Written by Jamie Martin of Simple Homeschool and Steady Mom
My personal love of road trips stems from childhood–when Dad and I would hop into his rusty Toyota Celica, often without a destination in mind, and hit the open road most weekends. Though we never went far, I loved those hours spent in the car together.
But as a parent myself–with three children less than two years apart in age–my own growing family stayed away from road trips for quite some time, only venturing for a two day drive to see relatives in North Carolina now and then.
Our first experience planning, executing, and living through a lengthy family road trip came this past summer on our Little House road trip through the Midwest–nine days in the van together, eight nights sharing one hotel room.
You can call Steve and me brave–or crazy. (Inside I know we’re a bit of both!)
I was reminded of our summer adventure recently when I courageously (& by myself this time) woke the kids on a “regular” day with an unexpected message: Pack your bag and get in the van!
Our surprise destination–Almanzo Wilder’s homestead in New York State (We’d just finished reading Farmer Boy). AND a stop-off at Ben and Jerry’s Factory in Vermont.
Though this trip lasted only two days, they were two FULL days with two introverts plus two extroverts in our family truckster together.
Thankfully I have developed a few survival strategies for this type of excursion–I call them the ten commandments of a family road trip.
And with the holidays coming up, as more families hit the road than at any other time of year, I thought I’d share them with you today.
Almanzo’s homestead in Malone, New York is definitely worth a visit and tour for Little House fans!
1. Thou shalt remember that this road trip may be a vacation for your kids, but it isn’t one for you.
You are the activities director, plain and simple.
Be prepared to arrive at your destination (or back home again) in need of some serious downtime–this goes for the introverts among us especially.
2. If thy trip extends over any traditional school days, thine kids shall be prepared to answer “Why aren’t you in school today?” many, many times.
This may include responses to the toll booth operator, the drive-thru window clerk, and waiters or waitresses anywhere.
Don’t forget random strangers as well. Make your answer good–or pretend you don’t speak English if necessary.
3. Thou shalt not expect to get much (if any) sleep on the journey.
Don’t count on anyone sleeping in the car…or hotel either, come to think of it.
Therefore thou shalt have handy sources of caffeine and dark chocolate at the ready.
Make the effort to head to Ben and Jerry’s Waterbury factory if you’re anywhere close to Vermont! Go there to channel your inner Willy Wonka.
4. Thou shalt only choose hotels with large swimming pools.
Ignoring this one is a cardinal sin, one that comes with an inbuilt penance all its own. Let those kiddos get out and burn off that cooped up vehicle feeling, and try to choose one with a hot tub for the mamas and papas as well.
The same advice goes for mapping out playgrounds and staying with fun friends along the way (preferably ones with cool toys so parents can successfully get in a few sentences of conversation.)
5. Thou shalt remember that the lessons of a family road trip go far beyond academics.
Yep, there are always audio books in the car and historical sites along the way, but the real lessons are first and foremost Family 101:
learning to be patient, getting along, seeing each other at our most exhausted and choosing to love anyway.
6. Thou shalt toss out all thoughts about limiting technology.
Grab hold of thy iPads, phones, screens of whatever sort, and use them guilt-free.
Your sanity is just as important as the kids’ brain development. This is definitely a time to implement the 80/20 rule.
7. Thou shalt prepare thyself for sibling rivalry in all its glorious and most severe forms.
This includes who gets to push the elevator button, who chooses the current music in the car at any given time, and the urgent, non-urgent cries again and again of “Mommy! Tell him to stop.” from the backseat.
8. Thou shalt bring along divine earplugs, earbuds, meditation apps, Scripture, thine rescue remedy and anything else that helps to maintain inner peace.
If you’re a highly sensitive parent, take two and call me in the morning.
Or stay home. (Kidding! Or am I?!)
9. Thou shalt make peace with the thought of eating foods that would not normally appear on thine table.
This includes the occasional meal with ingredients thou cannot pronounce. Take a deep breath, pray over it, and be thankful.
The extra-energetic among us may take along a bag or cooler of healthy snacks and meals–the rest of us need to practice detachment and letting go. It’s only a few days.
10. Most importantly, thou shalt remember that in ten years thou wilt have forgotten the struggles, the exhaustion, and the inconveniences.
You’ll be left with a ton of photos of everyone smiling, having an adventure, growing closer one day at a time. You’ll laugh with your spouse about the vague, can’t-quite-remember crazy-making that happened on the trip.
And maybe, just maybe, you might even miss the energetic chaos–a teensy bit.
If you enjoyed this post, check out Jamie’s new book, Introverted Mom: Your Guide to More Calm, Less Guilt, and Quiet Joy.
“I wondered why I hadn’t loved that day more, why I hadn’t savored every bit of it…why I hadn’t known how good it was to live so normally, so everyday.
But you only know that, I suppose, after it’s not normal and every day any longer.” ~ Anna Quindlen
I LOVE road trips. When our oldest was a baby we drove from Massachusetts to Michigan to see family. We left at bedtime and drove straight through. We’ve also driven with both kids from Alabama to Michigan when we moved back. Needless to say, we’re glad to be closer to family now! Looking forward to more road trips when our kids are a bit older though!
Steph’s latest post: When Goals & Dreams & Plans Get in the Way
I wish you’d posted this in July – ha! We decided, rather suddenly, that we were going to do a family road trip vacation. It quickly turned into a much bigger trip as in…10 states and the District of Columbia in 7 days. (2,500 miles in case you were wondering)
We have a scratch off map of the US (uncommongoods.com for those interested) and it was amazing having the opportunity to see so many states but my lessons learned were many.
