time. And all that time cooped up in the car together means big-time family bonding.

Now, remember also that bonding doesn’t always look pretty. There will be arguments and frustration and some trip crisis (there’s always a trip crisis, trust me), but all of that gets mixed together and ends up bringing your family closer.

Background Knowledge

Any time you take a road trip, you have an opportunity to encounter learning. I visited Williamsburg and Monticello on a road trip with my parents when I was eight, and even though a ton of things from that visit were probably lost on me, I knew I’d been there, so I had a connection with that place and time in history.

This was an invaluable opportunity, because when I later learned about the Colonial Period in U.S. History class, I came to the discussion with all sorts of background knowledge from my visits on that trip and was more interested and engaged in the subject matter as a result.

Reinforce concepts you’re learning in homeschooling with family road trips.

This connection will stick with your children forever, whether they seem to be paying attention or not. I’m sure my parents were often frustrated with me on our road trips. I can remember them asking if I could put my book down for just a minute and actually glance out the window to see what there was to see.

Nancy Drew usually won out, but I can list off pretty much all the things we saw on our trips and years of looking at photos of myself at various sites – never underestimate the power of a photograph — helped me realize that I was a kid who went places and saw things. Really cool things.

And just look at how that knowledge affected me. As an adult, my favorite thing to do has been to travel and explore the world.

So we continue that practice with our Gv. She already thinks of herself as a traveler. She might not remember all the details of every site we’ve visited, but she loves to look at all the pictures, essentially refreshing her memories every time she sees them.

We’ve taken her to see things she’s dreamed of seeing (Mt. Rushmore and the Eiffel Tower, to name two) and from our adventures, she’s already determined who her favorite president is (Theodore Roosevelt) and what she wants to be when she grows up (a park ranger who is a gemologist).

When we learned about the Pony Express this past year during our Latticed Learning Time, she was beside herself with excitement, as we’d visited several of the Pony Express sites on our trip last year.

One of the joys of traveling with children is watching them enjoy the adventure.

It matters. Even if the kids are battling over who encroached in whose space in the backseat or they seem to spend the entire drive on their iPads, road trips pack a powerful punch.

You might want to start small, like our Thanksgiving trip to visit family, or plan a road trip filled with variety like this first long one we took. You might decide to haul your kids 6,500 miles halfway across the country to see something they’ve got their heart set on like we did last year, or maybe you’ll do something truly crazy and drive over 10,000 miles across the country and back to see all the things like we did this past summer.

Check out the links to those trip posts above for plenty of ideas of things to see and do, or even this fun 5 After 5 post on Road Trips, but whatever you choose, give the family road trip tradition a try.

Your kids will never forget it!

Did you grow up taking road trips as a kid? Have you tried any yet with your own kids? I can’t wait to hear! Leave a comment below or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com.

Lisa Healy

Lisa Healy

Lisa Healy is a former competitive figure skater, coach, and elementary teacher. These days she spends her days speed skating after her three-year-old and blogging to tell about it at Syncopated Mama
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