Next month we’re off on a 3-week USA road trip. We’re trying not to plan out the actual “where are we going” part too carefully. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t planning the trip.
We’ve taken lots of family road trips. More 6-10 hour drives than I like to count. A four-month trip around Australia, an eight day drive around New Zealand’s south island and the recent road trip to Banff. And let’s not forget the ill-fated drive from Penang to Bangkok. Eight hours to cross the border – we forgot it was one of the biggest public holidays of the year. Both kids came down with fevers and vomiting on the third day. The car never smelt the same! And then finally the car broke down.
We’ve learned that (for us anyway) it’s more important to prepare for the trip than make a strict timetable about what we want to do. If you are planning a road trip in the future, here are some of our tips for making the most of your time.
How often have you gotten 30 minutes into a road trip only to realize the drink bottles and snacks are in the boot? 50km later you stop for a walk and it’s freezing cold. Where the jackets? Oh that’s right – packed at the bottom of all the suitcases. Which are now under all those last minute items you threw in.
Try to anticipate what you’ll need during the drive. Keep your jackets and hats within easy reach. If you are driving past the beach make sure you have towels and swimmers in an accessible spot (and a plastic bag to put the wet gear in later). Have snacks and drinks up front. If your kids have electronics, don’t forget the charging cables and a car charger.
Check your car, insurance and paperwork
How long since you checked your water, oil and tire pressure? When was your last service? I know servicing your car isn’t cheap but neither is emergency accommodation and towing.
Do you have all your paperwork for your vehicle, like proof of ownership and your insurance details? Do you know if your insurance covers you in another country?
Since we’re off to the USA we’re also purchasing travel insurance that covers medical. Travel insurance is something we always try to have. Plus, the thought of entering the USA without medical insurance gives me more chills than a horror movie marathon.
Overestimate travel times
Driving always takes longer with kids. Longer, more frequent breaks and a lot more toilet stops! It doesn’t matter that they just went when you stopped for lunch. Guaranteed twenty minutes later someone will need to ‘I can’t hold on’ pee. It will always happen in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to pull over, one minute after passing a reststop.
Twenty minutes after that someone else will need to go.
Overestimate the time that you think it will take to get to your destination. We add in an extra half hour for every two hours that we estimate the trip will take. That way we’re pleasantly surprised if we arrive early rather than frustrated at arriving late.
It’s not going to be perfect
Road trips with kids hardly ever go perfectly. You either need to accept that or accept being miserable/furious/stressed half the trip. Snacks will be spilled in the car. You will get lost. The ‘amazing attraction’ that you’ve been planning on taking the kids to won’t be half as interesting as the playground right outside it.
Let the little things go and focus on the good parts. Or bring lots of chocolate and a thermos filled with hot tea … whatever works!
We tried audiobooks several years ago but the kids weren’t that interested. Now that they’re older it’s a whole new world. Put on Harry Potter and silence follows. No fighting, no requests for iPads, no “Are we there yet?”. Even better – no asking Mum to turn around every 20 seconds to look at something or pass another snack.
Our oldest will happy sit for half a day listening to Harry Potter. Our youngest, who is 7 soon, starts getting fidgety after two hours. But still … two hours! It’s brilliant. Sign up for Audible for a huge selection of books, and save some money with Audible coupon codes.
Come up with games before you leave
You can only play eye-spy for so long before the kids get bored and parents start going insane. But how often have you left on a long-drive and tried to think up a game, only to draw a blank?
Research different games before you leave. Make sure they suit the roads you will be taking – there’s no point playing an animal spotting game if you are driving mostly through residential areas and cities. “Oh look another pigeon. There’s another pigeon. And another pigeon”
Don’t cram too much in
We (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) have a huge list of places we’d (I’d) love to see all over the western USA. I know we’re only going to scratch the surface of that list.
Three years ago we had four months to explore Australia. We made plans to make it all down the east coast, across to Adelaide and back up through the middle. One week in we realized our plans were too large. Setting up a new camp site every second day, long days of driving several times a week … to stick to the plan we’d have no time to enjoy the sights and make the most of those quiet camping moments like reading a book or playing in a creek all afternoon. In the end we travelled only 1/3 of our original path.
I know the same will happen this time, especially since we have less time. I’m trying to be more realistic about our travel plans.
Mum, I’m carsick.
If you child keeps telling you their carsick, just listen. The longer you wait to acknowledge the situation, the greater the projectile vomit when it comes.
Always travel with a few spare old towels, wet wipes and plastic bags. Just in case!
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