Having kids doesn't mean that adventurous journeys are over. On the contrary, the journey is just that much more important. Travel is as refreshing and wondrous for children as it is for adults, and although the words “road trip” and “young kids” in the same sentence may make your skin crawl, it can be an awesome experience.
Here are some things I have found to be helpful over my years of road tripping with 1, 2, and then 3 kids ranging in age from 4 months to 11 years, (and I’m talking SoCal to Maine, up to three weeks in the car; my oldest has visited 32 states!):
Planning and purchases
Camping stuff- A larger tent may cost you anywhere between 200-300 bucks, but it's worth it. It also may take a little while to assemble and disassemble each time, but in my experience, having that divider between the two little "rooms" in a tent makes a world of difference. Jam the kids on one side, get the other side to yourself-- heavenly. Also, although it is a bit of an expensive thing up front, a good tent will last you years where you would easily blow that much in one or two nights at a nice hotel -- the kind where you don't have to worry about getting pubic lice.
I have a 12 man tent that I bought from Target in 2010 and I still use it all the time 6 years later.
Walmart sells sleeping bags for kids for $10, and although the zippers aren't the best, they do what they say they will do in regards to temperature.
Check this out:
Bathing suits, regardless of where you are going or what time of year it is- You never know when water will come a calling. Even if it's December... maybe there will be hot springs, or maybe you will stay at a hotel with a heated pool. Don't be left wishing you had brought them.
Overhead storage- This is a new investment for us. We used to just shove everything into the trunk and then have to play Tetris with it every time we needed something. For our last trip, we sucked it up and bought a giant bag that you can strap to the roof of your car. It came from Walmart. It held all of our backpacks, sleeping bags, giant tent, blankets, and pillows. It was great. They have them for $20 if you go cheap, but I would suggest going for the $40 one because it is WATERPROOF.
To avoid having people steal all of our crap, we would take it off the roof when we camped and put in inside of our ginormous tent. People will steal from you every chance they get. Don't make it easy for them.
Licorice and Pringles- Buy foods that seem never ending and are fun to eat. It shuts the kids up and creates a calm, copasetic environment, (at least for a little while). You may be saying, "But Ashley, we are on a clean raw diet. My angels can't eat Pringles." Hey, it's a road trip. Live a little. If you really don't want them to eat junk food, then buy a bunch of healthy snacks-- like a lot of them; ones that they can eat handfuls and handfuls of for long periods of time.
Canned food and plastic cutlery-
We've mentioned this a few times and I cannot stress how helpful and money-saving it is to do this. Just buy a case of chicken noodle soup, a bunch of Chef Boyardees, anything you can find in a can, and a box of plastic forks. You don't have to pull off the road for lunch, you don't have to spend $20 or more every meal, all you have to do is grab a can and make it happen. I do this when I travel alone. I do this when I travel with my friend. I do this when I travel with my kids. Hell, I do this on a Tuesday afternoon when I wake up at 11 and can't fathom cooking anything. It's the best.
Books and writing utensils-
It's always a good idea to carry notebooks in your car and a plethora of pens, even if you're just driving somewhere close to home. Doing this encourages kids to draw and write and do things other than yell and fight or rub boogers on the windows. I happen to be one of those parents who does not have a TV in the car because I feel like TV is for home, and that it shouldn't cloud you when you are supposed to be out watching the world. (A prime example of this is when we were in Alaska, went on a Northern Lights tour where they drove us to the top of this mountain to sit out and observe nature, and everyone except for us sat inside of a heater tent, some of them watching movies on their IPads... bro. Did you really travel to Alaska, go on this tour, just so that you could watch a movie you could've watched in your living room?)
Don't overpack, there are Goodwills and Walmarts everywhere.
It can be an awesome experience to stop in a town along the way to pick up stuff that you are running short on or fun items you thought of while out and about. In stopping at Goodwills, we find sweatshirts and things from the towns we are visiting that only cost a few dollars and are more unique than the touristy ones you can buy for $40.
The key to popping the perfect squat
If you have a girl and she has to pee and you are in the middle of no where, here is the method I have adopted to pissing privately out in the open:
1. Go to the passenger side of the car because it should be the side that is away from traffic.
2. Open both car doors on that side of the car.
3. Have the kid sit on the ledge of the car in between the doors.
4. Go pee.
This is effective because there is no squatting involved, so there's less mess. Also, the doors create a barrier, so there's no need to run out for a quarter mile to look for a bush and also no need to worry that a gross passerby saw anything. Works every time.
Camping vs. Hotels/pros and cons
Camping: Less expensive/Can be harder to find
Hotels: More Comfortable when you have been camping for a while
Hotels: Less opportunity for bonding because of amenities.
Camping: No technology or distractions
Hotels: Good every few days for a decent shower
Camping stories to scare your kids into going to sleep real quick:
(THIS WILL BE ITS OWN ENTRY. COME BACK AND LOOK FOR IT IF THIS INTERESTS YOU).
Highway killer, aka sad basement boy
Dog food grandpa
Classic: hook hand
Books: Alvin Schwartz
Ghost stories to tell in the dark
What about all the fighting?
Ways to kill time and supress the minutia:
Learn a song (We bought a CD at Goodwill, picked a song we didn't know, "Eastbound and Down", and listened to it over and over again for about an hour and a half until we all knew it and then we sang it for the days following. It was grand).
The alphabet game (Say your name, say a thing you like based on the alphabet, taking turns throughout the car.. "My name is Jack and I like Apple Juice," "My name is Ashley and I like Bubble Gum." You can get more creative than this. These examples are just to get the point across).
Stop and buy some cheap crap- Like at Goodwill
Audio book- Listen to it. Damn.
Ideas for the technology-obsessed kid
Things that used to fly in prior decades don't much impress the cell phone generation anymore. In cases like this, I have found ways to incorporate technology into the experience. My oldest just got a cell phone for bus rides to middle school, but has gotten attached to it rather quickly. While in North Dakota at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, he started being a jack ass and pretending he was playing Pokémon Go by taking pictures of the bison, horses, and deer. We all kind of got into it and stayed giving them names, like the Ultra Rare Wild Ponymon, etc., and we called it National Park Go. Although it sounds dumb, it was actually funny and we continued to play NPG at other parks we visited.
Keeping a budget log
When you have a butt ton of kids, things are more expensive. That $10 tour of an old prison turns into $50 real quick, so it is easy to lose track of how much you've been spending. Keep a log book that you physically use to write in your expenses and keep it updated every time you spend money. There are times when your reception is likely to be shoddy and you may not have access to your bank account.
Well, that's pretty much all of the most important things I have for you in regards to planning a low-drama, low maintenance road trip for the memory books. Kids are annoying, but they're only kids once, so do something fun with them.
Ashley and Cecilia work hard, play hard, write stuff, read stuff... because they don't know what else to do with their lives.
I- We should buy something superficial
II- Buy odd clothing
I- An Unusual Social Event
I- We should go somewhere with dangerous animals
I- Somewhere with strange food
When we get ten total votes, the item with the highest number of votes will be our next expedition.
(One vote per reader, per category).