When I grew up, only the most wealthy families could afford to take their whole family on a plane trip overseas, or even interstate.That meant for most normal households, any long-distance trips were normally made in the family car.
However, since these days it is possible for a family to travel return to Melbourne from Sydney for not much more than the price of the petrol and a few fast-food meals, many people choose to fly rather than drive.
But choosing to fly is not always for financial reasons. When issues of road safety, time and fatigue are considered, it just seems so much easier to put everyone onto a plane.
Despite many good reasons to follow suit, my wife Mandy and I decided we would buck the trend and drive our family of six all the way from Sydney to North Queensland for our last family holiday - a total journey of nearly five thousand kilometres.
Were we mad? Well, maybe just a little bit (or maybe just a lot). On reflection, we actually think it was better for us to drive the return trip to the Whitsunday Islands from Sydney rather than fly, even though it probably would have saved us six days' driving and cost almos the same amount of money.
Why did we enjoy the drive?
1. It gave us a sense of journey and accomplishment. As we counted down the kilometres, we felt like we were moving together as a team, heading towards our destination.When we finally arrived, there was a sense of accomplishment, as we felt we had earned our right to relax and enjoy the new surroundings, rather than simply teleporting from one location to another.
2. It helped us acclimatise. As we followed the line on the map towards the tropics, we felt the change in temperature, and began to enjoy the winter warmth that awaited us at our final destination. Yet, we also acclimatised from the stress of normal life, as hour by hour we drove further away from our busy lifestyle and moved closer towards the relaxation that our holiday promised.
3. It enabled us to visit family. By choosing to make the journey off the beaten track, we were able to visit some family and relatives along the way, enjoying their generous hospitality in their homes. We learnt from family members about their role in the mining industry, and even stayed with other relatives on a working cattle farm.
Often holidays can be a time for our families to become introverted, but when we connect with those in the wider clan, we enjoy the opportunity to help our kids know more about their place in the wider narrative of their extended family, and to share and learn from others.
How did we endure the drive?
Even though there were many positives to the trip, we had our fair share of minor (and major) meltdowns as we spent so long in our confined space.Yet, we uncovered a few helpful tips that enabled the trip to be more successful than it otherwise might have been.
- We made the kids change seats regularly, so they sat next to different siblings and shared the window seats.
- We had a good stash of food to keep rolling out for the hungry tummies.
- We played music that we could sing along to, often the songs we sing in church.
- We brought notepads and pens, and a few puzzles too.
- We were flexible enough to stop and take a break when it seemed that we needed fresh air and personal space.
Turning the TV off
The greatest discovery of our journey was that everyone was happier when we turned OFF our screens. We started the first day showing some DVDs to the kids, which created silence during the movie, but chaos when it finished.
So, we tried a full day without any 'screens' or technology, and were stunned by how much better things went for our family. The kids learnt to be patient with each other, and enjoy slowing down and just smelling the roses (and the other not-so-pleasant odours) of our family.
It might seem counterintuitive to remove the hi-tech entertainment of DVDs and smartphones and portable electronic games, but removing the stimulation that the kids are addicted to in their normal life led to them relaxing and relating better than they ever had before.
Turning off the electronics was like a communal dose of Ritalin for our hyperactive family, escaping temporarily from our hyperactive culture.
The joy of conversation
Above all, the greatest thing about our road trip was the opportunity for us to talk about important issues with our kids in a relaxed and unforced environment. It's quite amazing the kinds of things that come up in conversation when you're just following the white lines on the asphalt.
It might be a little revisionist for me to suggest that every minute in the car was spent living in perfect harmony, but there were many times we enjoyed long and meaningful chats about everything from theology to geography, and from science to history.
We talked and we listened and we grew closer together as our odometer clicked over and over.
In the end, the journey was as significant for us as the destination, and it was a joy to see our family grow closer together as we endured what might ordinarily be seen as some sort of torturous social experiment.
The sweet sensation of real social networking and interaction made this holiday a highlight for our family, and has strengthened our relationships and deepened the foundation for our life together.
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