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.
Last 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:
- Winnie the Pooh – This one may be for younger kids, but I enjoy the Pooh books more than anyone in our family.
- The Invention of Hugo Cabaret – The movie was a visual delight, but the imaginings that come with the audiobook can hold their own.
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – Anything by Kate DiCamillo is a favorite of my kids.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — We’ve been working through this one for months on short trips around town.
We’re always looking for new books to listen to together, so if you have some favorites too, please share them in the comments.