Does the thought of spending 18 hours, one-way, in a car (okay, SUV) with three children and three (or four) adults give you cold sweats? I would have said yes a few weeks ago. Turns out - I really enjoy a good roadtrip. Practically, I enjoy the minimal stress of traveling on my own schedule. Financially, I enjoy saving $5000 in airfare and car rentals. Philosophically, it's guaranteed family time. Okay - that last one could be code for time to jettison my family.
But the 18 hours, each way, was actually great. And for this, I must confess that I completely dosed my children with digital dope. Good dope - the type that comes on shiny, single sided disks. We carefully restrict the consumption of digital dope in the home - only 2 hours on each weekend day and no time during the week except for homework. No game systems permitted. But when confined to a seat for 18 hours over two days, we significantly increased the dosage and it made our roadtrip enjoyable for everyone.
The backstory is that our family loves to ski and we've fallen in love with skiing in Big Sky, Montana. There are direct flights from San Francisco to Bozeman and Big Sky is only 45 minutes south of the airport. But it's an expensive sport and an expensive proposition to fly there and rent a large SUV. Plus, in spite of the direct flights, every year has brought different problems with flights. This year, we decided we'd try driving to save the money and control our schedule. It's exactly 1000 miles from our home to the mountain lodge at Big Sky.
We prepped for the trip by researching gaming systems to pick the right one for our family. We borrowed 35 DVDs from a friend to have a variety for everyone. We figured out how to play books on tape through the Audi MMI system. And, at the last minute, we wound up with two portable DVD players, both with video input, instead of a permanent system. By the way, very few portable DVD players have video inputs and they have single audio inputs. Kudos to Cody for a super cool device and thank G-d for Radio Shack where there are adapters and cords for everything.
We were still responsible Digital Dope dealers on the trip. For the first 100 miles and for the first hour after every rest stop, all video machines were off and we listened, as a family, to Harry Potter. Finished Book two and started Book Three. This was good for everyone - including the driver. The route from San Francisco to Bozeman is not very exciting. After the first 100 miles, the machines were powered up. Our daughter had a dedicated machine where she controlled the movies. Tinkerbell, Barbie Princess and Peter Pan were the favorites. The boys had a DVD player with a PS2 connected. Madden NFL 2007, Roller Coaster Tycoon and ATV Racer were the favorites - beating Lego Batman and Sonic Skateboarder by a considerable stretch.
And bickering - that was easy to control. Arguments led to an immediate disruption of the digital dope flow - power off. Only has to happen once for the kids to understand they had best play nice, or they won't play at all. The quiet and stillness of their bodies while they watched and played was convenient for the car but truly frightening if I think about people who allow unmetered digital dope in their homes. These kids were enraptured with the games and movies, but they weren't moving. Good for the car, bad for almost everywhere else (in long stretches).
After dinner, for the last 4 hours of driving, the digital dope was turned off. Another 30 minutes of Harry Potter and everyone except the driver and navigator fell to sleep. They were told before dinner that all entertainment other than a story would be off and once again, there was no begging, whining or other shenanigans.
We spent 36 hours in a car with our children over the last 11 days. That's 13.6% of the last 11 days. We still like being with them. They liked traveling with us. Big Sky was glorious as always and the trip was not stressful. The home rules for digital dope aren't changing, but for a roadtrip, I swear by that stuff.