Road Tripping for dummies


After my last post (and among the many trips over the last year), I’ve heard the same thing over and over again, “I don’t know how you DO it! I could never do that!” 

Well, first of all, we all know you could. Anyone with a valid drivers license and a car can. I know, I know, you mean the process of preparing and inevitable long car ride with kids (and without another adult, to boot) would make you frazzled to say the least.  

Wanna know a secret? I looooong resisted road trips. Kenny was always a fan, he enjoyed driving long distances. As a kid, he and his family would drive to Michigan or Florida to visit family. The furthest we ever drove when I was a kid was Washington, DC or Schenectady, NY—which in my memory, may as well have been Siberia (both were about three–four hours away). Anyplace further than that, we flew. I’ve never actually been on a road trip without kids, because (genius that I am), I refused.

The first time I ever agreed to go on a road trip, I was pregnant with Benny, when we went to Michigan to visit his cousins. I didn’t love the idea of sitting in a car for twelve hours when I was twenty-seven weeks pregnant, but with toddler Cami in tow, we’d have to rent a car, and a car seat (after paying for plane tickets)—it would be far less complicated to have our own car (at least that’s what Kenny told me 7,500 times until I agreed to drive there). We stopped half way for an overnight stay; which, at the time, felt like such a long six hours. The next time I agreed, I was pregnant with Nate, and we drove with two kids to Chicago to visit Kenny’s best friend, Anthony. This time, though, I insisted we make a little adventure out of it, and stop at Notre Dame to see the site of one of my most favorite movies (Rudy). It seemed I wasn’t so averse to these long rides as I’d assumed I would be!

Since then, I’ve become a pro. I’ve driven between NJ and North Carolina eleven times since moving to NC eighteen months ago (nineteen, ten–twelve hour rides in all, since some of those trips were one way for a while. This does not include trips in which I’ve flown to/from). I decided, since so many people seem to marvel at my road tripping ability, that I’d create a little “guide to road trips.”

Packing: Only the essentials. One outfit per day, one or two pair of shoes, and two–three movies for the ride. And of course your beauty essentials; which, for me, ends up being three make up bags, a brush, a curling iron, a hair dryer, hair ties, dry shampoo, hair spray, my favorite face wash, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. Oh, and face masks. And after that, maybe reassess your plans while you’re out of town, and add another pair of shoes or two (because what if you happen to get asked by a friend to go on a hike or a fancy dinner? Can’t be without footwear options…). Then maybe toss in some more clothing options, because what if a friend asks you to meet at a trendy bar at the local down town area and all you have are high neck sweaters or tee shirts?? Then maybe add in a second or third workout outfit, because what if you don’t get to wash that one outfit before the next day? Ew! Then maybe throw in an extra two–three movies, because what if they hate the movies you packed and they start freaking out like two hours into the ride???? What if you decide to go out somewhere nice as a family? Gotta add some dresses and button-downs for the kids, and extra footwear for them, too! And extra hats, sunscreens, and water bottles in case you end up doing something outside. And in addition to regular diapers and wipes, maybe just toss in a few swim diapers in case somehow they end up playing in water. It may be February, and it may be twelve degrees where you’re going, but you never do know. I guess that means maybe a few pool toys should find their way into the car, and I can’t forget the swim wings. Fuck it. Pack half the house, pray you didn’t forget anything!!!

Food/snacks: Two “meals” and three snacks. That’s it! No more! Except maybe some extra snacks in case they get restless. And maybe some lollipops in case you need to bribe them. Oh and maybe some chips to hang over their heads if they’re getting too loud. Ya know what? Just buy out the snack aisle at Target and take the guess work out of whether or not you have enough food in the car. You will inevitably end up having enough food for the ride in both directions, and to supply their lunch boxes for weeks after the trip is over (win/win in my book!). 

The actual ride: Convince yourself you’re in control. Tell the kids the driver gets to pick the entertainment. Tell them you need the iPod music on while you get to the main highway so you can hear the GPS tell you where to go on the back roads. Tell them it will be their turn soon. Yes, SOON. SOON I SAID! Never mind. Just put a movie on and make sure to glance at your GPS every couple of minutes to make sure you don’t end up in Ohio by accident (close call that almost happened once…turns out there is an Aberdeen in Ohio, who knew??).

Make sure you have paper towels and plastic bags for garbage, snotty tissues, vomit, and the million spills that WILL happen, at least thirteen times. You WILL yell “I will turn this car around and go home!” No matter how many times you tell yourself you won’t. You will be the one that has to stop to pee (not the kids), and you will feel very angry with yourself. You will also find that you’ll hold that pee until you turn blue if the kids are asleep and you’re on a hot streak of “no stops.” UTIs be damned, I have places to get to!

Acceptance: Listen, friends: the honest to God’s truth is I just DO it. I’m a terrible planner, I’m probably the least organized human on the planet, and I overpack because I never want to be unprepared for any given situation on a trip. I accept that my car will be a disaster when the trip is over. I accept that the ride will be long, loud, messy and I may barely escape with my sanity intact. If I’m spitballing on a percentage, I’m incredibly lucky about 93% of the time. Aside from some trips being longer than others because of traffic or extra pit stops, the trips are uneventful. My kids hang. I drive. It’s all good. Trust me, if I can manage three kids on the road, you all can, too. Yes, we’ve had two trips so far that have included vomit. But when you look at how many trips we’ve made, that’s a pretty low number. I’ve heard arguments over movies, who’s using what markers, who’s got who’s toy, and who wanted the grape juice and got fruit punch; and yet, most of the trip, the kids are just enjoying their “adventure.”

This past weekend I flew alone with the kids for the first time in almost sixteen months. I had to  to wrangle a wild two year old, who didn’t want to wear his buckle, and at one point, stood on his seat and gave a riveting dance performance for his fellow passengers. Then I had to keep close track of the five year old, who wanders when he sees shiny objects; all of this not only on the plane, but onto the shuttle bus, through security and across the airport, and all I can tell you, I’d take the twelve hour road trip over that five hour flight experience ANY day! 

Megan Courtney