This is a post from Heather Schwarzen of To Sow a Seed
A lot has happened since our family’s last cross-country road trip. And by “a lot,” I mean the small matter of nearly a decade and a half of life and five children. Which, of course, changes everything. Or does it?
Road trips are, by their very nature, spontaneous, adventurous things that sprawl in our imaginations alongside words like “ultimate” and “epic.” They bundle family togetherness and discovery into one package, sealing memories into legend and supplying us with a lifetime of inside jokes that brand us, forever, as part of a single tribe.
They are also messy, unwieldy, expensive, and a headache to put together. That supposed “spontaneity”? Turns out, someone has to map that. Those adventures? You have to look for them first, or you’ll have no idea that you just drove past the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers.
The last time we buckled in for a cross-country drive, we had three children under five years of age, a 1992 Volvo station wagon, and an itinerary I had meticulously pieced together after hours spent on mapquest. I had to call and set up every hotel reservation, and I had no idea where we’d be eating most of our meals; aside from packing what we could in a cooler to get us through the day, we were counting on God’s grace and easy off-ramps to provide. It worked, mostly. Aside from one night in a somewhat sketchy hotel where a mouse decided to visit us, and a batch of bad tuna sandwiches courtesy of a truck stop, we made it through our nine day adventure with a scrapbook of photos any family would be proud of, and some of our most hilarious memories to date. The five of us walked away from that adventure knowing we’d do it again. Someday.
Someday has come. This summer, my husband and I will load seven of our children into our 12-passenger van and set out for the east coast, leaving our suburban Seattle home and not returning for weeks. I have spent weeks deep in planning mode, and let me tell you: the tools for charting this Ultimate, Epic Roadtrip have come a long way since 2000!
Before You Buckle Up
Sure, you can still plan a route via mapquest. But let me introduce you to the amazing, the easy, the fun Roadtrippers. Using this site, you input destinations (and dates, should you choose) and watch as a route, mileage, and even approximate gas expenditure is calculated for you. Suddenly decide you’d rather visit Aunt Mille after your stay with Aunt Sue? No problem. Simply drag the destination on the left-hand bar up or down and drop it in its new assigned order. Everything reconfigures … and you didn’t even have to do any math!
Back in the day, the only way to find out what was available at each proposed stop was to hit individual websites searching for the right kind of fun for your individual family. That’s easier now, too. Using sites like Roadside America and google’s collection of roadside attractions allow for one-stop shopping in the way of what to do. There are also kid-themed sites that bring the options to you rather than making you dig: Pitstops for Kids and The Family Travel Network are great starting places. Of course, searching for National Parks, Museums, Zoos, and other family favorites is as easy as using your search engine of choice.
Speaking of planning, now’s the time to get your inner Duggar on and learn from the best of the best on how to pack a large brood. Assembling entire outfits (down to underwear, socks, and even hair bows!) and separating them in gallon-sized zipper bags will streamline your roadtrip mornings. Color code when possible, and group different genders into shared bags (one boy and one girl) to avoid confusion over whose pink socks belong to whom. Do the legwork now to ensure a little less chaos on the road!
When it comes to sleepovers, what’s your family’s style? The car/van by day is a given, but what about night time accommodations? Will you be bunking with friends or family along the way? If so, your biggest decisions will be what kind of hostessing gift to bring along. For those without connections in different ports of call, large family overnights can pose something of a challenge. Most states have regulations on the number of individuals hotels can allow in each room. Multiple rooms can be expensive and, if you’re a family of many younger siblings, a challenge for Mom and Dad to manage. Connecting rooms and splitting up for the night can solve the large family dilemma. Other options include camping in either private, state, or national parks, renting houses, yurts or cabins, hostels, or home exchanges. Your best bet is probably going to be a combination of the above. We found that our three-day stay in one area would actually be cheaper in a 3,000 square foot vacation home on a lake than in 2 hotel rooms! Get creative and find out what’s available in the towns you’ll be stopping overnight in, look for bargains, and have fun!
The biggest trial, though, is getting there, right? You’ve got hours in a vehicle. Don’t stop your planning when the route is set in stone. Thinking though the details of food, activities, and all the gory details are going to keep you sane in the long run, and make this a trip your entire family will never forget.
There are several schools of thought on food and road trips, especially when a large family is involved. Your total food budget may just outpace your gas allowance– even in that 15 passenger van. Some families stick to packing homemade meals: shopping at stops and restocking, toting coolers, plugging crockpots in to auxiliary outlets on the road, or hitting parks to set up a grilled meal that feeds the crew for dollars a day. This is by far the most frugal method, and far and away the healthiest. At the other extreme is eating every meal out. This makes your planning easier, cuts down on packing worries (no need to find space for blocky coolers), and offers a lot more variety. On the downside is the higher cost and tendency for your diet to consist of nothing but fast food for the duration of your trip. Somewhere in the middle is the balance approach: selective meals out– maybe making your own lunches and dinners, but grabbing an on-the-go lunch each afternoon.
You’ve got food under control, but now what? How to fill the hours on the road? The blogosphere is home to great ideas for keeping little hands and minds busy while confined in car seats. Pinterest is also a great resource; some DIY projects need time to complete, so look ahead of time to ensure that you’re not stressing yourself out trying to plan the perfect collection of magnet dolls at the last minute. Many families– even those that typically eschew electronics– find that this is the time to buy a new app or two. Family-friendly freebies like MadLibs and even The License Plate Game make roadtripping fly by. At the bare minimum, buy each kiddo an old school disposable camera and let them document their journey. Remember … this is about making memories– for all of you! Have fun, embrace the crazy, and dive in!
What are your family’s summer plans? Any road trips on the horizon?