Well we're back home now and sifting through pictures and laughing about the best parts of our trip. It's always good to be home where even the worst parts of a trip, looking back, don't seem quite so bad anymore. We only travel a couple of times a year mostly to visit family, but when we do it is always a mixture of exciting and exhausting. On our way home thinking about blogging the trip, I came up with some Tips for Successful Road Trips to help you make your next road trip something special to remember instead of something you'd rather forget. When we do travel, we almost always drive which to some can be too daunting to be worth the effort and I can totally understand why! But I've had to admit that we love it and have figured out through trial and error how to do it pretty well. Besides having really good kids--and we do--there are a few important things to consider that I'm convinced can make the difference between an amazing road trip and a family nightmare. So here they are...
Tips for Successful Road Trips:
1. Make up your mind to enjoy the trip. As strange as it may sound, the drive to our destination is almost always my favorite part of the trip. I love seeing new parts of the country or basking in the memory of old familiar ones. Believe it or not, being stuck in the car together for hours or even days with the people you love can be fun, but it takes some work ahead of time and a good attitude. Even if everyone else in your family is skeptical, your enthusiasm can be contagious.
2. Do your research, but leave room for adventure. My husband always maps out our trips and often books hotels in advance, but sometimes we just leave it to chance. Because of it we've discovered a few treasures, but we've also been scrambling in the wee hours of the night to find a place to sleep only to be stuck with the crappiest room you've ever seen. But that's where the adventure comes in! The hole in the wall diner with the best chicken fried steak you've ever tasted is way worth the lumpy pillows and shady characters you may find yourself stuck with. And even in the worst case scenario, it'll give you lots to talk (and laugh) about the next day. Trust me on this one.
3. Be prepared for the worst.The laws of nature being what they are, something is bound to go wrong. We were all super excited to realize the free XM Radio preview coincided with our car trip until 15 minutes on the road the radio (in our new car) started shorting out. It's just the way things go sometimes. Make up your mind ahead of time not to let bumps in the road ruin your trip.
4. Whenever possible, take the scenic route.Map out the scenic byways before hand and plan to take a little extra time getting to your destination so you can enjoy the beauty of God's amazing creation. I promise, you will not regret it. The back roads may take a little longer but are soooo worth it, especially if you are traveling through an area you've never seen before. Instead of burying your nose in a book the whole trip, notice the changing leaves, the first signs of spring or the cute little town squares. Stop and take pictures, peek into an old library or splurge on homemade fudge. These are the things that make a long drive so worth the time and are the things you will remember years later. So give yourself permission to slow down. You can always take the Interstate back home.
5. Pack a backpack for each kid.I let both my kids pack their own backpacks for the trip reminding them to bring a variety of toys, books, and art supplies. One thing that has always made getting in the car something they look forward to is a trip to the dollar store the day before we leave. I let each kid have $5 or so and help them chose items that will play well in the car. (This is the time to say no to bubbles and 500 piece puzzles unless you like the headache of messy spills and pulling over every 5 minutes to hunt for tiny little toys wedged between the car seats.) Also, once the dollar toys are chosen, they go straight into the backpacks not to be looked at again until we are all in the car and headed out of town. Try it and I promise you won't have any trouble getting those kids on the road the day of your trip! We also always make a trip to the library before heading out, just make sure to keep the library books confined to the car so they aren't accidentally left behind at your various stops along the way. And don't forget the book lights for driving at night!
6. Plan for your own entertainment. I always start a new knitting or crochet project for each road trip because I love knitting in the car and it gives me something to look forward to. (They even make light up knitting needles & crochet hooks perfect for working in the dark!) And because I need a creative outlet even when traveling, I also always pack a small journaling bag and make sure to collect ephemera for my journal all along the way. A new book and a few magazines are also tucked in my bag along with my camera, extra batteries or the battery charger, and the ipod with headphones. Imagine you will be spending the day lounging by the pool and bring along a special bag of goodies you'd like to have at your side. (This is also a great time to splurge on a new tote or purse to put them in!) The point is that you're not just going from point A to point B but relaxing and enjoying the downtime along the way.
7. Leave room for good conversation.Bring along a few books to read or books on tape to listen to together, update your podcasts, and consider splurging on XM Radio for a month which really comes in handy when driving through the mountains or anywhere else a radio signal is sparse. (My kids love Laugh USA, a "clean" comedy channel.) A new CD or two that everyone loves is also great to have on hand, but be sure to plan a few things other than music to stimulate conversation. If you have to be in the car together, you may as well enjoy each others company.
8. When you get hungry, avoid the temptation to just drive through and eat in the car and take an hour to enjoy some local fare. We've discovered that local brew pubs and downtown cafes are the best bets for a great meal and enough variety to suit everyone. Again, this is where slowing down and taking time to enjoy life will be the difference between a trip you always remember and one you want to forget. Getting out of the car for a little while gives you a chance to stretch your legs, look around and enjoy a good meal instead of suffering through one that sits in your stomach like a rock. Plus, breaking up the drive like this makes getting back in that car so much more enjoyable. Trust me on this one, too.
9. Include a pillow and/or blanket for each person (not including the driver!). Even if your kids are like mine and would have to be sedated or knocked in the head before they'll sleep in the car, a pillow is wonderful when 8 hours on the road makes the seat hard as a rock and a blanket comes in handy when half the car is sweating in the beating down morning sun and the other half is freezing in the shade and blowing A/C.
10. Don't forget the necessities.Dramamine, grocery bags for collecting trash, tissues, sunglasses, a cooler of drinks and snacks and whatever other little conveniences your family or your sanity can't live without should all be within easy reach. You will want to be careful not to over pack to keep the car with plenty of room for comfort, but cut back on extra clothes if you have to (you can always drop in a coin laundry along the way) to make sure you have the things you'll really need to make the trip a great one for everybody.
11. Tidy up between stops. Throwing out trash when we stop to gas up and having the kids put their things back into their backpacks before we stop for the night go a long way in helping me keep my sanity and making the small confines of the car a place everyone is willing face again in the morning.
12. Take heart! Even if you work hard to make the road trip a special one and still everything that can possibly go wrong does, remember that nothing is better at bringing people closer than suffering together!