We are serial road trippers and have been since my oldest was two. This grew out of my husband seeing it as an exciting way to travel and my frugal-ness. Our first big trip was from Boston to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to DC to the Outer Banks, to Williamsburg, Virginia to Philadelphia back to Boston. Nothing like going “for broke” on our first time out of the gate. But from that trip we were hooked. Cost savings aside, it’s a freeing way to travel that forces, I mean allows, a lot of togetherness. Over the years we have logged thousands of miles and as a result have some great road trip tips, but once the bags are packed and snacks purchased, there are also a lot of life skills that you can hone while on a road trip. Here is my top 8!
Planning is my middle name–well actually it is Kae, but planning is part of my being. My first degree is in interior design (space planning) and for the past 14 years I’ve run my own event planning business. So I know a thing or two about putting a plan into action. When it comes to road trips however, outside of pointing our car in the direction of a location and knowing a lot about what we “could” do there and along the way, my planning ends at packing the truck. We plan our destination, pack our bags, load up on snacks and entertainment and then hope for the best. As Zain would say, “Grampa always says there is a Walmart when you get there.” As much as we want to control everything and make sure everything is in place, you invariably forget something and/or something doesn’t go as planned. You need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best! And you need to be able to bounce back when the plan “fails”.
I’ve determined over the years that I am not actually a Type A personality, but I am particular and pretty darn reliable. If I say I’m going to do something, I am going to do it and goal setting with milestones is second nature to me. So this skill was pretty hard at first, but I have fully embraced it over the years! The way we determine our destinations is typically checking the weather within a 12-18 hour radius from Boston and pointing towards the most ideal conditions. We set our direction and we plan on a departure time, but that’s the beauty of a road trip. There aren’t boarding passes and flight times to contend with. You aren’t all ready at the departure time? No worries, you can leave later. Want to stay at a location longer along the say, so be it! I used to rant and rave in the last hours before leaving calling out orders and making sure everyone was helping get us ready and then I realized that I was working myself up for nothing. I was the only one that was freaking out. I now leisurely pack the bags (I have a system) and pack the truck (I have control issues) and when it gets done it gets done. If that is late, we wait until the next day, if it’s the afternoon, we hit the road. We also NEVER make hotel reservations outside of 30 minutes from our location. Why? Because we may change our direction at any moment. In our day to day lives we “should” have a direction and a structure in place to keep our family ship from capsizing, but it needs to be flexible enough to weather the ebbs and flows and allow for some fun to surprise us now and again!
Two years ago, for April vacation, we set our sights on Nashville, Tennessee for our spring break. We packed the truck and headed out. On the second day of driving we hit the welcome center for Tennessee, which had two rooms full of brochures on what to do in each area of the state. After reviewing the selection, it became quite clear quite quickly that Nashville, while wonderful, had a whole lot of nothing to do for a 3 and 7 year old. Mind you, we probably should have realized that prior to driving towards it for two days and we could have freaked out, but instead we perused the rooms for all the things that they would enjoy and reprogrammed the GPS for Chattanooga where we had an awesome time in the Smoky Mountains and had experiences that were breathtaking. When I first decided to move to Massachusetts (**cough**) 21 years ago there were a lot of skeptics. “That’s a long way from home.” “What if you don’t find a job?” or when I left my 9-5 job and started my company and heard lots of reservations from folks. But my response was always the same, I can always go back and that’s okay. If you hold the end game so close to you, that you can’t see the opportunities that may be staring you in the face of change, you are going to miss an awesome ride. Ask yourself, “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Yeah, it’s not that scary after all.
I still marvel at what we did before GPS and the internet. My mom used to come to Boston every Fall and we would take a vacation throughout New England and managed to find ourselves there and make reservations at great Bed & Breakfasts (and some not so great) all without technology, but I still can’t remember how exactly! But we would have a map and make an educated guess on the best route and just go for it. This past weekend we traveled to and from family in Maryland and had three (yes three) GPS applications running to provide us up to the minute traffic and road condition. At every intersection it was the dueling “Lady GPS’s” and was annoying at best. What was even more annoying was that even with all of this “data”, my husband wanted us to stay the course of the traditional GPS and not use alternate routes, etc. And after sitting in a ton of traffic before getting on the NJ turnpike I suggested that we take the “Truck and Buses” route since there weren’t many trucks and buses on the road, but he thought we should stay in the “Cars Only” side. Needless to say, the cars were jammed and the trucks and buses was wide open. And I had to drive 60 miles with regret building from that split second decision. Which it was within these 60 miles of cramping in my leg because I couldn’t use my cruise control that the idea of this post came to me. And so I focused realllllllllly hard on this life lesson. Once you make the decision to do something you own it and have to ride it out and not beat yourself up over it. I also made a mental note that next time, I’m not making the same mistake again. And in life, that’s about all you can do in these situations!
