We recently took a road trip from Minnesota to Colorado.
Before we even got to our destination, we stopped at a rest stop somewhere near Iowa.
My husband and I went to the restroom and our tween wanted to wait in the car, so we locked him in. I walked out of the rest stop to see my son opening the door, which made the car alarm go off, and my husband had the keys (in the men’s bathroom).
I yelled to him, “Hey, I need the keys, the alarm’s going off!” It was so loud. I thought he was alone in there and ran in and put my hand under the stall (thank God it was the right one). He couldn’t find the keys right away, and after I got to the car, he told me that there were guys on both sides of him. So I died a little inside and rolled laughing.
A week into our trip, I had picked out a special vegan place for us to go to dinner for our last night. We drove to it and went inside. My son instantly starts gagging (with his mask on). “It smells like beer; it smells like beer.”
We, his parents, don’t drink at all, so I’m not sure where he has ever smelled beer, but being quick-witted like I am, I said, “Just get outside before you puke everywhere, and we will do takeout.” We went to the car to wait for our food and when he got it, he took one bite and said it tasted like the restaurant smelled and couldn’t eat it.
Deep breath momma, deep breath.
Another fun thing to note: my kid gets carsick on drives. Especially ones where there are slow winding hills, which had essentially been our whole trip. So on this trip, I let him try the front seat, and I sat in the back like a child. He thought it was funny to play with the glove box and push and pull his seat forward and back, smooshing my knees and laughing hysterically.
So most of our trip was him saying he was carsick, me trying to get to as many vegan food co-ops and restaurants as possible, my husband trying to find the most epic skate park, and us trying to find moments of solace and the feeling of “vacation.”
Vacationing with kids is not the same as without by any means. I am still making food and picking up lone socks and finding dishes that didn’t make it to the sink. I am still “on.” My mother duties don’t go away because we are in a different climate. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom, but every once in a while, it is nice to get some time to remember me—to find some time to just be.
One day, I bartered for five minutes inside a cute boutique and a couple of other shops. We did a mineral water tour where you find these different mineral springs mapped out all over the town. It was something that engaged my husband, the map reader, and I enjoyed trying the different waters; it also got us out and doing something active and exploratory while having fun.
We have learned on trips to take it easy, and we’ve realized we can’t cram every tourist attraction in. Sometimes the best things we do aren’t planned and just happen on the fly.
We have learned to breathe and have patience when things don’t go our way. We have low expectations for seeing everything we would like to see (if it were just us adults), as kids sometimes have their own agenda, and we try to roll with the punches.
Kids never stop talking, and so it’s not as relaxing as…say a solo trip, but we know we would miss our son if we were on a solo trip (that’s the reality). We love showing him experiences and exploring with him. We love hearing him get excited about seeing new places and getting to know his personality outside of the day-to-day when we are all busy with work and school.
Overall, we laugh a lot, we get frustrated with each other, and we take breaks. We breathe. We put in our headphones or read a book when needed. We laugh at all of the idiosyncrasies that make us a family and we are grateful for the experiences we get to share.
Here are some tips for traveling with kids that have helped me in the past:
1. If you want to cry, laugh instead. You will look back and remember all of this sweetly when your kids are grown.
2. Snacks, snacks, snacks, and water!
3. Rest stops are your friends. You will stop at way more than you anticipate. Let your kids run and stretch and get their energy out. It will make your trip so much more enjoyable when kids aren’t bouncing off of the car doors.
4. Think of games and things you can do with your hands to pass the time. We like the alphabet game (look for each letter of the alphabet on signs outside and license plates.) We also like to see what other state license plates we can find.
5. Keep your expectations low. You want to make memories and not be hustling around packing in so much that you can’t enjoy the time you have together.
6. Make sure to pack some wet wipes for hands and spills and tissues for nose-blowing. Be prepared for side-of-the-road bathrooming, and whatever else may come your way.
Road tripping with kids is definitely an adventure in itself, but lowering our expectations and being able to laugh at things not going perfectly is part of the deal. Hopefully, kids will be able to tell stories about how they saw the country and have fond memories of traveling.
Gone are the days of, “Are we there yet?” in most cases because of devices keeping them occupied, but don’t be afraid to take breaks from screens so you can catch up and look at the sights. I know I miss so much when I am glued to my phone (as the passenger).
I would love to hear what has worked for you on family trips, especially with younger kids. My older son would always fall asleep in the car and was no trouble, but my younger one will never fall asleep and needs a lot of breaks to get out and move his body.
We are all different, but don’t let being afraid to travel with kids stop you if you have an inclination to travel. I hope you found something helpful here or could relate in some way.
Safe and happy travels—even with littles!