Family road trips are hectic at best, but they also offer a unique opportunity to form cherished memories. The secret is minimizing stress and being flexible. Easier said than done, right? I should know. We just completed our longest family road trip yet – just over 2000 miles winding from Kansas to Washington. And our children are small: a three year-old who was in the final stages of potty-training, and a very active 16 month-old with a deafening shriek and a short fuse.
We also had other self-inflicted issues involving procrastination, over-packing, forgetting things we needed, etc. This was the most disorganized I’ve ever been, and I have no one to blame but myself. I kept putting things off, prioritizing other things first, and in the end I was stressed, exhausted, and on the verge of an emotional breakdown.
Moving is never easy to begin with, but it’s especially difficult when you don’t prepare properly. You couldn’t tell by the way I handled this move, but I’ve been moving my entire life. Growing up a military brat, we moved every 2-4 years. And then when I graduated from college, I joined the military and moved on my own a couple of times before I married. Then I married military and kept moving. This road trip was the first step in what we hope to be our final move.
Out of well over a dozen moves in my 31 years of life, this was by far the most stressful. Some of it was poor planning and preparation, some of it was that for the first time I had to worry about my own little family. Looking back on it now, I can remember some tips and tactics my family used when I was growing up and that I have used in the past to help things go more smoothly. I wanted to share them here so that hopefully others can learn from my mistakes and use these helpful hints!
So here they are:
- Create one or more playlists of your favorite music. Base it on the mood you wish to set. Do you need extra motivation to keep cleaning, packing, and moving at what feels like warp speed? Pick upbeat music that improves your mood and steels your resolve. Do you need to relax a little and relieve some tension? Choose music that is soothing and more instrumental. Music is a proven technique for improving your mental state, no matter what your end goal. Use music to help your family cope with each stage and keep moving.
- Use lists to organize your thoughts. What will you need to have readily accessible in the car while traveling? Make a list. What will you need to have for any overnight stays you may have along the way? Make a list. Are there things you want to be packed in certain ways, or things you don’t want packed, or even things you want to pass on to others? Make lists. It may sound a little crazy at first, but making a list is a proven technique to help organize your thoughts and get everyone on the same page. A list is then a tool that helps everyone to focus on accomplishing tasks and pack only what is needed.
- Choose a “ready room.” This is a room, closet, or space in which your family can gather everything they will need for the trip. Suitcases of clothes, backpacks for entertainment in the car, boxes of food and supplies, blankets and pillows, etc. Putting everything in one place will help you gauge how much space you’ll need in your car and whether or not you’re packing too much/too little. It will also help ensure everyone is packing what they require for the trip.
- Pack plenty of snacks and water. This will help you save money and time if you prepare. Most rest areas have picnic tables, and most towns have parks with eating areas as well. There are lots of options for eating healthy while you’re traveling if you’re willing to plan ahead and make space in your car. It also allows for a little extra play time for the kids to stretch their legs and release some energy. This will go a long way toward better quality sleep and happier moods.
- Stop at National Parks and/or State Parks. So many people dream of vacations in exotic, faraway locations. We often forget that we live in an incredibly diverse and breathtakingly beautiful country. We forget because we don’t take the time to experience it. If you have the time and can arrange your route appropriately, try to stop at some National/State Parks. Your family will cherish the memories and you’ll all be reminded of just how blessed we are here in the good old USA.
- Consider downloading a playlist of podcasts and/or audiobooks. These will give your family something to listen to, learn from, and discuss as you travel. They are great for when you’ve played the same road trip music soundtrack over and over and over…take a break and learn something at the same time! (**See my previous posts with recommendations for podcasts**)
- Make sure everyone takes their own pillow and blanket if possible. This will allow each family member to be comfortable and feel more at home in the car and at each stop. I’ve even gone so far as to purchase fabric to sew the kids special pillowcases just for traveling. This helps make it special for them while saving our nice daily use pillowcases!
- Turn clothes inside out after wearing them. This will help you keep track of what everyone has worn and whether or not you may need to do laundry along the way.
- Pack swimsuits and try to stay in hotels/motels with pools. This will help wear everyone out so they burn energy and sleep better each night. It may cost a little bit extra, but it is worth the quality sleep in the long run.
- Limit your mileage. It’s tempting for most people to drive as long as possible in one day. I get it. We did over 500 miles over 10 hours in one day in order to make up some time. BUT…IT. WAS. MISERABLE. The kids were both miserable, which in turn made mom and dad miserable, which made for a restless night and grouchy family. If possible, limit your miles/time each day so that you have time each evening for a relaxing dinner and activity (such as a long walk along the river, as pictured below from our walk in Spokane).
Some of these may seem overly simple. Some of them may not work for your family or the trip you have in mind. Do what you can and be flexible. In the end, long road trips are hard on everyone no matter what. The most you can do is try to be intentional about creating memories and making everyone as comfortable as possible. There will always be long days, unexpected detours, and “unforeseen circumstances,” such as the incredible snow we drove through in Wyoming and Montana. What will your kids remember about those days? That mom and dad were stressed and everyone was miserable? OR that even though it was a difficult day, they learned about their favorite animal via a podcast or read extra chapters of a fun book?
Be intentional. Be as prepared as possible. Be patient.
What are some of your tips and tricks? Do you have any favorite road trip memories? Please share in the comments below!
Hapless but hopeful,
PS – check out my Instagram feed for more details on our road trip experiences, including why I’m holding this little guy’s hand (see below)!