I think the biggest hurdle of taking a road trip as a family is the dreaded “Are we there yet?” spoken in that whining, squirming, tired kid voice that communicates “I am tired of sitting. I’m tired of being in a car. I’m tired of driving. Let me out!!”
Before my in-laws moved to Tulsa, we took annual or biannual road trips to visit them in Richmond, VA. It’s a 21 hour drive from Tulsa to Richmond, and while one route is beautiful and scenic with rolling corn fields and forested mountains, the route we used to take was flat soy bean fields and a straight, boring highway. As you can imagine, we got a LOT of “Are we there yet?!?”
After a couple trips of this question being asked every 30 minutes for 21 hours, I knew I needed a way to avoid this question! I was tired of it. My husband was tired of it. And the kids were tired of not knowing how much longer it was going to take since they didn’t have a great grasp of time and distance.
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Pre-Trip Prep: How I Eliminated “Are We There Yet?”
I asked myself, “Why don’t I need to ask ‘are we there yet’?” The reason was that I knew how much time was left, and I knew how much farther we had to go. So how did I communicate those two things to my kids?
I Bought a United States Map
Kids think maps are awesome. They are intrigued with the lines and the colors and the symbols and they want to know what everything means. Before our next trip, I bought a United States map and showed the kids the route that we would be driving on the map.
I Bought a Sharpie and Highlighters
I also bought a black Sharpie and some neon highlighters. The day before we left on our trip, I traced our driving route in black Sharpie onto the US map so the kids could easily see the route we’d be taking on the map even with all the other roads included. I also highlighted the major cities we would drive through on our way using brightly colored highlighters. By highlighting the cities, the kids could visually see the different places we would drive through, but it also visually broke up the 21 hour trip into shorter segments.
I Bought Some Push Pins and a Post It Notepad
Finally, before our trip, I bought some push pins and some Post It Notes. I used the push pins to tack the map to the ceiling of the van! Yup! I displayed that sucker directly over their heads so they could just look up and study the map to see which segment of the drive we were on. The push pins are small so they don’t hurt the headliner of vehicles, and the map is light so there’s not really any danger of it falling on anyone’s head.
During the Trip Process to Eliminate “Are We There Yet?”
By posting the map and highlighting the route, I made the road trip into a game. Once we started driving, I explained to the kids that I wanted them to know where we were going and how long it would take to get there. I had my oldest highlight the first segment of the trip, and I calculated how many hours it would take us to get there, and the approximate time we would reach that city. I wrote the time on a Post-It Note and stuck the Post-It Note next to the clock on our van’s dashboard. As we neared each city, I would give a 30 minute warning and we would all eagerly search to see who “saw” the city first.
Why The Process Worked to Eliminate “Are We There Yet?”
There are a few reasons why this process eliminated that dreaded question.
1. The kids could visually see the route.
The route was marked with black Sharpie that was easy to see and identify, and the cities were highlighted to break the route down into smaller segments. The kids were then aware of how much progress we had made on the road trip and they could visually see how much of the trip was left. This made them aware of where they were on the journey.
2. By breaking the trip down into segments, it made the trip shorter.
Instead of a giant 21 hour trip, we took 7 3-hour trips and a 3 hour trip is MUCH easier to handle than a never-ending one!
3. I made the driving process into a game.
By highlighting the cities, the kids had something to look forward to, and something to look for. They didn’t have to wonder what was coming next because they knew exactly what city was coming soon.
4. By posting the time that we would be in the next city, the kids could check the Post It Note time and compare it to the van’s clock.
Even the little kids who couldn’t read a clock could compare the numbers to see if they were the same or different, and believe me – when the clock rolled over and looked like it matched the Post It Note numbers, they were quick to tell me we were getting close!
We started this map trick almost 10 years ago and we still use it. The kids think it’s a great game, it helps everyone stay engaged on the drive, and these days, no one ever asks “Are we there yet?” They just check the map and check the Post It Note and they eagerly look for the next city as we approach the city outskirts. It’s made taking road trips immensely more bearable, and it’s made road trips more fun for the whole family!
All the best,
P.S. Do you have a trick for eliminating “Are we there yet?” I’d love to hear it!! Let me know in the comments, and let me know what you think of this map tip too!