My son once mistook Lake Michigan for the ocean. So we sat down with a map and found the Great Lakes. And then we found the Atlantic.
Lake Michigan is big, but the ocean is immense. He wanted to see it for himself. So did his sister.
And so did I for that matter. After traveling the world in my teens and 20’s, I hadn’t left the Midwest for nearly a decade.
It was time for a little sand between our toes.
At four and eight years old, my children were ready for a road trip. Why not take a month off and head to the beach?
And so we did.
Two kids, one grown-up, four weeks, and 3000 miles. My husband would stay behind to run our business and I would take our homeschoolers on the road. Alone.
We were excited, but I was also nervous. Could I swing it – even on the hard days – without the support of my husband and the comforts of home?
There was only one way to know. In early October we headed south, anticipating sand and sea within a week.
While there is no formula for the perfect road trip, this is how we pulled it off.
Road tripping in a VW Beetle (even with a roof-top box) means packing light. Very light.
We went from the Midwest to the coast with just five outfits each. Yup. Five. (Including the clothes we wore as we drove away.)
This terrified me at first. Four weeks and three t-shirts? How exactly?
But having such few choices was liberating. For all of us. Even my four-year old who prefers to changes clothes every eighteen minutes.
We added mittens, a warm hat, and sweater for the mountains; and sandals, a swimsuit, and sunhat for the beach. Extra socks and underwear. And not much more.
We also brought soap for hand washing clothes. Everything fit into one small backpack per person.
How far should we drive each day? I used my children’s travel experience as a baseline.
I knew that my little one could gracefully handle a four-hour day in the car. So I planned our driving days to be short. This gave us time to explore – rather than hurry – our way across the country.
With four weeks before us we chose to enjoy the journey. I guess that’s a metaphor for how we try to live. Process over product. Journey over destination.
Sure, there were a couple of gnarly eight-hour days. But mostly we kept it short and kept it fun.
Each child packed a small bag of car activities and a lap tray. I also brought a box of surprises to ease the long days on the road.
When my comrades began to unravel I doled out magazines, books, and magnetic games from the front seat.
Our favorite car toys include sketchbooks and colored pencils, Wikki Sticks, and puzzle books. I also brought an MP3 player with audio stories, bird song identification, and music.
Every driving day we scheduled several stops. Picnics, museums, parks, and public libraries were favorites.
And every day we stopped to letterbox.
Letterboxing is a treasure hunt. It is one of our favorite family pastimes. Using clues and a compass you search for a hidden box in a public place. (Learn more about it here). Letterboxing got us out of the car and moving after hours of travel.
Snacks and meals
Homemade jerky, crackers and cheese, and fresh fruit was our daily road fare. We packed a cooler with perishables for the first week and brought enough non-perishables for the month. I also dehydrated meals for camping (chili, lentil soup, spaghetti sauce).
Because of our special dietary needs, I mapped out natural food stores along our route for restocking during vacation.
Where to stay
For the sake of our budget our trip was nearly hotel-free. Most nights we stayed with friends – and yes, strangers – along our route.
To find places to stay we used Couch Surfing International. This free service connects travelers with hosts around the world.
Couch Surfing isn’t for everyone. But our experience (with a like-minded homeschooling family) was wonderful.
Our month on the road transformed how we view America and one another.
We relied on each other. We gave ourselves up to the adventure. We enjoyed the journey as much as the destination.
And my children saw the ocean. Lake Michigan is now just a big lake. As it should be.
But a bit of their hearts stayed at the shore.
They’re both ready to take to the road again. We all are. I’m not sure where the next journey will take us, but the road is calling us back.
The next adventure is waiting.
And we already know what to pack.
Where has homeschooling taken your family? Have you traveled alone with your children? I’d love to hear your tips and experience.