FallDrivingMost of the trips that my family takes are short ones, only a few hours from home – taken over a weekend or overnight. And one route that we travel fairly often is to visit family friends who live a couple of hours away, down near the Michigan/Indiana border.

My girls and I have driven this route 3 to 4 times a year for at least 10 years now – since before the girls were even born (my husband usually stays home since he works on weekends). Because the purpose of the trip is to visit, we try to eek out as much time there as possible – which means leaving as early as we can on Fridays after school lets out and coming back home into the evening on Sundays.

I generally try to make these drives as quickly as possible, so I bring a lot of things for the girls to do in the car – books, music players, handheld electronic devices of various sorts and more. What I always try to avoid are stops along the way, because they slow us down and get us to our friends’ house later than planned. I make sure the girls use the restroom before we leave, limit the drinks we bring along and fill up the gas tank beforehand – all of which generally work, because we don’t usually need to stop for anything. But, then last week, on our annual October visit, I realized something very important that I – and the girls – were missing out on.

On our way home, I realized that I hadn’t filled up the van’s tank while we were down there and would have to make at least one stop, for gas. And even though we had eaten dinner right before we left, the girls were all complaining of thirst too. So we stopped, just after dusk – at a truck stop-slash-gas station-slash-fast food joint. As the girls climbed out of the van, my oldest immediately exclaimed about how bright the stars were (yes, even with truck stop lights, surprisingly!), and all three of them were so excited to walk through the convenience store to the restroom (since we were stopped anyway) and back outside. We stocked up on cups of ice water to last the rest of the way, and the whole thing felt like an adventure.

Yes, an adventure – at a gas station and fast food restaurant. If we had that much fun just stopping along our normal route to stretch our legs at the kind of place that we see or visit on a regular basis, I can’t even imagine what kinds of other adventures we might be missing out on that we don’t normally see – because we’re in such a hurry to get to our final destination! On this trip, we drive through some beautiful countryside – on the way down, I’d even been pointing out the beautiful fall colors. We pass through Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Marshall – three cities or towns with a lot to attract tourists and other visitors, from historic architecture to nature trails, museums and more. But the girls and I have never stopped to learn more about all of those interesting things to do there.

That’s something which will be easy enough to remedy – and I think it’ll be well worth shortening our visit with our friends by an hour or two every trip so that the girls and I can explore what there is to offer along the way there. We don’t have the budget for big family vacations – but I’m coming to realize that we don’t need to travel miles or hours away from home over days or weeks to have fun family experiences. There’s so much to offer right here in our very own backyard!