Going on a roadtrip with young children, and mostly unprepared, can seem terrifying. From my experience it can be the best vacations you will ever take. Trust me!
When vacationing with children you have to learn to just let go and appreciate where the wind brings you.
For the last two summer vacations, instead of booking a rental for a couple of weeks with the family, we decided to go on a major roadtrip across the United States.
The first roadtrip we went on was throughout the East side of the country. We visited such cities as Cleveland, Buffalo, Kansas City, Tulsa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Columbus OH and major Texas cities.
We did 7000-mile in about two weeks. We went through 21 states. And on a small budget.
We visited Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana. We saw the USS Alabama, the Cleveland zoo, the RiverWalk in San Antonio, the Mercedes-Benz Center and the Houston Natural Science Museum.
How We Survived All This
We did not book anything in advance. NOTHING. You heard right. It can be scary for some people to go all-in with young kids (my youngest was 2), but it was such a good choice that we did it again the next year. So no hotel reservations, no attraction reservations. No reservation at all.
We knew which major cities we wanted to visit or the main things we wanted to see. We decided to focus mainly on free attraction such as parks, monuments, downtown walk, etc. We opted for less than five paying attractions.
We chose cities that were about 3-hour away from each others (as much as we could). So we made sure we didn’t have to drive too long before stretching our legs and being amazed by everything the world has to offer.
We improvise! That’s the key to survive all those miles according to me. We liked a place, we jumped out the car, put our sunscream on and went for it. We didn’t like it, we drove through to see the most possible stuff before heading to another city.
We decided to mainly use hotel reward points programs throughout our trip. With their app it was easy to make reservations at the last minute and also, we succeeded in getting a free night during our trip with al the accumulated points we got. It is a small commitment to get a free bonus. We also chose hotel rooms that offered free breakfast with a stay.
Maps or GPS?
We use a GPS. In each city we reached for the mile zero. The downtown point. We always went there and started our visit from this point.
We also bought a real road atlas. It was fun to map our itinary. We could visually see where we went and where we were heading. And make chnages along the way if we saw an opportunity.
Bags, Bags, and More Bags
Even if your trunck is big enough and there is enough room in your car you need to be organized in order to be efficient all along. Sure you can place a Thule folding bag on the car’s top or a basket on your hitch, but in any situation you need to be able to access what you need without having to empty the whole car everytime.
First thing we did was giving each child a bagpack to that they could put their precious belongings they wanted to bring. So stuffed bears, blanket, toys or books, if it fitted in the bag they could bring it. If it didn’t than they ahd to accepte to see their stuff again once back home. We made some exceptions for our Aspergers daughter to make sure she was comfortable and surrounded with her stuff so she would be more compliant.
Then we had a hotel luggage. It contained toothbrushes and toothpaste, pajamas, make-up and everything that was needed when stoping for the night. We made sure the bag was easy to reach each time. You can put bathing suits in this bag. You never know when you are going to find a place to swim during your trip.
The second bag we had was our everyday bag. It has to be not too big nor too small. It has to be light enough so you can get it out each time it is needed. In there we put clothes for everybody for about five days at a time and lots of underwear. Yo never have enough of them in case of an emergency!
Every two or three days, we washed underwears and small clothing pieces in the hotel room sink and let them dry for the night by the A/C unit. This way we kept clean clothes with us all the time.
Also, if a shirt or a pair of pants is clean and you spend all your day in the car with the A/C on, you can wear it again the next day. Nobody will judge. Hey you gotta be smart when traveling!
Also, many hotels have a laundry room. Once in a week you can go wash and dry some dirty clohes including your children’s blankets they bring with them everywhere! Make your laundry at night so every morning your ready to go as soon as your breakfast is done.
The Biggest Luggage
Okay, you need one big, bulky piece of luggage. You place in it all your extra clothes (for the whole family). Or any other stuff you might need during your trip but that is not essential on a everyday basis. Along the way, you will interchnage those clean clothes for the dirty ones in the everyday bag.
We ate breakfast at the hotel. For lunch we usually did a picnic in the car or in a park, buying fresh groceries. We use the leftovers for the mid-afternoon snack. At night we mostly ate downtown or in some family restaurant. We kept our food fresh by placing ice from the hotel machine in Ziploc bags. It lasted long enough.
Going Through The City
If you have enough place you can bring everyone’s bike, but we didn’t. So we opt for roller-skates or foldable kids scooters. Either one is a child’s favorite and they even used it in the parking lot at the hotel when it was safe to. You never make your children move enough when doing a roadtrip. When you decide to walk through town, a stroller can also be a good choice. You often can put more kids in than the number of seats, or they can alternate.
There is so many ways to get entertained when in the car. I will just name a few. You can read my other post about keeping your child (and yourself!) busy when driving around.
So you have iPads, DVDs, books, coloring books and pencils, music, ABC’s games, riddles, Bingos (the roadtrip version I make with my kid is a must), fidgets, travel-size boardgames, trivia and quiz games and so much more.
The kids eat, nap, play a little, speak a lot, so they are never bored.
A Typical Day
We usually got up around 7 or 8 am and strated driving around 9 am. We mostly stop for dinner or kept going for an hour or two after dinner. My Aaspergers daughter was not liking driving when the sun was coming down so we adjust our schedule to stop driving before sunset. Adjusting all along is the best way to keep everybody happy.
Always Be Prepared For The Unpredictable
Don’t forget to bring paper towels, wet wipes, toilet paper and lots of plastic bags. They are useful for trashes, dirty clothes and sudden stomach aches. You can never be too cautious on this matter.
Also I am suggesting bringing a portable toddler potty or something you can use as is. Children often need to pee right when you are stuck in traffic or in the middle of nowhere! If you are in trouble, a disposable plastic soda glass or coffee cup can be useful.
Pens, paper and a journal are also good things to bring on board. I like to keep a journal of which cities we visited on a given day, what we liked and disliked the most, the weather, where we slept too. That kind of things is useful once your trip is over and you are trying to remember certain details. It makes a wonderful souvenir too.
Do not forget to get your car checked before your departure. In the past years we had two flat tires but we were prepared for such eventuality so it did not mess with our vacations.
Bring a small first-aid kit including band-aids (they really have some major healing power with young kids!), Tylenol or Advil, Gravol, an antihistamine (e.g. Benadryl or Claritin) in case of a sudden allergic reaction (it happened on Route 66 with my daughter and we still don’t know what caused her allergy).
Are You Ready To Go?
So will you go on a roadtrip with your family?
I am telling you, it is less complicated than it appears and it is one of the most memorable trip you will do with your children, and one they will remember forever. You never know what you will see along the way, but one thing is sure, your family will be bonded more than ever and forever.