Monday, November 15, 2021

Family Road Trip: Lessons Learned

This post is long overdue; somehow I'd forgotten I never finished it. This summer we took a road trip 2,000 miles cross-country with 5 kids. Sounds like a sadistic form of torture, I know, but we still talk about what a good trip we had. It had its ups and downs but overall was a treasured family adventure. We learned some valuable lessons about what to do and what not to do. If you're thinking of planning an epic road trip, here are a few suggestions to consider.

1. Plan ahead and be flexible

If I had a nickel for every time our road trip plans changed...but that's just how it went. I made several iterations of hotel reservations as we changed our route or the days we were traveling based on our own constraints and family schedules. At first I was frustrated but eventually just embraced the change. It made the trip itself much more enjoyable too as I had the same attitude. Plan ahead very thoroughly and then whatever happens, happens. One of my favorite portions of our road trip was when we made a morning-of decision to drive through Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park instead of a faster, less-scenic route. The views were unbelievably breathtaking and we had the chance to see Old Faithful in action. We would've missed out on those memories if we hadn't been flexible.

2. Eat one real meal a day (not just fast food)

Day after day of hotel breakfasts combined with fast food meals doesn't feel good for your body. We made sure to stop each day and either get a to-go meal from a non-fast food restaurant (somewhat healthy food like a big salad or sandwich) or sit down and eat lunch or dinner. The to-go option wasn't much more expensive than fast food even for a family of our size, and we felt much better as a result.

3. Packing light is worth it.

Staying at a different hotel every night is exhausting, but you can make it easier by streamlining the process. Rather than have each person bring in his or her suitcase each night, I packed one bag per hotel night. Each bag had pajamas and one outfit for each person. We kept our toiletries in one bag and kept all swimsuits together in a large tote. This way, if the hotel had a pool, I only had to remember 3 bags (on top of the diaper bag that I always have): the overnight bag, toiletry bag, and swim bag. This made getting in and out of the hotel much easier. The backpacks and totes were small enough for the kids to help carry and I didn't have multiple bags to pack up in the room. I packed a total 4 overnight bags and we just washed clothes when we ran out. Even if you're not staying with family like we did, you can do laundry at the hotel to have enough clean clothes. I have NEVER regretted packing light but have many times regretted packing too much. 

4. Do what you must for sleep!

This one is absolutely crucial. No sleep = misery. We used to reserve one hotel room but have quickly discovered that the result was no one slept well. This trip, we were certain to have 2 separate rooms. One room was for the "good sleepers" and the other room for the "fitful sleepers." My husband and I took turns with the fitful sleepers so that at least one of us had a decent sleep and was rested well to drive the next day. Our kids were so much more pleasant and well-rested when separated from each other.

5. Clean out the car each night

I don't mean to have it perfectly clean, but each night when you get to the hotel, clear out all the garbage, leftover food, and other trash that collects during the day. This helped keep the mess to a manageable level, unlike the summer before when I filled an entire laundry basket with trash at the end of that road trip. I kept a collection of plastic grocery bags in the front console so I always had the means to collect trash as we drove.

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