How to be a better dad – the road trip

How to be a better dad – the road trip
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How to be a better dad – the road trip

The road trip - Crossing lots of bridges
The road trip – Crossing lots of bridges

We were an hour into a 5-hour trip. My son had decided to take a nap since we had to leave at 6 in the morning on a Saturday. He woke up and asked how long had he been asleep. Then the conversation took an awesome turn.

Son: “I wish we could get there faster”

Me: “Well unfortunately we have to drive and there are limits to how fast we can go”

Son: “Maybe we could fly”

Me: “No there aren’t really any airports close by that would work. We might be able to charter a flight but that would be expensive”

This lead to a 10-minute conversation of me trying to explain what “charter” means.

Son: “Dad when I grow up I am going to invent a better way to travel”

Me: “Oh well what are some of your ideas?”

Then we went over all the different ways he could think of that we could improve how we travel. He not only thought about speed but also about how his mode of travel might affect the environment.

He talked about making an Iron-Man-type suit that people could wear. But then we discussed how would he power it.

He also liked the idea of using magnets to propel a vehicle. I suggest maybe we use pneumatic tubes like they have at the bank. He thought that might be a good idea but he worried about the noise and started to brainstorm how he would make it not so noisy.

The idea of hovercars came up several times. Then somehow we started talking about fast roller coasters and how we should take a high-speed train and convert it into a roller coaster.

Throughout this conversation, I was amazed by my youngest son’s imagination and critical thinking skills. He has been talking a lot lately about how he wants to be an engineer and work for Elon Musk. I told him to shoot higher and to make a better car than a Tesla and he could have his own car company someday. 

He really likes that idea. We even discussed some potential names for his company and cars.

I could have missed this conversation. The whole purpose of this trip was to help my oldest son move into a new house. I almost sent my wife and missed out on this. 

But now my thoughts are “When can we do the next road trip?”. A one-on-one conversation with my son. Where he has nothing to distract his attention. He can’t turn on a tv, go outside, or fire up a video game console, he just has me and the road.

And the same goes for me. I can’t be distracted by my phone, I can’t be distracted by my other kids or by my wife. If I ask him a question it makes it really hard for him to avoid it. But I also don’t want to ask him a question that would make him feel uncomfortable.

I did this before with my middle son. We did a one-on-one road trip to King’s Island. Sure riding the rides was fun. But the conversations we had on the way there were priceless. I was able to not only get precious one-on-one time with my son but I was able to share a distinct moment with him. I hope he never forgets those moments.

Road Trip - Kings Island with my middle son
Road Trip – Kings Island with my middle son

I think my kids enjoy our brocations, but they enjoy that for a different reason. During the brocation it is just the guys having a good time. The brothers get to have fun and laugh and hang out with each other. But on these one-on-one road trips, they get to have fun and laugh and hang out with dad. 

Not the dad that has to be mean on occasion and discipline them. Not the dad that has to be a grown-up. But a dad that can be their friend and cut up with them. A dad that doesn’t seem like a dad at that moment. And maybe these road trips will open up conversations they wouldn’t otherwise be comfortable having.

Even if the conversation doesn’t happen during the road trip, maybe the conversation will happen when they need it the most. They won’t feel scared to ask me something with the fear of retribution that dad is going to be mad at them.

How to make the most of the one-on-one road trip

Decide where you are going (and make it fun)

Road trip - Visiting a castle near Lake of the Ozarks
Road trip – Visiting a castle near Lake of the Ozarks

Prepare these trips ahead of time. Let your kid decide where you are going to go. My youngest son didn’t get to pick this latest trip. But he was looking forward to it because he got to stay the week at his big brother’s house. The trip just has to be something your kid is excited about.

You can also plan it out where you can stop somewhere cool to eat. Whether it be a unique restaurant to take them out to eat. Or pack a lunch and have a cool location to eat at. There is almost always a nice ice cream shop around if you look hard enough. And who doesn’t want ice cream?

