This summer our family took a three week road trip up and down the East Coast and camped at half the stops along the way. This vacation was hugely daunting to me and I’ll admit, I was terrified that it was going to be a disaster – but we had a great time and survived the experience with our sanity in tack.
Here are the things I did that I think helped make the vacation a success.
1. Do your research and stay organized! While planning the vacation, I bought a three ring binder and a bunch of plastic sleeves and sticky tabs to keep organized. Inside the binder I had our itinerary (which I reprinted at least a dozen times over the months leading up to the trip as things changed), all our reservations, directions for each day of driving (rather than trying to do the whole trip in one set of directions) and ideas for things to do in each state. I also had a list of camping recipes and activity ideas and plenty of room to add new papers on the go. Each day had a plan of attack, a place to drive to and an estimate for how many hours we’d be driving. As important as ALL of this was (crucial really), equally important is…
2. Don’t be too rigid. Let yourself change plans: We probably changed 40% of the trip as we went. Some days were just NOT panning out to be camping days and we got a hotel instead. Some days we decided to just keep driving. Some days the drive time estimate was way off or the restaurants I’d looked up were not what we wanted or the place we wanted to go was closed. Don’t hug that binder too tightly. The whole point is that it gives you both a starting point and a place to fall back to. It’s not The Only Thing That Will Work. Let yourself roll with the punches and embrace the journey or you will be a hot mess. This leads in nicely to…
3. Go with the flow but acknowledge your own needs. Especially if you are traveling with other people – friends, in laws, etc. all naturally move and live at a different speed than your family. That’s just how it is. We’re programmed differently with different needs. Try to be flexible so you can all get along and find road trip harmony but acknowledge your own breaking points and give yourself time to reboot and do things on your own speed when you need it – and if you are like me, you will need it. Don’t feel guilty about needing your own rhythm.
Okay so apart from the State of Mind Suggestions, here are some fun and practical tips that we utilized on our vacation.
The I’m Bored Box: In an effort to be Super Mom, and avoid back seat boredom, I spent months leading up to the trip collecting books and activities that would tie in nicely with the various legs of our journey or just be a fun distraction. I wrapped them up by date and wrote where we were going and what we’d see. Most days that we were on the road both kids had a package to open – sometimes it would be a combined package.
Cautionary tale: This was way too many packages for a 3 week road trip. Imagine your backseat slowly becoming cluttered with 40+ books and activities and toys along with the other things you accumulate on the trip. If it’s a short trip (like less than a week) then I think my method would have worked well. For longer trips, use this idea more sparingly so that you don’t have to spend 20 minutes waiting for your kids to find their seat belt at each stop.
A hack for mounting your tablet as a portable DVD player: Before we left, I’d spent a lot of time looking for a portable DVD player or some kind of carrier to put our tablet in so the kids could watch movies during the drive. We never found one we were 100% sold on.Then right before we left my husband came up with the idea to take a bungee cord and wrap it under the fold in the case that my tablet came with (the kind with a cover for the front) and then attach the tablet to the center console of our truck so that the tablet was facing into the backseat – right in the middle so both kids could easily see. We were able to charge the tablet up front so the battery lasted the length of the movie and the whole thing cost us nothing because we were reusing things we already owned.
There’s An App For That: Take advantage of technology where you can. In addition to your phone probably having a great GPS and camera to use on your trip, you can also find a lot of great apps to use along the way. Two that we took major advantage of were:
- The KOA app for Android which lets you search for KOA kampgrounds near you, gives detailed descriptions of said campgrounds and what is nearby, stores your Value Kard Rewards if you are a member, make reservations, mark favorites and get emergency alerts along the way.
- RoadNinja is awesome for planning what exit to take when you need gas, food or a hotel. You can search by highway and see what is at each exit and how far away it is. There are several apps with this premise but RoadNinja was the best executed free app available, in my opinion.
Avoid car sickness: Aside from keeping road sickness medicine on hand and having plenty of barf bag options, a new thing I learned the hard way is Keep the kiddos hydrated! If they aren’t getting enough to drink, apparently it can exacerbate motion sickness and keep them from feeling any relief. Bring some gatorade in case anyone accidentally goes too long without a drink. For us this seemed especially true when trying to wake up uber early for the day’s drive.
Family Photo Ops: You want everyone in the picture but you don’t want to use a tripod or your arms just aren’t that long. Look for another family ALSO trying to get a family picture and offer to swap photographer duties with them. It can be super sketchy trying to find someone to take your picture and not be paranoid that they will run off with your camera. Another mom or dad with kids is way less likely to commit theft like that in front of their own children. And you’ll be paying it forward.