Parents Perspective

How to Make Driving More Fun (Really)

When we’re teenagers, driving is a ticket to fun and freedom. As moms, not so much. Here’s how I recaptured that feeling—and how you can too.

Family Car Rides Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock
As a kid I couldn’t understand why my mom surrendered the driver’s seat to my dad whenever we went anywhere as a family. Why wouldn’t she put up a fight and claim the wheel for herself? They should have gone halvsies at least. I mean, driving seemed so fun.

I got my driver’s license the day after I turned 16. Many of my best high school memories are of being behind the wheel. My friends and I would drive and drive (and drive), sometimes to get somewhere, but often just to be together, singing along with the radio, and passing by the houses of the boys we liked. Driving meant freedom and made me feel like a grown-up.

How times have changed. Now, as an adult, I'm more than happy to cede the driver’s seat to my husband…just like my mom. In the passenger seat I can read or daydream and just generally avoid dealing with the traffic in New York City. Even when we drive seven hours to visit my in-laws, I'm more than happy to be the co-pilot.

Frankly, when I'm behind the wheel these days, there’s nothing particularly fun or freeing about it. That's because in my daily #momlife driving has simply become a necessary way to get from Point A to Point B, to Home Depot, or to my daughter's drum lessons or to pick her up from a sleepover. And I know I’m in the car much less than most other moms, since I live in New York City. (In fact, the average American millennial woman racks up more than 12,000 miles a year!)

Yet all it took for me to get back to loving the road was a single three-hour drive with my family a few weeks ago.

GMC invited my family and me to Montana to test out its new Terrain, a compact SUV. While my husband started the trip as our driver, I took over for a road trip through Yellowstone National Park. My daughter sat next to me in the front seat. (Don’t worry! She’s 11 years old and meets all the height and weight requirements for passenger-seat riding.)

We found the ‘80s station on the satellite radio and drove through the gorgeous landscape, stopping to see Old Faithful, drink hot chocolate, and watch bison on the side of the road. We drove and sang and pointed out beautiful views and sang some more.

About an hour into the drive I felt that familiar feeling of excitement, freedom, and camaraderie that comes from driving with people you love on an open road. (Driving a new, spacious, supremely comfortable vehicle was an extra perk.) It was just like those drives in high school, but now with my family, the people most dear to me in the world.

It made me wonder–how can I make driving more enjoyable in my day-to-day? Moms are already spending a lot of time in the car, so why not make the most of it? In search of inspiration, I asked a few moms on Facebook how they make driving more of a pleasure than a chore. Here are some of their ideas for fun family car games:

  • "Anytime we see a yellow car we call it out! 'Yellow!' The person with most yellows at the end of the ride wins." — Nancy Sifuentes 
  • "The alphabet game: trying to find each letter of the alphabet, in order, as we drive." — Emiy Edlynn 
  • "We play the animal game on road trips, especially if we are in rural areas. Various animals are worth different numbers of points. You count the points on your side of the car and the first person to get to 100 wins. If you see a deer you win automatically, and if you see a cemetery on the other side of the car, that side loses." — Jenny Stitt McCoy
  • "We have a family playlist and each person gets to pick the next song. We also play 20 questions, but my 5-year-old daughter only likes 15 questions because she doesn't have the time to wait through 20!" — Shelly McClure-Flynn
  • "Podcasts and audio books. You can get many free with a library app." — Jayme Breyfogle Blackburn

I love these ideas for cultivating family fun, but I’ve also started thinking about how there’s something special about driving solo. As moms we get so little alone time. Having the car and radio (or even a little silence) to ourselves can feel like a gift. Jenny Walsh, a mom of three in Oklahoma says, "When I'm driving on my own, I've started making my own mash-ups of two or more songs that fit together somehow. I put together 'Every Breath You Take' with 'Since U Been Gone', a very enjoyable combo to perfect!" 

Back home in NYC, I admit I still let my husband claim the driver’s seat when we’re out running errands together. But when it's my turn to drive I try to savor the moment and plan next summer's road trip in my head. I can see it now: the beautiful scenery, my family and I singing our hearts out, and me behind the wheel. 

How do you make car-time fun for you and your family?

Jenna Helwig is Senior Editor, Food at Parents magazine.