What is your best road-trip tip?
I was reading the April 17, 2010 issue of Woman’s Day magazine and came across this question being asked of its editors and directors. The answers were interesting and varied, ranging from stopping to enjoy state parks along the way to wearing sunglasses and comfortable shoes. The tip that caught my attention, though, was offered by Colleen Coyne, Brand Director in Detroit. Her tip was to use Mad Libs, silly fill-in-the-blank stories, which are a huge hit with her kids. They are also a huge hit with my family. Mad Libs are a permanent fixture of the front passenger door pocket in our Pathfinder. We whip them out whenever we travel, or wait in traffic or in a parking lot while someone runs an errand.
This question of road-trip tips started me thinking about what tips I would offer any would-be travelers. While I would never consider myself an expert on road trip travel, I am definitely a veteran. My very first road trip took place in a big blue and rainbow-striped school bus when I was thirteen years old. For three weeks, about twenty kids and a handful of youth group advisors traveled from Pennsylvania to New Mexico and back again. The point of the trip was to do work at a Navajo Mission in New Mexico. But for me, the life-changing moments came from seeing and experiencing the richness and diversity of this beautiful country. Wanderlust awakened in my soul on that trip and I have never been the same.
I’ve taken many road trips since then and under many different circumstances. There was the high school trip led by biology teachers that was spent driving and hiking around Arizona. Then, for many years, my husband and I were youth advisors at our church and chaperoned missions trips to Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and California. These road trips were almost always straight-through drives in fifteen passenger vans. They tested everyone’s endurance and brotherly love, but in the end were incredible experiences that touched many lives. My husband and I drove and camped through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont in the rain and snow for nine days for our fifth anniversary. For our eleventh anniversary, we did the same thing in Washington State. By then, though, we had upgraded from tenting to luxury bed and breakfasts and traded the snow for sunshine. These particual trips were filled with long leisurely drives, great music and conversation, and breathtaking scenery.
Lately, most of my road trips have revolved around family vacations with the kids. These trips have required the most preparation by far on my part and have awarded me the most tips. My kids happen to be great travelers. Sometimes they do better than I do. (That Outer Banks drive sends me over the edge every single time.) In their young lives they have happily traveled up and down the East coast and then some. But they are still kids, none the less, and can get hungry, bored, cranky, sick, or any ugly combination of these conditions. The tips I’m listing below are those items I’ve found really work for car travel with my family. You might find some of these tips helpful as well. And if you have any to add, I’d love to hear about them. Happy traveling!
Stephany’s Road-Trip Tips
1. Mad Libs – as stated earlier, we love these. Because I have elementary school-aged boys and a thirteen year old daughter who is only too willing to jump on the garbage truck, our stories tend to deteriorate into potty humor. But it is great to laugh together and that is what road trips are about – good times. Mad Libs also have a very sneaky way of teaching grammar because words are chosen based on whether a noun, verb, adjective, etc. is needed. Fun and educational – what could be better?
2. Plastic grocery bags – not eco-friendly but a life saver to us. These bags have many, many uses. I usually store about 10 – 15 in the glove compartment depending on the length of the trip. We use them as “lapkins” (a family word for plastic bag that covers your lap while you eat in a vehicle), garbage bags, and barf bags. Yes, I did say barf bags. And this is because whenever we take a trip, one of my children must throw up. This happens often enough that when my parents travel with us, I’m pretty sure they bet a cup of coffee on which one of their precious grandchildren will be the barfer of the day.
3. Audio books – the upgrade of books on tape. I always stop at the library before our trips and borrow a few books that would interest the whole family. We’ve listened to such great stories as Peter and the Star Catchers, Inkheart, Harriet the Spy, Ribsy, Peter Pan in Scarlet, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The interesting thing about this tip is that the stories become forever tied to memories of the trip.
4. Medicine goodie bag – just in case. Tylenol is required for the primary driver, who is almost guaranteed a headache by the end of the day. (Also Jr. Tylenol for junior aches and pains.) Tums are required for upset bellies and fast food meals eaten really fast. Pepto tablets usually make the cut (see 2.) but nobody really likes to take them. Dramamine or an equivalent is a must for the three of us who suffer from motion sickness, two who refuse to stop doing those things that make them sick, like reading and playing video games.
5. Cooler with snacks and drinks – sustenance for the long journey. This particular tip takes care of hungry and cranky in my family. We have one particular small person who turns into a bear when he is hungry. My husband would say there are two people in our family who suffer from this condition, but I really have no idea what he is talking about. I pack a combination of healthy foods and junk. This is vacation, after all. Water is the beverage of choice because it’s good for you and if it spills – no big deal. And, by having food and drink with us, we’re able to stretch the time between stops which is always a bonus.
6. Backpacks – one for each of the kids. They are responsible for packing their own bag. This is the place for them to put books, magazines, DS’s, MP3 players, etc. I have yet to figure out how to keep all the stuff in their packs once we get going. An hour into the trip the back of the Pathfinder is littered with books and technology and someone has already “lost” a DS game.
7. DVD player – or a lap top computer and several appealing movies. Sometimes the parents just need quiet time – no audio books, no Mad Libs, no barfing. A movie is at least one and a half hours long and if the kids are wearing head phones that means glorious silence for 90 minutes. Except for the occasional giggles coming from the back seats – which makes me want to giggle, too. It really is a sweet set-up for everyone, because the time zips by for the kids while the parents enjoy some peace.
8. Febreeze fabric spray – because a traveling family stinks, period. When we do make pit stops for the bathroom or to stretch our legs, we always take a grocery bag and gather up the trash, try to organize the kids’ stuff, find the “lost” DS game and spray the seats with some Febreeze. When we get back on the road again, my domestic goddess soul feels satisfied that all is tidy and fresh once again. Until someone takes his shoes off and another has “lost” her headphones. I wish Febreeze would have been an option all those years ago on that mission trip to Florida. Twenty eight hours in a fifteen passenger van with several teenagers, mostly boys. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
(I always have wipes, anti-bacterial lotion and tissues in the truck so I didn’t specifically put these on the list. I never leave home without them.)