Summer is finally officially here! Ours just started, so my own kids are still basking in that new summer vacation glow, reveling in the extra sleep and lack of homework. I don’t have the heart to break it to them yet that summer bridgework starts soon (mom code for homework) and I am glowing right along with them. That said, I know what awaits. Those two little words that strike a chord with every parent: I’m bored. So while I’m also thrilled to have a reprieve from the constant carpooling and homework, I know I need to put some plans into action before the other shoe drops.
Which brings me to two more words often uttered during the summer months: road trip. For me, they conjure both excitement and fear. There is a part of me that loves the idea of road trips. Adventure! Sing-alongs! Savoring the journey just as much as the destination! Making memories!
And there is the other part of me that is shaking her head at my obvious amnesia over road trips of yore and quietly whispering, “Noooooo. Don’t be an idiot. You have frequent flier miles.”
As a former Air Force Family, we are used to the punishing drive. Frequent changes of stations meant packing up and driving to our new home, whether it was one or twenty states away. When our oldest son was a mere four weeks old we took a leisurely road trip from Oregon to Georgia, where my husband was to report to his new job. We managed to keep our oldest two entertained with movies and frequent stops and stays along the way, which meant they only bickered once or twice an hour, as compared to their usual rate of every 14 seconds. My son was in what I fondly referred to as the barracuda stages of nursing, so for me, each state was commemorated by where I was in the stages of pain. North Dakota will always hold a special place in my heart (and other places) because it marked the first time I nursed my son without needing to preemptively clench my jaw and pray the kid didn’t sprout a tooth.
This road trip also remains particularly memorable thanks in part to our five year-old, who announced she needed to go potty right now in that urgent manner that is maddening for parents, because when an actual bathroom is available, children never need to use it. Her timing wasn’t great, as it appeared we were quite literally in the middle of nowhere, with only bison and the occasional bald eagle for company. Montana is a beautiful state, but no matter how judicious you are with the beverages, small children are still going to need a potty break, and pulling off to the shoulder of an interstate highway isn’t ideal for the safety-minded.
Thankfully, we spotted an exit that indicated there were facilities and disaster was averted. Temporarily. The only facility in question was a run-down restaurant/bar surrounded by a thick perimeter of motorcycles. Undeterred in that way only parents with a child doing the potty dance can be, we piled out of our minivan in matching Old Navy flag t-shirts, and pushed our way through the set of old-timey saloon doors that had a hand-written sign affixed to one reading, No Minors and No Assholes Allowed.
You know in the movies when an actor walks into a bar and is so out of place she or he renders the entire establishment silent? This happens in real life, too. Bonus, our emerging readers were able to decipher the posters announcing the nearby annual testicle festival, providing some colorful teachable moments for my husband and me as we attempted to field questions about testicles and why are there parties for them in our best quiet voices. As it turns out, our hesitations about the venue were warranted, as the testicle festival recently ended its 35-year run due to a large number of deaths and dwindling attendance. For the curious, you’re welcome.
We’ve taken dozens of road trips since our introduction to Rocky Mountain oysters and those who celebrate them, and one theme remains constant despite the changes in our children’s ages or where we are headed: we are always thinking of ways to keep the kids entertained during the journey. Some of my favorite ways to avoid the premature are we there yets include:
- License plate bingo. Best place for it? Flagstaff, Arizona. It appears everyone wants to drive to the Grand Canyon.
- Singing to our favorite movie soundtracks (Shrek for the win!).
- Grab bags of treats and small goodies to distribute during desperate times.
- Travel games with magnetic pieces (chess is our go-to).
- Old fashioned
How about you, PlanHero Nation? What are your tried-and-true tricks to make road trips a little more fun for travelers of all ages?