Road tripping with pre-teens (because the little ones do grow up)

<<< guest post by Tara Marlow >>>

It’s amazing how fast our kids grow up, isn’t it?   One day you’re trying to spoon mashed peaches into their eager mouths, and the next they are announcing with every ounce of confidence they possess: they are becoming a vegetarian.

I love my daughter, but as a pre-teen, she was a freakin’ nightmare. I kid you not. But I didn’t want to miss out on her life either, just because she drove me crazy.

Granted, I was working a crazy corporate job when she was going through this delicious phase.

My job included 70 + hour weeks, weekly status updates that were pages long and reoccurring migraines just to make things interesting. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I simply wanted to escape reality for a while.

So I suggested a road trip to my daughter. (I did mention I was mentally exhausted didn’t I? My friends with pre-teens all thought I was crazy when I told them.)

But, I wasn’t crazy. I was desperate. I could feel my daughter slipping through my fingers.

I will say, with every fibre of my being: It was one of the best, most positive life-changing experiences of my life.

So how did I do it?   Well, I had some tricks up my sleeve.


We planned the trip together. Every part of it.

When I initially suggested a road trip, my daughter groaned. I could almost hear what was going on in her head: “In the car, all day, every day with my mother? Are you serious?!

Then I asked the question: “If you have 2 weeks and could go anywhere in the U.S., where would you go?”

She hesitated for about a second before she said “Mount Rushmore.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. Mount Rushmore was the last place I expected her to say. But, she’d just learned about it at school, and it peaked her interest, so that was fine with me. It was somewhere I’d never been and I was certainly up for an adventure.

So, I suggested we make a big loop – starting in Austin, Texas (where we lived at the time), drive through New Mexico, up through Colorado and Wyoming, then across to South Dakota before return down through Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

We got out the map and started planning our route. We checked out websites that offered cool places along the way. We found quirky restaurants that looked like fun places to eat. We decided on a few unique places to stay.

It took us weeks to plan it, but with every little piece, our excitement built. By the time the week came to depart, we couldn’t wait to pack up the car and head on up the road.


We created music playlists with the other person in mind.

I don’t know about you, but I can confidently say that my music interests are rather different from my daughter’s. But I didn’t want her spending the entire road trip with headphones stuck to her ears either.

So, we decided to each create a few playlists of our own, with the plan to switch off every 30-60 minutes in the car.

The key was we had to keep the other person in mind when we were creating the playlists. Fast forwarding through some songs was fine, but there had to be some compromise.

Once we did that, we created a few lists together. There are songs we both love and even to this day, will turn up the radio and sing our lungs out together. Not surprisingly, these were the most played playlists on our journey.


We created a Mantra: “Try Something New.”

This was the secret ingredient. This made the entire road trip an adventure. Having this mantra made us both step out of our comfort zones. We tried things we wouldn’t normally in our every day life. It almost became a competition. Having this mindset helped both of us to be open to any and all adventures that came our way.

  • We tried blue tortillas and New Mexican molé, which for an Aussie girl, was certainly different.
  • We hiked in the snow in the middle of July in Colorado, after spending the day before being trapped in a sand storm on the dunes of White Sands National Park.
  • We ate buffalo stew in South Dakota.
  • We stayed in a haunted hotel in Arkansas and an ex-President’s summer house in Custer, North Dakota.

We were all over this mantra.


We talked. As in, really talked.

Trying to have a conversation with a pre-teen can be challenging at the best of times. Being in a car for 3000 + miles over a two-week period, just begs for that challenge.

I rose to that challenge and brought along a questionnaire. This is no ordinary questionnaire. This is a questionnaire that revealed my pre-teen’ daughter’s dreams and fears, and gave her more insight into me as a person (not just as a mother). It opens conversations that last for hours. Yeah, it’s that powerful.

I seriously love this questionnaire. So much so that we now offer it to our readers on when they sign up for our website’s newsletter.


We gave each other space.

Spending 24 hours a day together for two weeks straight, and being joined at the hip, you tend to get sick of each other after a while. Or you can. We actually didn’t because we gave each other space each and every day.

While I wrote, she read. While I read, she swam. While I spent time checking in with home, she played video games. We spent time with our respective headphones on to listen to that music that the other despised.

Then, when we came together again, we were refreshed, revitalized by our own quiet time. It made our time together happy and enjoyable. Sure, there were moments when we bickered but it was usually when we were hungry. For the most part, this road trip was … awesome.