Snacks

Make sure to stop and get snacks. I am typically budget-minded. Stopping at a gas station makes my wallet hurt. Inflated prices and everything is in your face and you cannot avoid it. But on the road trip, you have to stop and get snacks. If you can’t handle the budget then maybe stop at a grocery store before you leave and let them pick out some of their favorite snacks.

Leave the devices off (or at home)

It is hard to pull our kids away from their devices. But the idea of this road trip is to remove the distractions from the trip. Try to convince them to either leave their tablets/phones at home or maybe to turn them off for the trip.

Have some good music ready

One of my favorite parts of the road trip I took with my middle son was exposing him to some of the music I loved as a kid. It was quite funny to hear his critique of my music interests but also a blast for him to discover how much he enjoyed the “classics”.  My kids love music so it takes quite a bit to find something they don’t like. And remember to keep it age-appropriate.

Have some questions ready

Is there something on your mind that you wanted to ask your kids for a long time but afraid they won’t give you a straight answer? Now is the time to break those out. But don’t start out with them. Let the conversation flow naturally. Talk about the trip or maybe the music. And when the time is right ask them those questions. And make sure you respond appropriately if you don’t like the answers they give you.

Loosen up a little bit

As a dad, you typically get saddled with being the disciplinarian of the family. But this trip is not the time to be the “mean” dad. Loosen up and let things slide. Now don’t let your kid get out of control, but be ready to let some rules be relaxed. Maybe you don’t normally let them drink a soda, why not let them have a soda if they want one. Or maybe let them pick out candy or cookies as their snack of choice.

Remember this is a time to get your kids to open up and talk. Break down any barriers and butter them up a little. Smile and let the laughs out. Don’t hold back on the fun.

Have a plan for your other kids

Road trip - Make plans for your other kids - Safari Trip
Road trip – Make plans for your other kids

If you just have one kid then this really doesn’t apply to you. But for those with multiple kids, you can’t forget about them. Depending on their age they may not understand why you are taking a special trip with brother or sister. Try and have a plan where they are distracted for the time you are gone. Maybe mom can take them to the zoo or aquarium, or maybe mom can take them on a road trip to visit relatives.

Don’t leave your spouse without a plan. You should never make a plan with just one kid and not consider what your wife is going to do with herself and the other children. And don’t forget to make plans to take a road trip with your spouse (minus the kids).

Make sure the car is road-ready

Nothing can end a road trip faster than a flat tire or some other issue with the car. Make sure all of your tires are in good shape. Make sure to get your oil changed and possibly have your brakes inspected a week before you head out. 
And if you don’t have a vehicle in good shape perhaps you can talk someone into allowing you to borrow their car for the trip. If you explain to them how much this road trip means to you and your kid they may be more than willing to help out.

Have some cash on hand

In today’s society cashless is the way to go. But when you are on a road trip you may run into a small business that is cash only. Don’t ruin the trip by forgetting to have cash or trying to track down an ATM and get hit with ATM fees.


Spending that individual time with your kids can not only be a way to deeply connect with each of your children but also could be a life saver. These moments open the door for open and honest communication and breaks any barrier that your kids may perceive.

And don’t forget the most important person in your life to schedule a road trip with. Your spouse. Find a sitter for the weekend, find a nice location to visit, and spend that one on one time with your spouse. I promise you won’t regret it. And the kids will be fine.

Have you ever taken a one-on-one road trip with your kids? Or have any more tips on how to make your road trip a success? Leave a comment below or let us know on our Facebook page.

7 comments

Car rides are rough for us. My kids inevitable start arguing unless they have a device. Thank you for reminding me it can also be a bonding opportunity (and not just torture).

It sounds like you guys had a great time! Road trips are either excruciatingly boring, or they end up being something that you’ll remember forever! So glad you had some great conversations and lots of fun!

I have always loved road trips, and with the exception of our honeymoon road trip, my husband dislikes them very much. I will have to share this post with him and see of we can’t change his mind.

Great idea! It’s always nice to get some one on one time with one kid. But yes, very important to have a plan for the others! Thanks for sharing.

this is a great father-son bonding. I remember the times my father will send me to school and we will catch up about my studies. I wish I can visit them.

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