I love to travel. Dubai, Chiang Mai, London…as a family we traveled to some amazing places because of our international work in Central Asia. On these trips, seeing the tallest building in the world, riding an elephant, and visiting famous art museums seemed to be quickly forgotten by my children (probably because they were young.) Our kids were MOST excited about swimming, eating ice cream, and discovering unusual bugs. Once during our time in Chiang Mai, we took a wrong turn, and passed by an ornate Hindu temple and stumbled upon a quaint bakery. I bought several sticky pastries. Quickly devoured by hungry stomachs, they were talked about for days.
After moving back to the Midwest, our ability to travel to exotic locations changed, but our quest for adventure continued. What makes much of travel delightful is the discovery of small things. So, recreating this feeling of exploration became my goal. And…the Spontaneous Road Trip was born.
Here’s the idea… On a free day, grab a map of your area (real or virtual). Our rule is 100 miles. Any town within a two-hour drive is up for grabs. (If your children are younger, a 50-mile radius is better.) Let your kids pick a town or city they have NEVER been to before. Once THEY choose (with multiple children take turns), refrain from giving your opinion, with one exception, Google it. Make sure it has at least a place to eat or a park. After that, throw some form of wheels in your trunk (bikes, roller blades, skateboards) and helmets. If it is summer, pack your swimming suits, sunscreen, and snacks. Consider going al fresco with a picnic lunch.
Keep it about spontaneity and low stress, so refrain from advanced planning.
Being a strict mom, I lay out the rules at the beginning. One ice cream stop, one lunch stop, and at least one coffee stop for mom. (which leaves the door open for more coffee if necessary). On the drive, if you see anything fascinating, side trips are allowed. The trip is all about exploration and discovery. So if something fabulous appears in your path, like an enormous statue of a Green Giant, or a pair of bald eagles perched in a tree, hit the brakes! (Safely, of course.)
When you arrive, spend a little time scouting around. If nothing jumps out, go ahead and utilize technology for top things to do in your destination town. Otherwise, bring out your reserve items. Find the nearest swimming place, and put those swimsuits to use, OR pull out your wheels and try a newfound bike trail.
Or you can use this scavenger hunt for spontaneous road trips that I’ve put together for you.
On our last road trip, though it was a rainy day, we had a fun-filled day in Menomonie, Wisconsin. We played checkers on a giant board at the local library. Ate at Subway. Visited a History/Science museum where we found old cars, a 3-D display, and learned about a famous bank robbery. My daughter spent half the time playing on an old dial phone.
“Mom, that was so much MORE fun than just using a cell phone. It’s like you actually get to do something.” (Giggle)
After turning a corner and going the wrong direction (GPS was invented for people like me), we stumbled upon a nature center that had Elk, White-Tailed Deer, and Bison. The Bison were massive and the highlight of the trip for my son. After grabbing a mid-afternoon coffee at a local shop, we headed home stopping for a detour at the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin. Who knew we lived within a 2-hour drive of such a treasure? I am always surprised by our discoveries, and my children love planning these outings.
If you end up going on a spontaneous road trip, I’d love to hear about them.