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.
So, you just got out of a relationship… now what? Rejoice! Life is waiting for you! Grieve if you must. Give yourself the time you need to process what you just went through. But, at some point you have to pause the John Hughes movie- put down the Ben and Jerry’s- and start living life again. I’m not saying that what you went through doesn’t matter, or that you “NEED to get over it”; I’m just saying the world is not ending, so you might as well be happy and find out what makes you happy throughout the process, because no one can do that for you. Celebrate! This is where you get to redefine yourself. What does thirty-year-old me like that twenty something year old me didn’t?
Whether it’s because you want to drive a range rover, or you just don’t know what to do with life, you’ve decided to go back to grad school. Looking online at the prerequisites for some schools, you quickly notice a common denominator: GRE, which, much like gout, no one warned you about when you were young. I know, I know. It sounds like a joke, almost like an insult, right? “So I just graduated from College, and you want me to take a STANDARDIZED test to prove that I am smart enough for you…. but I thought my accolades and Bachelor’s Degree did that…” Well, pal, you thought wrong. Just. Like. Me.
For those of you who are just waking up to the existence of this test, GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination, although much of it is at an advanced high school level. I’m not going to pepper this with flowers and unicorns and tell you it’s easy, but it’s no rocket science either. It just takes good preparation and discipline. With this information in mind, I would like to give you a few tips about the GRE.
Where do I take it? How much does it cost?
You can take this test pretty much anywhere in the world, and it costs approximately USD 250.00, which is just enough to build up more anxiety around the test itself. If you are a selective spender like me, and hate having to spend this much money more than once, just think of how much money you have spent on useless school stuff, like books you will never read again, scented pens, and field trips to conferences or workshops that lead to nothing. So what if you have to take it more than once? At least you are working towards a better you and possibly a better school. The sky's the limit, kemosabe.
What’s the test like?
The test consists of six thirty (30) minute sections each- 2 Analytical Writing, 2 Verbal Reasoning (vocab and reading), 2 Quantitative Reasoning (math, algebra, geometry, etc.). Note: On test date they will throw in an additional section (but you don’t know which one it is) that you will not be graded on. This section is a sample to help the writers of the test find out which questions work and which don’t. In other words, as if sitting down for 3 ½ hours wasn’t enough, these sadistic jerks will just make you sit and stress over an additional section.
Analytical Writing: For the sake of length I will keep this section to a minimum, but if you have any questions please let me know through the comment section. Basically, you have two sections: analyze an issue (where you agree or disagree with a statement), and analyze an argument (where you have to dissect the supporting statement- or the lack of- and posit how it could be stronger- Remember: you are not disagreeing with the argument, you are just analyzing it).
You are expected to write a standard five paragraph essay for each section. Give yourself 3-5 minutes to plan your points for each paragraph. For the "analyze an issue" essay, I recommend to make a + and - section on a piece of paper and see which one with agree/ disagree with most at the moment. Remember this is not a reflection of your morality, but your writing skills. I could talk about this section for hours and hours, so let me know if you have any questions.
For more information, visit ETS’ website https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/
Verbal Reasoning: 20 questions p/ section. This section is basically reading and vocabulary. You have three different types of questions:
1- Reading Comprehension (3 minutes to read the passage- 1 minute per question).
2- Text Completion questions: You will be given a short passage and you have to select from the option “the best fitting word/ answer”. This is very important. At times you will find that maybe more than one response applies; however, you have to pick the best. Let context be your guide.
3- Sentence Equivalence: You will have to find two synonyms from the list that mean could work in the passage. Sometimes you will find two sets of synonyms, but one two words fit the passage. Again, let context and vocabulary guide you.
In terms of vocabulary, you just have to study all these words. Granted you might only find two or three on the test, that is a significant amount when you factor in that you only have 20 questions per section. Even if you don’t have one of these words in the fill in the blank option, you will find these words in the reading section. All of these sections require that you familiarize yourself with the vocabulary that will appear on the test. I’m attaching a copy of the list of words I was given by the instructor at a GRE workshop. I like paper, so I made flashcards, but you do you, boo boo.
