TOP TEN RULES OF THE FAMILY ROAD TRIP:
Here are five words you don’t ever want to hear on Christmas Eve, (which also happened to be the night before your family is supposed to fly to New York for a festive holiday vacation visiting friends and family in the Big Apple): “Mommy, I just threw up.”
Yep, she said it alright. My poor 6 year-old was sick and spent Christmas Eve feverish and puking. Clearly, we weren’t getting on an airplane at 8am the next morning. So what is a family to do? Well, first and foremost, I just wanted my baby to be well. And fortunately, it turned out to be a 24 hour bug, as the fever broke overnight and the vomit ceased after a few wretched rounds. But now we had four non-refundable airline tickets to deal with and two very disappointed children who thought they’d be spending the week with their cousins in Manhattan.
Unfortunately, the fare we booked was a web special, which meant the only way to re-book the trip was through an equivalent web special. Otherwise, we were literally going to spend more on the change fee than on all four original tickets combined. And of course all the web specials were sold out. Hence, we could not take our trip a day or two later. Goodbye Rockefeller Center, see ya later Serendipity and, saddest of all, we’ll miss seeing you, dear family.
Not to be dramatic, certainly there are far worse problems to have, and obviously the most important thing was the health of my daughter, but gotta admit, we were pretty bummed. How can we change the situation? What can we do to make-up for the disappointment? We wanted to do something at least to salvage the time we would’ve spent on our trip, especially while my husband finally had the time off of work. He and I sat in the kitchen once the girls were in bed and racked our brains. Quite quickly it occurred to us that despite not being able to visit our family on the east coast, we all still had each other and with a week off school, there was plenty we could do. And out of the disappointment and desire to fix it, our first family road trip was born!
We decided to take the stinking lemons that the darn stomach flu and bad timing handed us and we turned it into memorable, delicious lemonade that we’ll always cherish and will hopefully continue making in 2013 and beyond. So, now that it’s a new year, perhaps you’ll make a resolution to set-out on a road trip together and have a family adventure of your own! I can’t predict how it well go or where you will end up, but I am happy to share with you what I learned via my newly created “Top Ten Rule of The Family Road Trip”:
RULE # 1 – SPONTANEITY:
This was truly part of the fun and what made it so special. The girls went to bed not knowing that twelve hours later we would be packed and on the road. Telling them that morning and watching them scramble to grab their favorite things to take with them was fabulous. There wasn’t enough time to debate this or that…it was literally, hey girls, we’re hittin’ the road so go pack what you want and meet us in the garage in an hour! It was very exciting for them and for us.
RULE #2 - THE DESTINATION DOESN’T MATTER/JUST GO WITH THE FLOW:
This is a two-part lesson. Now, if we lived on the west coast and could take a truly scenic drive from San Diego along the Pacific up to San Fran, then mapping out specific destinations would be a priority. But this is Missouri, and let’s face it, there’s only so much to see in the Midwest during the winter. Though I have to say, once we looked at a map and despite being land-locked in the middle of the country, there are plenty of places to escape to from St. Louis.
Of course we soon learned part of lesson number two very early on in the trip: the kids could care less about the actual destination, it’s the adventure of the ride that they like - the ride, plus lots of indoor swimming, jumping on hotel beds, ordering room service and eating pancake breakfasts at I-HOP along the way. Here’s where lesson two comes in. We decided our destination would be Nashville. None of us had been there, supposedly it was fun and there are great places to see and things for families to do. We packed up the car and headed out. All was well, were moving along, girls content in the back, me and hubs peacefully talking in the front when we basically came to a complete and rather jarring stop on the interstate. Unfortunately, inclement winter weather hindered our ride after only about 200 miles. Ice caused an eighteen wheeler to literally get stuck going up ramp off I-24 which caused a 2 hour gridlock back up.
And this, my friends, is when you need to GO WITH THE FLOW.I checked the map on my phone and saw that the next closest town was Paducah, Kentucky. Not exactly where we planned on stopping, but after sitting for over forty-five minutes in that awful bumper to bumper traffic, we thought: it’s better to let the kids out of the car and run around at a hotel or swim then to unnecessarily prolong our drive to Nashville just for the sake of sticking with the plan. Going with the flow made it more adventuresome for all of us. We found a hotel with an indoor pool and the kids happily swam before we all had dinner together and watched a movie in our room before retiring happily for the night.
RULE # 3 – ALWAYS CHOOSE A HOTEL/MOTEL WITH A POOL (INDOOR/OUTDOOR DEPENDING ON THE SEASON): This is a road trip phenomenon. Despite having access to our community indoor pool whenever they want, the novelty of swimming in an unknown, unexplored pool was part of the road trip mystique for the kids. They were giddy with excitement when they walked into the first hotel’s pool wearing their bikinis, robes and flip flops. It was quite a sight considering there was about a foot of snow just outside the window. They had a ball going back and forth between the pool and the Jacuzzi playing “teenager beach vacation friends.” Trust me, the pool is essential along the way.
