Family Road Trip Hack

It's not such a new idea, really

June 6, 2013 | 9 Comments

I try not to write about the details of my life that reveal just how cool I am. I don’t want to appear to be all braggy and stuff. But, in this case, my cultural transcendence is relevant to the point, so here goes: We bought a minivan three years before our first child was born. That’s right. My wife and I could be seen cruising to hot spots like the dollar movie theater and the grocery store in our minivan that contained no car seats or decaying animal crackers.

We anticipated kids were in our future, so we were excited that the dealer had a ‘special offer’ that week. Along with our minivan, we received a free console that sat between the front seats with a built in VCR and a 5 inch screen. Yes, VCR, the kind that played VHS tapes. “Why not?” we thought, expecting it be handy for occupying our little ones when they came along. Sadly, we abandoned VHS tapes about a year later with the purchase of our first DVD player, and never really used the VCR at all. We purged it in a garage sale for $20 a few years later as we prepared to move five states away.

Since then, cars with screens are commonplace, often with individual screens per seat so every child’s entertainment fancy can be satiated. We are still driving the same minivan, now with car seats and decaying gluten free pretzels, but no built in screens. We’ve found ways to balance laptops for DVD playback, and in the last few years, hang an iPad between the driver and passenger seat. (Clever, you say? Yes, but not the family road trip hack I have in mind.)

As of yesterday, here in Austin, school’s out for summer. (You did just picture Alice Cooper, didn’t you?) With summer’s arrival, families are eagerly anticipating hours of bliss in the car together. Screens are being polished and headphones are being replaced to keep the peace. As an alternative, though, may I present the family road trip hack? It’s really not so new. It’s an old idea, in fact, but sometimes the best new ideas are old ones revisited.


FamilytrucksterLast year, I wrote about how I had rediscovered audiobooks, and I passed along the experience to my family and our forest green minivan. We worked through a few audiobooks on a road trip or two, and we’ve even listened to a few while driving around town together. It’s a shared experience and I’d like to think a healthier one, filling every imagination in the car with characters and settings. We love it. The kids love it, and they ask if we can listen to a book anytime we are in the car together.

Digital audiobooks are easy to find between your local library, Amazon/Audible or iTunes, and just as easy to listen to on your smartphone. Your favorite used bookstore probably has shelves of audiobooks on CD, or even cassette if you have the means to play them. So, as you make plans for a trip to Walleyworld, I’ll leave you with a few of our family favorites from the last year, most of which came from our public library:

We’re always looking for new books to listen to together, so if you have some favorites too, please share them in the comments.

  • Great stuff… with a family road trip to Chicago (Forge leadership training for me and vacation for the family) this was extremely helpful!!!

    Thanks John.

    By the way, think I can get my 7 year old to listen to The Explicit Gospel (free audiobook for June at on the way to Chi-town? 🙂

  • byjohnchandler

    You could try! But I don’t know that starting with that one is going to be an early win for you. 🙂

  • Families might also want to subscribe to the free Classic Tales Podcast with B. J. Harrison. Currently, he’s reading Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. He is an excellent reader and sells his audio books at about half the prices those books go for on Audible. You can find him via iTunes or here:

    I’ve been addicted for years. When his podcast arrives on Friday, it immediately goes to the top of my podcast play list.

    • byjohnchandler


      Thanks for the comment and for passing along this link. I wasn’t familiar with this site at all, so I’ll take a look.

  • Erin Szalapski

    Austin Library has lots of downloadable audiobooks available, too. I use them for more than roadtrips–housework is so much more palatable with a good book to listen to. Their software can be infuriating, but it is free.

  • Donna

    If you listen to all 7 Harry Potter books, it will take you a while. Unless like me, you sit in the car in the garage because you’re so enthralled you can’t turn them off.

  • mikegoldsworthy

    just came across this…
    did a family road trip to colorado this summer. our kids loved listening to audio book of Pipi Longstocking. We ended up listening to it several times.

  • Joyce Baker

    A little late to chime in, but I really liked The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart. Delightful characters.