(1) My kids are just not interested in watching movies in the car or coloring. They did, however, love the LeapPad and the iPad. I had installed a lot of new apps and that was the best entertainer of the trip. It was particularly cool to hear our daughter exclaim “We just saw the Capitol of West Virginia so I know that one!” while playing Stack the States.
(2) Next time, we will be less ambitious. Of the 7 days, we drove 4 and each day was around 10 hours for driving, bathroom breaks and eating. We needed more down time. Let me be honest, *I* needed more down time.
(3) Know your family’s preferences and rhythms, learn them as you go along. I learned a TON during that trip and now know what works well for our kids (stop every 2.5 to 3 hours and have Dad lead us all in an exercise break) and what doesn’t (movies, colors). We’re early morning people but I’ve learned not TOO early. Leaving around 7 was about as early as our family could do without a lot of tension and frustration.
(4) Unfortunately, I learned about the “letdown” phenomena. I felt well throughout the trip, got home one evening and felt fine. Woke up the following day and had migraines for 5 days along with a major IBS flareup. I am hopeful that being less ambitious and having more down time will help avoid or at least minimize that for our next trip.
I still think road trips are worth it even though ours was a little traumatic. 🙂
Oh, this is great. We have taken a lot of road trips, so I’ll add my 2 cents on these.
1. In our family, we have adventures. I don’t really call them vacations; maybe trip is a better word. There is always something someone doesn’t get too excited about, but we do it for the adventure (Ben & Jerry’s for the kids, Almanzo’s house for mom, and we all learn at each stop). I have to say, though, that I do thoroughly enjoy these trips, even though they include work.
2. Most people who ask the homeschooling question while you’re on these “field trips” usually think it’s cool, as though we do these types of things all the time. As if.
3. I love sleeping in a hotel bed. The 3 kids in the extra bed, not so much. We spread a blanket, cover and pillow on the floor for kid 3. On a trip with multiple nights, we would rotate this child. They sleep on the wood floors at home when they want to “camp out”, so they can handle it. When they were smaller, I remade the bed sideways so it was extra wide and they did all sleep together. Ahhh, the memories.
4. We never use the hotel pool. I just haven’t found the time on road trips with all the other activity, and it does eliminate the need for 3 kids to get in the shower to wash chlorine out of hair. We don’t spend a lot of time in the hotel room, though. This is, for some reason, a perfect environment for kids to get rowdy, and we don’t allow that when we know people might be trying to sleep.
5. Family road trip = life lessons on respect, togetherness and sharing space. YES!
6. When we bought a van with a DVD player, we said it is only for use on road trips. I have actually had the kids request that we turn it off after a while though because they have so much they want to do in the car that the movies get old. Some favorites are reading, knitting, looking out the window, crochet, listening to music, etc. We don’t have personal electronics so that’s not an option for us. I’m not saying they don’t get bored. They do. We bring our Geocache stuff, too and this makes rest stops more fun. There is almost always a Geocache at a rest stop.
7. What is up with the elevator button?
8. For me, inner peace means I get to listen to some of MY favorite songs sometimes. Especially important if I am the driver.
9. I once brought a big basket with homemade applesauce, tin bowls that needed rinsing, metal spoons, etc, for snacks at rest stops. I did that once. I am NOT extra-energetic.
10. We wouldn’t trade our road tripping for the world, and my husband is an airline pilot. Yes, we love to fly, too, but they are different trips. If you’ve never done it, please don’t miss out on this opportunity with your kids. It’s there for the taking for anyone with a car, a map (never forget the map…you’ll miss where you’re going!), a plan, and very little money when a plan and budget are in place. Enjoy!
I’m going to edit the “very little money” part. I’d just clarify that you can pinch pennies on a trip like this with careful planning.
We’re moving a few states away next week so while this is no vacation, your ideas are helpful!! Thanks.
Kimberly’s latest post: Hello
We have all our family 10 or more hours away, so we have done lots of road trips with everything from 2 months old and up. I would recommend waiting on the 2 month old part. I would say at least 4 months would be easier.
We prefer travelling during the day both due to animals on the road in more rural areas and also it just feels nicer and the older kids can read. Also we can stop at parks and play for a bit. I highly recommend park stops! Also the other best thing ever was this past time we bought a 10 hour audio CD of a book. It was amazing and all of us really loved listening to it and it really passed the time and kept everyone happier.
I grew up on road trips across Canada to see family. We didn’t have electronics and survived on books and sleep! With an upcoming trip from KC to SA with my own family of seven, this was perfect timing!! I appreciate the tips and sanity savers!!
This is awesome, thank you! We travel a lot, but I’m learning how to manage all of these areas of life better as the highly sensitive introvert I know I am (and I just thought I was crazy!). So thanks for the advice, and for getting my psyched about a trip to the Wilder homestead someday. My 3 and 5 year old (and both parents) absolutely adore Farmer Boy.
Road trips. The fond memories as kids, all 4 of us kids in the back of the station wagon, my dad driving (and getting lost) and my mom knitting, refereeing us kids and getting us un- lost. We lived in MA and took trips to NY, ME, MI, OH, VA, MD and PA to visit family. Nowadays we go on road trips with all 3 kids in the back of the car with my husband driving and getting lost while I read, referee the kids and get us unlost. Funny how little things have changed. We live in NH and have taken trips to ME, NY, MA, RI, VA, GA, WV, KY, PA, VT,CT,DE, DC,MD, OH, MI, WI and Canada.