RULE # 4 – INVEST IN A CAR DVD PLAYER : I know, I know, we all survived family road trips growing up without them. I remember driving to Colorado with my family when I was kid playing with my Barbie Colorforms and making my sister play endless rounds of travel Connect Four on the way. Yes, we did “survive.” But who wants to look at it that way? I also remember yelling and bickering and whining and plenty of antagonizing my sister out of sheer boredom. It’s 2013. Why not take advantage of the automotive technologies and conveniences available to us? I have no doubt that if movie-viewing in the car had been available back in 1982 my parents would have been all over it. They’re way more affordable than you think and once the trip is over you can unplug and easily remove so the kids don’t get used to it. Instead, they look forward to the special occasion of a long trip in the car because they know watching a movie along the way is a privilege.
RULE #5 – LET THEM PACK WHATEVER THE HECK THEY WANT:
Honestly, just make room for whatever it is. Life on the road will be so much easier if you indulge your kids with allowing them to schlep whatever silly items they really want to bring. It’s fun for them to have familiar comforts with them and be able take a slice of home with them during down time. My girls packed their dolls and doll clothes and spent lots of time changing their outfits, rearranging their shoes all over the hotel rooms and carrying them around to the various spots we visited. It made them happy and was no hassle for us at all.
RULE #6 – TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS :
Not to knock Nashville, but after a day we had seen enough. The weather wasn’t as warm as we’d hoped so walking around after awhile wasn’t fun. We planned on making that city our single destination for all three days, but our guts told us that would be a mistake and the kids would be bored and annoyed. Our instinct was to keep going. And why not? We’ve got wheels. We’ve got our stuff. And we’ve got one another. So, let’s just keep on going! What a great decision that turned out to be, as our next destination turned out to be a lot of fun and we never would’ve gone there had we not trusted our instincts to move on after a day in Nashville. We just got out the map and picked another city within a few hundred miles: Louisville it was!
RULE #7 – GET SECOND OPINIONS:
Be sure to tap into any personal resources at your disposal. We contacted family and friends along the way who we knew had frequented the various towns we were visiting. We reached to people who we knew had family or friends in the area and we sought several opinions regarding places to see and where to stay and dine. We also only trusted the opinions of friends who have small children like ourselves, as they would truly understand the emotional and physical limitations of the little people with whom we were travelling. Inquiring about “kid-friendly” places with people who don’t have kids doesn’t end well. Stick with those who are in the parenting trenches like yourself. They get it.
RULE # 8 – TAKE A LOT OF PICTURES: Yep, being annoying. Get all up in their faces with the camera, i-phone, instagram or videocam. You will never regret recording all the highlights from your adventure, especially the moments that might not seem significant at the time, but looking back were actually quite special. For instance, I randomly took a shot of my daughters with “Manny” the owner of Nashville’s most old-school pizza joint downtown. They thought I was crazy for taking it, but they lovingly obliged. Now it’s one of my favorite pictures because it is such a vivid representation of our spirit during the road trip. We just wandered the streets of downtown Nashville until we hit the cute little arcade and stumbled upon Manny’s. It turned out to be some of the very best pizza we’d ever had and boy did we come across some fascinating characters inside.
RULE #9 – KNOW WHEN TO HEAD HOME:
This is an important rule. After three days of spontaneous, mobile family fun, we sensed on morning four that our kids were growing a little wear of life on the road. We thought about hitting a fourth town, maybe Indianapolis or Memphis, but we always take our cues from our kids and they seemed a bit travel weary. So, we thought: let’s pack it up and head home while we’re all happy. This was a good decision, as they were remarkable happy and well behaved on this trip and I believe had we pushed them another day, the tides may have turned and we would’ve had a major mutiny on our hands.
RULE #10- KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR
This is the most important rule to remember of all. Laugh along the way. Laugh any chance you get. I imagine a road trip would be pretty miserable without a sense of humor. We had many moments of levity and absurdity along the way. I asked my eldest what her funniest memory was, and this is what she said, and I’m quoting verbatim here, “I liked when my sister belly-flopped into the pool the first night. That was hilarious!” One of my husband’s funniest memories was cracking-up at how many times the girls wanted to ride up to the 25th floor of the hotel in Nashville because it was one of those looking glass elevators and they kept pretending they were in a rocket ship. Despite how nauseous it made him, he rode it with them several times because they loved it so much. My youngest said her funniest memory is of “the giant, golden naked man statue outside the hotel in Louisville and all the red penguins on the roof.” Love what kids remember! I have to say the funniest part for me was seeing all of us on the television at the Kentucky Science Museum pretending we were news anchors. I was using my Ron Burgundy/Anchorman voice of course, which the kids didn’t have a clue about, and as usual, cracked myself up!
I hope you will keep these rules in mind and venture out onto the open road with your families in 2013. There is so much to see and do. But most importantly, it truly is uninterrupted quality time with the people whom you love the most. And what could be better than that?