5 Family Road Trip Tips

5 Family Road Trip Tips
Ready for a Road Trip!

I used to tremble with fear when I heard certain words put together:

  • Kid-Friendly
  • Budget-Buy
  • Licensed-Character
  • Road-Trip

Those words were giant flashing lights to AVOID

Until I joined the motherhood sorority.

Now, you may have noticed that my motherhood sorority is not capitalized. It is not some fancy Tea-on-Tuesdays-at-the-Clubhouse Sorority. Nope, my motherhood sorority is the chipped-nails-baby-puke-on-your-shoulder sorority. If you have stretchmarks, black circles under your eyes and cracker crumbs smooshed in the bottom of your designer knock-off purse, you can join my sorority and learn to appreciate those compound words, too.

While I quickly embraced the once dreaded compound words, my husband was reluctant ... until the years passed and the walls of our house turned into prison bars. Lake Michigan no longer sufficed. The ocean beckoned.

Air-fare is expensive. Air-fare for a family of five would require either A.) selling an organ to foul-smelling strangers in some shady underground lair or B.) selling one of our children. Apparently my husband's gallantry has limits, and no matter how many ways that I cut up our family photo, the missing gap left by any of our children is unacceptable.

We never really had a choice. When the beach is our destination, our only option is to pack up the mini-van and drive. And you can, too!

Family Road Trip Tips:

1. Before you even pack your vehicle, make friends with your GPS or cellphone navigation app.

Bring her gifts. Compliment her. Sacrifice offerings and light candles on your dashboard.

If you have ever thrown your GPS, purchase another because some things are truly unforgivable. Trust me on this.

My Garmin was so spiteful that she once detoured my family off of the interstate onto a stop-light laden 55-miles an hour street, which twisted through every trailer park and post-apocalyptic region of Florida. After a gluttonous Disney extravaganza, I couldn't figure out if she was trying to teach me a lesson or prepare me for the future.

2. Find your vehicle's spare tire before you leave home.

We had owned our mini-van for four years and never thought to locate the spare tire. We were idiots. On our first road trip, the van hit an object, which looked like something Bowser from Nintendo's Mario Cart throws out of his vehicle, and it busted a tire. We pulled over to the side of the road in desolate, poverty-stricken no-man's land.

The temperature was at least 120 degrees. The kids were cranky. My husband was frustrated. The minivan was technically my vehicle, so he looked at me with murder in his eyes when I sheepishly whispered that I had no idea where the spare tire was.

As I watched the kids wrestle amidst the roadside litter while my husband ransacked the contents of our minivan, discarded our new coordinating luggage into the funk of Florida's armpit, and glared at me with curse words radiating from his eyes, I spotted a gigantic Missing Person sign above my head and realized we had stumbled onto the setting from Deliverance.

3. While mapping your journey and calculating your destination arrival time, add additional time.

If it should take you 12 hours to arrive at your destination, plan on it taking 12 hours plus an additional 6. You may plan to stop only for food and gas and to take care of both at each stop. However, within 30 to 60 minutes of your very efficient pit stop, someone will have to go to the bathroom . . . again.

And if one has to go the bathroom, you are going to have them all go to the bathroom. One of your passengers will adamantly refuse to use the bathroom. You will shine a flashlight in his eyes and interrogate him like a cop with a murder suspect. He will refuse. You will relent and take the others. And 30 - 60 minutes later, the adamant bathroom hold-out will ask to use the bathroom.

It happens. Don't set yourself up for disappointment when the 12 hour trip turns into an 18 hour trip. Calculate time and a half for your trip at the beginning. If you get to your destination earlier, splurge on a pay-per-view movie for the kids. Grab your spouse and celebrate with some fast, frenzied, creatively-awkward vacation sex.

4. Keep drinks, snacks, Pepto-Bismal tablets, and sand-pails within reach.

Your instinct is to ban all beverages and snacks from the vehicle during a road trip. You reason that it will reduce bathroom pit-stops.

However, kids will still find an excuse to stop every hour or two. They will scream, kick seats, throw things, even feign a seizure to get you to stop. Children are devious, creative creatures. So give in, stock up on gas-station garbage (Twinkies! Slushies! Pork Rinds!) and dispense with abandon.

Purchase children's chewable Pepto-Bismal tablets. They taste like old, powdery bubble-gum, but all members in your vehicle over the age of 2 can share and someone will need them during the trip.

Multipurpose empty Gatorade bottles into pee cups. (Sometimes you just can't find a bathroom or it is too dark and scary to even try.)

Sand pails aren't just for playing in the sand. They are also convenient puke buckets, and colorful plastic is truly non-stick, which makes for easy clean-up during your many pit stops.

If your children are past the dangerous chocking years, keep a supply of hard candy within reach. Lollipops, Jolly Ranchers, Peppermints, etc. keep little mouths quiet and busy.

5. Play a lot of slightly-inappropriate car games.

The best way to suck all of the fun out of a road trip is to adhere to the same rigid rules as home. Let things slide - a little.

Is potty humor normally not allowed in your presence? Channel your inner Beavis and Butt-head and surprise everyone with a fart joke!

When Travel Bingo becomes boring, consider playing Road Kill Bingo. Brainstorm a list of common road-kill animals to create new Bingo cards. Pick silly bonus prizes (a used gum wrapper) to award to anyone who spots unusual animals such as armadillos or alligators.

Take each letter of a license plate, turn it into the first letter of a word in a phrase or sentence. For instance, LGP 8987 could become Let's Go Play/Legos Get Punished/Leopards Golf Presently.

If you have older kids and want to make the game slightly-inappropriate and silly: Let's Go Park (make kissing sounds)/Lewis Goes Pee/Ladies Grab ... (Don't finish the P word, laugh instead and pretend to be appalled when your tweens finish it for you!)

Bonus Tip Number 6: A Good Sense of Humor Diffuses Any Situation

After all of the road trip pit-stops and near-disasters, we continue to pack up the minivan with its slightly foul odors and stains and drive. Why? Because we have truly learned to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

We choose to laugh when confronted with obstacles. We may not always appreciate the unplanned hiccups in our journey at the time, but we joke about them later. It's those little glitches, those things which we don't plan for, that make a trip truly memorable.

So pack up that family vehicle of fun, grab a fickle GPS, hit the road and enjoy summer before it is over!


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  • when i was betrothed me and the wife drove to orlando, there were a couple of things, first we decided to randomly spend the night at a hotel in tennesee her promise to sleep while i drove turned into "oh you are tired? well i did not sleep either so let;s get a hotel"...

    Anyway we found one, it was reminiscent of the Bates motel in Psycho, the wallpaper was peeling, and the beds felt itchy, we took a shower but it was hard water so we felt like we needed a shower to wash the shower off of us.

    then as we approached Florida down came the worst rain i ever saw. I could not see the end of the hood, which was stressing me out. I admit i snapped at her every attempt to drive, she lived for a time on the east coast an told me she was used to driving in such bad weather, eventually i relented and let her drive and she did a bang up job and we arrived safely.

    but man was that a rough trip ha ha

  • In reply to Patrick O’Hara:

    Your road trip sounds as bad as some of mine have been! So happy that you survived! Maybe I should have included "Don't spend a night in a hotel in Tennessee" on my list - cause clearly we could all learn from your experience!

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