When we are on a road trip there are about 5 bjillion decisions to make along the way. Days Inn or Holiday Inn Express (I mentioned my frugal-ness)? Chinese or Italian? Interstate 95 or the Parkway? Zoo or Aquarium? Sometimes everyone is in agreement, but more times than not a tie breaker decision has to be made and someone is responsible for making that. And about the same amount of times someone is unhappy with the decision that is being made. So yesterday when the GPS wanted us to go on the Parkway coming out of NYC and my husband noted that we should stay on 95 I had the choice of overruling him and facing the consequences if we came to stand still traffic and taking his advice and holding my tongue if we hit stand still traffic. Let’s suffice it to say that there was traffic everywhere yesterday so it was a lose-lose no matter where we went. But it is a great lesson about assigning blame. Throwing blame back and forth is a really exhausting game of tether ball. Similar to dealing with regret comes blame. There are a lot of outside forces when it comes to making decisions–peers, relatives, spouses, GPSs, etc. We can listen to all of them, but in the end we make our own decisions and we own it. Blaming someone else, or feeling guilty by assigning blame to ourselves, does not make anyone feel better. In the end, you will get to your destination (be it a bit later than you hoped).
For our honeymoon we went to San Francisco, Yosemite and Napa Valley. Our time in San Francisco was cut short by a two day hospital stay for my husband (a story for another day), but we were bound and determined to get to Yosemite and Napa. While we were in Napa we had a must see on our agenda. Visit the Old Faithful geyser. We’ve all seen visuals of the geyser in Yellowstone that are phenomenal. To be so close to the California version seemed too good to be true. Now it’s been 12 years since our honeymoon, but my memory of our visit was pulling down a small road and going through what seemed like someone’s house where we paid our $14 admission and walked out into the “backyard”. We waited for the natural wonder and before we knew it nasty brown water shot out of the ground in what seemed like a mechanical geyser. All we could do was laugh! I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting it on your own, but it was a big story for us for the rest of our trip. Like, “Really, that was it?” How many times have you gotten so excited for something and it falls short? All the time, right!?! You could lament, write a nasty letter, and/or complain like a crazy person. Or you can laugh it off and find all the good things within the situation. Your choice.
For anyone that has been to Disney, you know that your family can be pulled in a million directions at once. Far too many choices and something for everyone. And with four strong willed individuals we are bound to have some split decisions along the way–Fantasyland or Tomorrowland? Disneyland or California Adventure? Since I’ve mastered the “going with the flow” skill (or so I’d to think I have) I don’t really care what we do or where we go, I’m much more for the overall experience and the togetherness factor. But my kids are resolute in their wants and stand their ground. This is probably the hardest for them to master. So my job here is to be a crack negotiator to help them find common ground and or a win-win solution.
So when it comes to prepping for a road trip, everyone has their “job”–the boys need to collect anything they want to bring with them and pack their backpacks, Sam gets out his clothes and programs all of the light timers, and I pretty much do everything else. This has a lot more to do with my control issues and need for order than it is about them not pitching in. And speaking of control issues, I drive every mile of the trip because I make a HORRIBLE passenger. So as much as I tout going with the flow and letting the schedule shift, there is always some stress in the leaving portion of the trip. I then am treated to a good 30 minutes of my husband quizzing me, “did you remember q-tips?” “what about the iPad charger?” and a lot of driving instructions. “I would be in the middle lane if I were you.” And this is just at the beginning. Think a few days down the road when everyone is over tired, sugared up and full of opinions. It’s enough to make your head explode and definitely grounds for screaming your head off! But instead I breathe. Deep breathes that I can feel all the way to my toes. I then recite my 5 Tibetans Yoga Workshop mantra for the second Tibetan. “This is air. Opening the heart chakra. Blowing away anger, resentment, bitterness, envy, jealousy, animosity and rage. Creating the space for love and compassion, forgiveness and vulnerability, acceptance and peace.” This one is huge folks. Stop. And. Breathe. It’s amazing how much better you will feel.
I could also go on and on about keeping perspective, mutual respect, awareness, etc., but you get the idea. Putting your family in tight quarters for a serious amount of time is a crash course in human nature and a laboratory for life skills. If you can make it through the time with more fond memories than excruciating ones, you’ve won! And then you can take everything that you learned and apply it to the other 350 days in the year! Now hit the road Jack!