I recently wrote about our family’s road trip from Arizona to North Dakota. Traveling by car in a small cramped space for miles and miles upon end can test people’s nerves. Our road trip was no different.
We traveled more than 1,700 miles northbound, approximately 27 hours of driving (not including our stops and overnight stays), to reach my mother’s place. As a child, my family made a similar trip although now my road trip is 330 miles longer than the trip I took as a child. But still as a child I recall the drive being relatively quick. My parents and siblings would pile into the vehicle and leave town in the late afternoon. I would try to stay awake but road trips, as a child, can be boring. I do remember waking up in the middle of the night to my parents listening to music (specifically Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love sticks out), talking, or simply driving in silence. Sometimes my mom was a solo driver taking us north while my father stayed home to work. Either way, it seemed as though it was an overnight trip with our family arriving in the afternoon at my grandmother Marie’s place. According to Google Maps, my childhood trip would have taken around 18-19 hours.
Because I slept most of the way, those 19 hours as a child, although long and boring, seemed to fly by quickly. As an adult making the drive I couldn’t sleep my way through it, so I wanted to share five tips that helped me plan my trip, kept me cool and calm, and my teens content (most of the time).
Tip #1 – Determine what is a realistic and doable stretch of driving.
When I planned our road trip I immediately knew that I would not be able to pull off a long stretch of night driving. This meant I needed to include stops along our route where I could stay with my in-laws, and book a hotel. Since cost was an important factor for this trip (less miles covered during the day equated more hotel costs) I also had to exclude sightseeing in certain places.
Tip #2 – Determine which sights to see are a must and which can be skipped.
Like I mentioned it seemed the road trips in my childhood were relatively quick but I do recall there being stops and sights to see along the way. Surely not every time, but there were enough for me to have some great memories. Making sandwiches at a rest stop in the southern canyons of Utah and my parents letting us children play in the creek. Visiting the Hole N’ The Rock in southern Utah. Visiting my mother’s foster parents in Idaho, sleeping in their basement, and trying to sneak raspberries from their backyard garden. Seeing the Devil’s Tower. Visiting Mount Rushmore in the dead of the night and visiting the Crazy Horse Monument.
Keeping in mind Tip #1 this ruled out a route where we would have visited Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument. Instead some of the places and people I wanted to visit on our route were the Monument Valley or Four-Corners, my relatives in Utah and Idaho, and Yellowstone Park and Old Faithful. Because we left the Window Rock area much later that I had hoped, we drove straight to Salt Lake City and skipped Monument Valley and the Four Corners monument. Although we did see one of my cousins and her family in Utah, I didn’t alert my family in Idaho that we were driving by because I knew we wouldn’t have time to stop and make it through Yellowstone before it turned dark.
Tip #3 – Keep your “cool”.
I have traveled with my daughters at various time in their young life, during infancy to childhood, and know that small spaces and long stretches of sitting can be extremely boring. I don’t think teens or adults for that matter, are any different. A part of me keeping my “cool” was to also make sure my children were comfortable given the traveling circumstances. While I didn’t over indulge their junk food requests, I did make sure they had their own headphones, pillows and blankets (so one could cove up if the car got too cold for them), and that they brought along their own bag of “stuff” to keep themselves occupied (etc. gaming device, books, sketchbook and pencils). In addition, I had to become fine with my youngest daughter wearing the same “traveling clothes” the entirety of the trip. More importantly I knew that arguments between them were going to happen. They’re kids, this is unavoidable as they’re still learning how to communicate, and to regulate their emotions and thoughts.
My oldest daughter made this mini paint set specifically for the road trip so she wouldn’t get bored:
On the road I saw incidents of adults losing their cool with their kids, or even just losing their cool with strangers. There are times when I felt like losing my cool and sometimes did, but, I remembered that losing my cool would only make for an uncomfortable drive and I had a lot of miles to cover. While we may not purposely set out to have those type of road trip experiences, they do sometimes happen. I’m guilty of trying to take too many photos to get the perfectly framed photo only for my kids to get anxious and lose their cool. Apologize, make amends, and try to keep from losing your cool again. Keeping a level head is important on the road.
Someone may not feel up to it and that’s alright:
Also, while we can’t control other people’s behaviors, those behaviors can be learning experiences for children if appropriately discussed. My daughters definitely recognized inappropriate behavior and language by others while at rest stops, gift shops, and monuments. While rude and racist behavior by others is never cool, we were able to discuss how we as individuals can react to keep ourselves cool and calm (sad that we have to do this though!).
Tip #4 – Be flexible.
I knew driving through Yellowstone would be slow but I did not plan on how many times I would want to stop and soak in nature. The park is beautiful. But with every request to stop to see the hot springs, a waterfall, to watch the bison walk, in the back of my mind I kept thinking this would mean I would have to drive through the night an hour or two longer than I anticipated. I also was unaware of the construction happening in Yellowstone which further delayed our drive. Even still, we drove some parts of Yellowstone that I wish I had taken the time to see, such as the Painted Pots. After we made it through Yellowstone I was exhausted but since I did not plan a hotel stay in Montana I attempted to make the long night stretch only to cave and grab a hotel in a small town. This flexibility allowed us to take a slower drive into North Dakota and see some unexpected sites along the way.
Tip #5 – Have fun!
Sure our ultimate goal was to reach a specific destination but with this long of a drive there has to be some fun thrown into the mix. My daughters endured my repeating playlist (to be shared in a future post!) and in return I let them have control over the radio too. I listened to my oldest daughter come up with puns and my youngest talk about the many possible outcomes to a choice she made (think of the Butterfly effect). We discussed time travel, outer space, the female body, racism. I was privy to their sister chat and enjoyed watching them both laugh so hard they would cry, or when they would hug in apology for getting mad at each other after sitting in silence for miles. We listened to the Les Misérables soundtrack and sung our hearts out, over and over again. We took silly photos when we stopped places, even for gas. This was an important part of the road trip. I know my daughters will have their own memories of this trip different than my memories. I hope I’ve helped to make memorable moments that as adults they’ll recall this time when their mom decided she would drag them across the United States.
What other traveling tips can you share?