It’s not about the destination but the people you are with, and this summer provides no better opportunity than to just drive…wherever the wide open road takes you. It is the perfect recipe for quality time together, so get creative and have some fun during this warm-weather season.
First, if you want to keep your outing to a true day trip, the destination should be approximately two hours travel time so you literally have the day to spend wherever you choose to explore. Once you settle on your journey’s end, and there are plenty of cool spots to select from, make a list of essentials you need before hitting the road: healthy snacks, drinks for hydration, and entertainment for the car ride to keep the whole family engaged.
Are We There Yet? Family Fun and Games for the Car Ride
It has never been easier for a family to spend time together on a road trip for a few hours with so many options to connect and reconnect! Unplug by putting down the phones and other handheld gaming systems; take time to interact. Have your kids simply using their ingenuity by playing I Spy… while looking out the car window or searching for state license plates from all over the country. There is no limit to our imaginations!
If your children prefer something more tangible, there are handheld games and activities galore for easy car ride fun. The best part? The entire family can participate! Amazon has many, inexpensive choices for games and entertainment sure to keep everyone engaged for your two-hour road trip. Some favorites that remind me of my own childhood are Travel Bingo and an activity book complete with puzzles, mazes, and games called Are We There Yet? from Rand McNally. In addition, some of their travel games are bundled so you have more choices at a very affordable price.
Another way to pass the time on the road is to listen to audiobooks. There are selections for all ages so choosing one that has a wide appeal may be tricky. Take into consideration the average age of your captive audience (driver not included!) and pick a neutral genre. At an early age, my children enjoyed The Magic Treehouse Series, now available on Amazon’s Audible service; this adventure series could pique the interest of all riders. Listening to a book lends itself to more family engagement, even on the return trip.
If you are a boy mom, like me, Jack London’s classic The Call of the Wild could be the perfect audiobook to share, or the ultimate favorite for all ages, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, narrated by the author himself. Keep them listening, and don’t forget to discuss the book or chapters to enrich the experience of ‘reading’ together.
Taking the Show – and the Kids – on the Road
It doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate; the important component is being together. So pack a picnic lunch, gather the kids in the car, take the above-mentioned games and/or audiobooks, and make a ‘day of it.’ There is no better time, truly, than now to be with our families heading out on an adventure. Take the proverbial road less traveled and find your place for togetherness.
Take the stress out of driving by selecting the ‘back roads’ (think Route 30 all the way!) to Lancaster County. You may be more likely to spot an Amish horse and buggy by selecting this route that is under 1 ½ hours from the western suburbs. While the Pennsylvania Dutch country offers many activities, try the charming Covered Bridge Tour, already mapped out for you, and, it is completely free! Great photo-ops for the family while gaining some PA history in the mix.
Did you realize that Pennsylvania is full of State Parks, which incidentally, are also free? These gems are pristine and often have manmade lakes for swimming and boating. A day trip could not be easier! No admission, clean changing facilities, plenty of picnic tables with the option of grilling, and hiking trails. Several are well-within a two-hour drive from Philadelphia. My new discovery and favorite is Beltzville State Park, right off Exit 74 of the Northeast Extension, making it ideal and accessible for an all day excursion.
If your family prefers the hike and wants to skip the swim, there are adventurous trails waiting to be discovered. Pennsylvania is also home to many magical waterfalls tucked away and offering a respite from the stress we may be feeling this summer. Walking silently through the woods, waiting to hear the hush – and then the rush – of the water flowing down rock formations is therapeutic, sensory, and just plain good for the soul. Bushkill Falls, referred to as “The Niagara of Pennsylvania” is only two hours from the western suburbs and showcases eight majestic waterfalls.
Want a little cuteness for your day trip? Plan an outing to the Gettysburg area where you can not only take in the historic Gettysburg battlefields but also visit the Land of Little Horses Performing Animal Theme Park. There is entertainment from park opening to closing: pictures with the animals, performances, races, and a herd release in the barn at the end of the day. The miniature horses originated from Argentina but the menagerie now includes farm and exotic animals as well. The animals are the main focus of the park with a veterinarian and trainer on staff, and these special creatures do enjoy interacting with people.
Enjoy the Journey
Wherever you decide to ‘day-trip’ with your family, remember to check in advance for any updates regarding COVID-19 restrictions before you arrive, but mainly, remember to have fun in the comfort and safety of your own car. There is no better time to take control and take charge of how your family will enjoy these lazy, hazy days of summer.
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First Published July 2020, Updated June 2023