Spring break and road trips are like Easter and Cadbury Eggs. Mmmmm, Cadbury Eggs. Road trips with Cadbury Eggs are delicious. Road trips with Cadbury Eggs, chocolate covered cinnamon bears, white cheddar popcorn, red licorice and a Coke are more than delicious. But I digress.
Road trips are siren calls for adventure. Who knows what can happen on the open road without the TSA, crosschecks and expensive airport food?
Thelma and Louise knew how to do it right: a couple of friends, the open road — and Brad Pitt. Sure, there was the whole murdering thing, the running from the law thing and, of course, the whole driving off a cliff thing. Excepting none of these things, those ladies had one epic road trip.
I’ve had a few epic road trips of my own. While none were felonious, some did involve roach-infested hotel rooms, a urine-soaked minivan and screaming kids. Others were inundated with stunning scenery, the thrill of testing the gas tank on a windy, mountain road, and joyful episodes of run-on storytelling.
Through the highs and lows, I’ve learned a thing or two about road tripping and a few more things about road tripping with children.
Rule #1: Never bring a potty chair. No matter how tempting it is to provide your child(ren) with a dignified alternative to squatting over a bush in the middle of nowhere, resist the urge. The potty chair will undoubtedly 1) be used as a toy (which will gross you out) or 2) be used properly but somehow it will spill and urine will get everywhere (see urine-soaked mini van reference above). Instead, go ahead and let them water that sagebrush. Even make a “pee on a plant” bingo sheet before you depart and see how much roadside fauna they hit.
Rule #2: There is no “best” time to drive with kids. Someone will swear that driving in the middle of the night is THE BEST. Someone else will promise you smooth sailing if you wake up at 6 AM and travel while everyone is fresh. One person’s golden hour is another person’s hell. Do what works for the driver. The first time I tried driving through the night, my then four-year old announced in regular fifteen-minute intervals that he WOULD. NOT. GO. TO. SLEEP. Period. And he didn’t. It was awful. It was on that trip that we desperately pulled into the only Vegas area hotel with a vacancy at 2 AM, only to discover when we awoke that the room was already occupied — by roaches.
Which leads me to Rule #3: If you are road tripping at a popular time of year, like Spring Break, scout out a hotel on your path just in case. Don’t wait for the panic to set in as you’re cleaning up a spilled potty-chair mess on the shoulder of a deserted Nevada off-ramp. Make a reservation a head of time if you think there’s even a chance you’ll need a break, or that your kids will need one. And make sure it’s a place with a pool. Hotel swimming pools are spectacular energy suckers; they are the ying to the yang of prolonged car confinement. That, and jumping on the hotel bed.
Rule #4: Pack healthy snacks in a small cooler. You must, of course, gorge on junk food along the way. A road trip wouldn’t be a road trip without [insert your favorite finger-dirtying snack]. But a road tripper cannot live by junk food alone. After a while, your body needs something fresh to keep it fresh. Chilled coconut water, fresh grapes and celery sticks can be culinary oases in the dessert of convenience store snacking. Plan accordingly.
Rule #5: Travel with water. Ideally, carry a jug in the car with enough water to hydrate each passenger on the trip — and a little extra for the unexpected. You never know when you might need some for a busted radiator or to flush out someone’s eyes when a brother “accidentally” throws sand right in his face.
Rule #6: Do something unexpected. Pull off the side of the road when you see an interesting rock formation and let the family explore it. You might be caught in a tumbleweed storm on the way, discover a hole in the rock that you can walk in, or find a four-inch gopher snake. Eat at a local joint, even if it doesn’t have 50 positive reviews yet on Yelp. You might discover the best kept secret in town or you might hate it — but at least you tried something new and you’ll likely live to tell about it.
Finally, Rule#7: Enjoy the adventure. One of the best things about a road trip is the flexibility. You don’t have a connection to make in Dallas and you don’t need to clear Customs before you can use the restroom, so enjoy it. Take the detour. Water some sagebrush. Experience the journey in the drive. And make a few of your own rules along the way.