Quantitative Reasoning: Math, math, math… How I despise your finite ways… This is my least favorite part. I would rather wrap my naked body in soiled hospital linens than have to do math. You will be tested on Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Data analyses.
You can find basic information about this on ETS’ website
Note: All of these questions are doable, you just have to remember it’s a standardize test, so forget any kind of critical thinking skills you have acquired through your scholastic career and think like a test writer.
How can I dropkick this test through the goal poles of success?
Make a study plan. Based on the amount of days you have until test day. If you are using a book like Kaplan’s which I highly recommend for its resourcefulness (great online tools), and resemblance to the test itself, use the practice tests to help you map a study plan. Try to set goals for the vocabulary words, take a practice test every other day, and take a sample test (all sections) once a week. The things that gets to most people on test day is stamina. You have to sit in front of a screen for about four hours, thinking, reading, and writing. It’s exhausting, so bring Ibuprofen on test day and build up that stamina. Boop!
Admitting you need help is always the first step
The first time I took the test I got a 159 on verbal, just studying on my own with the Kaplan book. I started studying about three weeks before the test and about 3 times a week after work for three hours. Can you study on your own with online resources? Yes, however, most schools offer workshops through the academic resource center that are much less expensive than Kaplan or Oxford’s online private tutoring. For example, as alumni, I paid USD 175.00 for four weeks of instruction (four times a week, ninety (90) minutes a day). Through Kaplan, I would have paid about USD 1,200.00 + for the same. There are other online resources that work great. Here is one of my favorites from a PhD student who built a space where students could write about the whole applying to grad school process (GRE included). This is a great resource for all grad students. Also, it is a google doc, so feel free to leave some insight.
Aches inside and outside your body
Try to reduce distracting outside factors on test day by building studying in similar conditions. Take the test at your school’s computer lab, or library. At home you are nice and relaxed, but you won’t be on test day, which is nothing like sitting at home with a pack of Oreos and a tall glass of cold milk. At the test center you are treated like a cheater before you even start the test: they pat you down, check for electronics, take your fingerprint. It’s worse than the TSA line. Also, you cannot bring anything with you at all. At the center they have lockers where you can keep your personal belongings, so make sure you take water, eye drops, something for headaches, and anything else you think might help you if an emergency.
Once you sit down and start the writing part (the two writing sections come first, then it’s one verbal- one quantitative), you have to organize your thoughts in amid the sound of twenty other feverish typers. Click, click, click, space bar- space bar- pause… click, click, click…. Aggrhhh... The test center provides ear plugs, but it’s just not enough. If you have time to take the test, I would recommend researching your test center’s slowest time of the year and taking the test around that time. This will help reduce the distractions that come with other people (check gum, typing, head scratching).
I took the test, now what?
PTSD aside, you should treat yourself to an ice cream sandwich. You did it. Even if you didn’t do as well as you could have, you set a goal and followed through. You should be at least pleased, so stop being so hard on yourself. Think about it this way, what would Chuck Norris do? Would he be sad? No, he would try again and again until he got it right.
I’m not going to sit here and tell your scores don’t matter. They do. Actually most schools use your scores to quickly assess your eligibility among the thousands of applications they receive. You should still call the schools you are applying to, and ask them their minimum GRE requirement, that way you don’t find yourself spending the GRE, transcript, and application fees for nothing. Sometimes, with good letters of recommendation, volunteer work, good GPA, and accolades, they might even overlook your GRE scores. So if you are confident or want to apply because “why not”, take note of the school’s GRE code, and enter it at the end of the test to save yourself the USD 35.00 fee. You can submit to up to three schools at the end of the exam on test day (you won’t know your writing scores until a few weeks later, and that’s a risk you have to take).
Also, keep in mind that like the process of applying to grad school, this is all about trial and error. Even if you didn’t do so well, there is always next year, which only means more time to prepare and kick ass next year.
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).