The old-fashioned road trip is something of an American icon. Piling the car up with luggage, snacks and kids can really be a fun and memorable experience if you take the time to prepare properly. Having done road trips for a number of years with my kiddos, I have some tips to share that can make hitting the road with your family something to remember. There’s still some summer left folks – get out there!
Do you have willing friends or family that you can visit or will you rely on hotels/camping? Remember, if you become a home base as well, you can help others road trip when they are ready. Will your trip be camping and outdoorsy or exploring a big city? Maybe it will be a hybrid of these, or something else altogether. If you’ll be relying on hotels or camping, figure out how far you want to drive in a day and arrange lodging in advance. There’s nothing more frustrating after a long day of travel than to find no vacancies or exorbitant prices while trying to get on-the-spot accommodations. I recommend www.hotels.com, which offers great prices and bonus nights after a certain number of bookings. Many states have state parks for camping. You can read more about this, and the power of nature, in my post Happy Little Trees.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
If you have a teething baby in diapers and a toddler, then a journey from East to West Coast probably isn’t for you, unless you have time to break up the journey over a long period. You’re not likely to drive 8-10 hours straight with any children, especially littles. As my children have gotten older, I have learned that they can tolerate being in the car for longer distances and are better able to occupy themselves. Being potty trained is a great thing, but it can also require more frequent stops. At this point, we do a max of 8-9 hours drive per day, with most legs of our regular road trips clocking about 6-7 hours of driving a day. You can expect to add 1-2 hours to each of these for gas, bathroom and food stops.
Your road trip will only be as efficient as your preparations. We take snacks, drinks and activities for the kiddos so that they are fed, hydrated and occupied when they are awake. When my husband’s mom comes with us down south each year, she brings a little bag of games, coloring supplies and goodies for the children. Choose easy-to-distribute and eat snacks like crackers, pretzels, individual snack packs and handheld fruits like apples and bananas. We bring mini-water bottles and organic juice boxes so that we don’t have to pour anything in the car. When choosing activities, you may find that travel-sized magnetic game boards, crayons and coloring books are easier to handle for you and your children. If you are fortunate enough to have a portable DVD player or a player built into your vehicle, make use of it. We play movies and TV series for the kids in between snacks, naps and other activities. There are also the old-fashioned games of I-Spy and keeping track of state license plates along the way. We also recommend taking a hard copy atlas along in the event of interrupted GPS/cellular service. This is especially so in the American Southwest.
ENJOY THE JOURNEY
It can be tempting to plow through and get to from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. However, the weird, the beautiful and the delicious provide a delightful respite from hours in a car. In our years of adventures, we have found some gems on our family road trips. One is Dinosaurland, a kitchsy throwback kind of a place in White Post, VA. It features a retro-style herd of life-sized dinosaur models and a gift shop chock-full of the sort of junk kids love. Admission is reasonable ($6.00 adults/$5.00 children) and provides a welcome leg stretch on a journey. You can find other places like it in your travels across the country, just enough of a stop to get out, stretch and see something cool. We also like date milkshakes in Dateland, AZ, along a rather remote stretch of Interstate 8 in the Sonoran Desert. There, you can buy American-grown dates and enjoy the Best Milkshake Ever, a frozen slurry of vanilla ice cream and Medjool dates. We have enjoyed breathtaking natural wonders like the lesser-known Little Colorado River Gorge (close to its bigger sibling, The Grand Canyon) and Angel Oak on the outskirts of Charleston, SC. These brief diversions of 30-60 minutes make all the difference in making your trip more memorable and interesting.
DOCUMENT THE MEMORIES
Having something to look back at after a journey is a great way to relive the fun of a road trip. We like to take a LOT of pictures, both on our cell phones and our digital SLR camera. However, cell phones have really made it almost effortless to document the places and faces for each trip. Using photos on social media to update folks at home is fun also. You may want to get your kiddos (and yourself) a small journal to jot down things seen and felt on the journey. This is especially nice for children because it is a stealthy way to keep them writing during the summer without making it feel like drudgery. And for you? A nice way to capture what you are feeling as you experience time with your family.
So plan well, gas up the car, round up the family, and hit the road. See your country. Make memories. Enjoy the journey. It really is quintessential summertime fun.