Leadership development on a road trip

Tips for helping youth learn important skills on your next family vacation.

Summertime can be a great time for developing leadership skills. Many parents are good at finding ways to continue their child’s learning throughout the summer with camps or activities, but often the road trip is viewed as just the means to an end. This year, Michigan 4-H proposes to think of the drive as a way for your child to develop leadership skills. If your family is planning a road trip as part of your summer activities, consider how your children can learn some important life skills through that experience.

A big part of leadership is planning and organizing. Youth can gain skills and be more invested in the trip if they help with these tasks. Think about having your kids plan the route on a map, research lodging options or contact an attraction for more information. They could also organize healthy snacks for the car or all the information needed to leave for the pet sitter.

Another piece of leadership is making decisions. Involve your children in the decisions along the way, from finding a restaurant that suits everyone’s needs to choosing attractions to visit based on time and budget, all the way to figuring out how many miles to drive each day. When youth are able to make decisions and see the results, they can gain confidence when faced with other decisions in the future, and this will help them to actively participate in decision-making in their schools and communities.

Good leaders are often very skilled at communicating, but this does not happen without practice. Some youth may “talk a blue streak” with friends, but all of a sudden clam up when faced with talking to a stranger. Others may struggle with lack of confidence or might not seek out opportunities to improve communicating in their regular lives. In any case, being away from home is an excellent opportunity to practice skills in a relatively low-stress environment. Provide space for youth to communicate in a variety of settings: talking to people at dining establishments, asking tour guides or small business owners about their careers, arranging a meet-up time for family members or getting local information from a hotel desk clerk. Encourage them to speak clearly, ask questions and interact with respect. It may help to remind shy youth that people working at vacation destinations are used to visitors and are therefore welcoming of questions and conversations, as well as the fact they are unlikely to see them again; this is a very low-risk activity with the potential for a lot of skill development!

Using travel time on a road trip is a great way to develop the leadership skills of youth, but many of these ideas can be put into play in day-to-day life, too! Whether you choose just a couple of these ideas or several, any opportunity for youth to gain and improve life skills is good for their development as young people and as leaders. They can continue to hone their skills in 4-H clubs or other Michigan State University Extension programs! See the Michigan 4-H website for more resources on youth leadership and personal development. 

Did you find this article useful?