For many, family off-road driving becomes an addiction. Once you begin hauling out the maps, organizing the camping gear and tinkering under the Jeep to make sure all is well, you are instantly under a barrage of fire with, “where are we going to go this weekend?” Children who grew up with off-road excursions are generally pretty wise about what to bring along for entertainment, and settle into a routine pretty easily. However, children don’t always adapt well to first time experiences. They get restless. They grow suspicious of your mental capacities if you’re not following the crowd. They wonder what they’re ever going to do without their entertainment center.
The Musical Discord
Nearly every movie that portrays a family wandering off into the wild blue yonder, shows them singing merrily along as they forsake the busy thorough-fares for the countryside. Actually, unless the family is already musically inclined, this doesn’t always work very well. It’s better to bring along some taped music for those times you’re so deeply in the woods, you no longer have good radio reception, or if you have teenagers, advise them to download their favorite music to their phones and bring along their heads sets and a re-charger. If you possess a Smartphone or tablet, download some educational but fun apps to occupy young ones on a trip. Remember if you have more than one little one, creating a usage schedule for the device is recommended and will cut down the fighting over it.
Younger children are sometimes willing to participate in nonsense songs; the type that repeats itself, but adds one more line after each verse. Songs such as “Hole at the Bottom of the Sea”, or “There was an Old Woman” work well, as remembering each line grows more and more complicated.
The Games They Play
Hand-held video games are one of the most popular carry-along items, but there are car games that can be played as well. Car bingo has cards with little sliding doors. As the children spot something along the way that corresponds to a picture in the card, they slide the door closed. Another game that can draw in the entire family is the “I’m going on a trip” alphabet game. The first person begins with “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking an apple” (Or anything that begins with the letter “A”) The next person then says, “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking an apple and a baboon” and on down through the alphabet. The more ridiculous it gets, the more hilarious it is for the children. It becomes challenging about midway through the alphabet and they must still remember everything in the list. The first person who forgets an item, ends the game and chances are will want to start it over again.
Children are more content with roadside trips if you give them frequent breaks; and not just to go to the restroom! Make use of scenic pull-overs, areas that contain creeks, ponds, meadows or lakes close to the off-road trails, even the drives to old, abandoned houses. Make sure the area isn’t posted where you choose to pull over, and let the kids exercise those energetic legs a little. You don’t usually have to worry about there being much traffic, but you do have to worry about pulling over on private property.
Bring along at least one camera and pair of binoculars, and let the kids share in the viewing and photographing. Scenic views get even better with a pair of binoculars, as well as being handy for spotting the indigenous wildlife. A couple of books illustrating the different types of flora and fauna for the area they’re going into, not only has great educational value but adds to the delight of children spotting something new.
Children generally love animals. When passing farms with fences close to the road slow down and let them view the horses, cattle or other penned in livestock, but this should not be a designated rest stop. Fences often have electric or barbed wire, and farmers don’t always take a benevolent view of children sticking their hands through the fences to try and pet the animals.
Plan Your Recreational Activities
If you are going to a lake or creek, a canoe is a great investment to carry along. Be sure to have a personal floatation device for every family member. Bring your fishing gear and invest in child-sized fishing poles for the younger members. If you teach them how to cast in the back yard, they will be more than eager to try their cast on the water.
Some areas are great for rock hounding, especially dried creek beds, canyons and beaches. Bring along an illustrated book on stones so the children know what they’ve found. If you’re in gold country and plan to be next to a river or creek, bring a gold pan. The children might not find anything, but they’ll have a lot of fun trying.
Teach them safe camping practices including setting hooks for their fishing pole and handling a small, snap blade knife. Their first chore could be in whittling sticks for the hot dog and marshmallow roast, along with collecting brush for the campfire.
Children are comforted by familiar items, so if you can, bring along a couple of bicycles, a lap top or tablet and a few downloaded movies. The bicycles will keep them busy when they can’t think of anything else to do, and the movies will come in handy at night when you wish to settle them down to sleep.
If they’ve never been on an off-road excursion before, break them in a little at a time. Start with short day trips to a nearby country side so they can begin adjusting to the activities of outdoor life. Once they’ve discovered the diversity nature has to often, they’ll be far more willing to try out the unique experience of a long-distance trip.
About the Author: Karla Fetrow is an experienced off-road driver tackling some of the toughest terrain in the U.S in Alaska on a daily basis. Having been raised in the remote areas of Alaska, it is common knowledge to the rural inhabitant that there are places you just can’t go without a Jeep, Jeep Wrangler or other sturdy off-road vehicle. Karla frequently writes on behalf of Extreme Terrain.
CC Trish Hartmann