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11.25.2014

The 5 Must-Haves for Surviving Road Trips With Kids


It's the holiday season and gas prices are lower than they've been in a long time. That means that there will be many families driving over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house for holiday get-togethers.

I am a self-proclaimed Road Trip Expert, having started my journeys at a very young age, riding backwards across much of America in the back of a station wagon that looked a bit like the one pictured above. As a teenager I rode the Autobahns across much of Europe in the backseat of a VW diesel van that looked like a blue toaster. As an adult I expanded my road trip resume to include traveling with children, which is of course a trip in and of itself.

With all my accumulated road trip experience I have learned a few things:
  • You should definitely download more than 20 songs to your iPhone for your trip. (Having bought it on iTunes is not the same as downloading it to your phone.)
  • When you listen to a Louis L'amore audio book while driving through South Dakota, it makes the prairies seem a little less endless. 
  • Always have an empty cup in the car in case you get stuck in a traffic jam on the interstate outside of Chicago and someone needs to go.
  • Bring a paper map, even though they're so last century. There are some places where your trusty GPS will not work.

Speaking of bringing things, here is my list of the five most important things you should bring on any road trip:

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO BRING ON YOUR TRIP

1. A Sense of Adventure
Road trips don't get enough respect. Often dreaded and then endured, they are overlooked as an opportunity for adventure. In my opinion, the vacation should start at the beginning of the trip, not once you get to your destination. Road trips are a kind of adventure like no other: exciting and unusual experiences are all long the road you travel. Make sure you take advantage of them.
  • Allow enough time to take the scenic route and be sure to stop at scenic overlooks.
  • If you see a billboard advertising the area's "best" local delicacy take a 20 minute pit stop to indulge yourself. (Somewhere in Oklahoma we spontaneously enjoyed the best fried sweet potato pie that we'd never heard of before we saw the billboard.)
  • If you see signs for anything that interests you - a baseball field of dreams, a palace made of corn, a monument of a tall lumberjack with a blue ox - for goodness' sake, take a detour. See that thing! And take photos.

2. A Sense of Humor
A sense of humor is a great thing to have on hand because it can get you through some challenging road trip experiences. Any road trip, however well planned, is bound to have some challenges.

Like when you are driving through Ohio and it's time to change drivers. You get into the driver's seat to discover that the previous driver wasn't paying attention to the gas gauge. Fortunately there is a gas station on the other side of the highway, but when you drive up, you realize that it's closed! As you are leaving the station to find another one, you run out of gas. A couple men offer to push your car to the pump, which has a slick new feature called pay-at-the pump, LOL. (I am so dating myself.)

Or discovering that, while driving through France, the road you need to travel is under construction. You follow signs that you think might mean detour in French, but you aren't sure because you took German. Plus, European road signs look nothing like American road signs, completely different shapes and colors. Still, you follow what you think is the detour sign. Eventually you find yourself in the middle of a forest on a two lane road with no other cars in sight. You are somewhere in France, that much you know, LOL.

Then there's the time when your child gets sick out both ends during your road trip through Michigan. Or worse, the time you get sick on your drive through Nebraska. Laugh out loud, because otherwise you'll cry.

Choosing to laugh doesn't make the challenge go away - though neither does crying. I choose to laugh. It just makes the ordeal a little more enjoyable while you are in it, and a much better story when you tell it.

3. Flexibility
On road trips you will need to be flexible. Sometimes literally, like when you need to reach into the back seat of the car and get that one thing. But mostly you need flexibility when you have to adjust your expectations.

Being flexible is making some decisions that stretch you until it hurts. With practice it doesn't hurt so much. For example, you might really, really want to get somewhere at a certain time, but someone in the car seems to have a small bladder. Stretch that flexible muscle and take a pit stop like it's no big deal.

4. Patience
Road rage may be all the rage these days, but patience will get you to your destination in one peace (pun intended).

I'm a pretty patient person, but when I get in a car I'm capable of stupid traffic violations. I learned to drive on the German Autobahn - that's my excuse for my need to speed. It's also why I get absolutely irritated by people who hang out in the left lane while they're going slower than the speed limit. Or people who weave in and out of traffic. You pass on the left, people! Don't make me speed up to box you in when you try to pass me on the right. Just get behind me already! See? Just writing about it gets me all worked up.

As I've become older and wiser I've become a much more patient driver. Or perhaps it was the speeding fines and the higher insurance rates. It's not that I don't get annoyed anymore, but I realize it's just not worth it to get worked up. Unless I'm on a NASCAR speedway I don't need to be the fastest car on the road. Patience is a virtue.

5. Self Knowledge
Knowing what I can handle and what I can't has been the difference between an enjoyable trip and a frustrating trip. When traveling with children, same goes for knowing what my kids can and can't handle.

For instance, there was a time in my life when I didn't want my small children to be babysat by a screen. I spent a lot of time before our trips making activity packets for them. And it totally worked! They loved the activity packets. For about the first hour.

Before the next trip I packed little activity surprises for them to be given out each hour of the road trip. And that worked too. For some of the hours.

It was then that I realized that I was okay with screen time in the car. Screen time the whole time if need be.

Traveling with small children is all about survival. The goal here is to get to the destination in one piece. Road trips are a great opportunity to be less rigid on some of your parenting convictions for the sake of your sanity. Screen time, snacks, annoying Disney music. Whatever works.

I'm okay with that.

***

This post was inspired by a really cool new way to drive that I just learned about. It's a car sharing concept where, instead of renting a car from a company with a fleet of cars, you rent a car from RelayRides, a community of people who let you use their very own cars. How personable is that?! 

Emma, from RelayRides, found my little bloggy blog and thought I seemed like potentially a good match for their community. She contacted me and asked me to write a post with travel tips. I'm not getting compensated, I just did it for fun. And because I'm a self-proclaimed Road Trip Expert. 

They specifically wanted me to highlight their airport rental program, which is a great option for those who opted not to take the Road Trip, but need some wheels at their destination.

Check it outI checked it out and I want to rent Ross H.'s Corvette to drive around the lakes in Minneapolis:



But maybe when the weather gets a little warmer.

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