Taking a road trip with your pre-teen doesn’t have to be scary, nor do you have to be crazy to consider it. If anything, you’d be crazy NOT doing it. I believe that spending one on one time with your kids, especially as mother’s of girls, is a necessity. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. It doesn’t matter if you work crazy hours or if you’re a stay-at-home mom. This is time we won’t get back. This is the time to ensure our bond with our kids stays tight.

I’ll add here that my daughter is now 16. She is now the one that suggests a road trip. And she’s specific. She wants to go just with her dear old Mum. Yeah, how cool is THAT?

Have you every taken a road trip with your kids? 


Tara Marlow is the founder/writer/creative genius behind Faced with the question “Why Do You Want to Write For A Living?” the following quote flashed before her eyes as she surfed Pinterest: “Travel Far Enough…You’ll Find Yourself.” Given she was simply existing in her life at the time, she jumped head first. She quit her 20+ year corporate career to travel, write and photograph the world. She’s now on a completely new adventure in search of connections with herself, her family and the world. She is currently in Australia. You can find Tara on Travel Far Enough, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

10 thoughts on “Road tripping with pre-teens (because the little ones do grow up)”

  1. I love this! I just took a 2 week road trip with my 11 year old daughter and my happiest moment was at the end when she asked if we could do another one next summer. I hope to continue this tradition and hopefully she will keep wanting to go, even thought the “difficult” years.

    1. That’s awesome Tamara. I love it when our kids can see the benefits of travel…and even more when they want to share it with us! I anticipate that since you’ve done this road trip with your daughter now at 11, it won’t take much to convince her during those challenging years… my daughter is now 16 and while she rolled her eyes when I suggested it, it was all show. She continues to love our time together.

      In fact, we just got back yesterday from New Zealand and she told me this trip was now her new favourite road trip.

  2. Awesome article, Tara! I love that you planned the trip together, and that your daughter wanted to go to Mount Rushmore. We did a huge, 3-month trip with our boys when they were 12 and 14. There were many, many fun or inspiring moments together, but a few disastrous moments as well. They’re 14 and 16 now, and I would definitely use some of your tricks to convince them to take another road trip. Actually, maybe I’ll start today…

    1. I’m hoping on doing a long road trip like that with my daughter and I’d love it to be somewhere in Europe. It’s a massive goal but one I’m thinking a lot about, once she finishes high school next year.

      What kind of road trip is it without those disastrous moments? We’ve had those along the way…it’s what makes the stories even better, especially if you can laugh about them later.

      I’m glad you found the tricks helpful. Let me know how they go with your boys! I don’t have that perspective and would love to know how boys do with them.

  3. Yes, lots!
    I’m the owner of an 11 year old and a 9 year old. They’re awesome, we get on well, we have a great relationship.
    We travel full time and have done for 2.5 years, we also home educate, so we spend all of our time together.
    But that doesn’t mean they’re not seriously annoying sometimes! My biggest battle is in getting them to spend long stretches of time in a car, plane or train, the younger one is dead set against long journeys these days. Once we’re going he’s fine, he reads, but getting him into the vehicle and listening to the pre-trip winges is the worst!
    But as you say, childhood is slipping away, I can feel this time passing all too quickly. Good reason to spend as much time with them as you possibly can.

  4. You have both my sympathies and my deepest respect. =-) Full time travel is a massive commitment and I admire the parents doing it, especially with older kids, especially when you have to consider schooling into the equation. I was never able to do full time travel with my daughter because of custody arrangements but now I have her full-time, we make the most of the time we have. Since she’s in a traditional school, we treasure the school holidays like sacred gifts.

    I think once you realise how short life is, it gives you a whole different perspective on how to spend the time. I love that quote “Kids don’t remember their best day of television” and while your son may go kicking and screaming now, he’s sure to appreciate it later… and have a much broader mindset of the world because of it. Good on you!!

  5. Fransiskus

    I’ve seen estrangement would happen between me and my son (we both alone) although late I don’t want to loses again. When crazy job consuming my time, I found Tara post at Y-Travel which twisting my brain it is the way. We both get two weeks in December 2015 to January 2016.

    1. I’m so glad you found another of my posts out in the great world of blogging!! I really hope that you and your son take a road trip this month – just go for it! Crazy jobs will ALWAYS be around (I know, I used to have one of those that almost sent me to the hospital!) but if you can manage it, take the time. It’s sooo worth it.

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