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Growing up, my family always took road trips in our family truckster, a light green, 1979 Pontiac Le Mans station wagon. My dad was in the Air Force and we lived far away from any family, so school breaks were often dedicated to visiting grandparents or cousins.
The trips were always in excess of ten hours and because I had a sister nearly nine years my senior, and no one followed seat belt laws, I was relegated to the floor of the back seat. For further relaxation, we often traveled with our two cats and their litter box. The hump that divided up the floor space in the back row served as my border to their bathroom.
Sheer dedication or thrift (likely the latter) on my dad's part meant that at best we stayed at a walk-up motel en route. Not only were these less expensive, but the outside doors enabled us to sneak our cats easily into the room (my sincere apologies to allergy sufferers that came after us). And that - as I mentioned - was the best case. Other times, we would pull over to a McDonald's parking lot where my dad would take a snooze so we could later continue on our way.
I also had a small cup with a lid that I could use to pee in if we were on a long stretch without a rest stop. True story. I remember it had a monkey on the side. My family has no recollection of this and swears that I made that up. They are wrong.
Despite how bad it may sound, I love, love, love road trips. I love to drive. I long for quiet stretches with the open road in front of me. I also like the freedom to do a 180 and blare music that I can sing to as loud as I want.
Driving down the highway is filled with unexpected delights: like a train that seems to go on to infinity, a roadside stand that sells the juiciest tomatoes and the sweetest strawberries or a 1950s Americana photo-op with a giant concrete blue whale. Recently, my friend and I unexpectedly found one of Billy the Kid's supposed burial spots near the border of Texas and New Mexico.
Books and podcasts that are queued up on my virtual bookshelf get marked off of my list. And the quiet enables me to focus on sorting out my life and figuring out my next steps.
Our kids do great in the car. I attribute this to a couple of things: (1) we have regularly done road trips since they were born and they are used to it and (2) we pose few rules when traveling. We take periodic breaks from devices but the kids largely are allowed to watch movies, play games, and read on their devices.
Below are my must-haves on road trips:
A great playlist
Do you remember in As Good As It Gets when Jack Nicholson had a playlist for whatever mood he wanted to invoke? Do that. I have fun playlists, travel songs, songs of resistance, blues, and the list goes on.
Road Trip Doritos
You should eat healthy food, but I can assure you there is nothing more exciting than pulling out Doritos or Cheetos seven hours into a road trip when you are hungry and bored and about to lose your mind. If those aren't your jam, bring whatever is exciting to you.
Travel pillows and blankets
Small pillows are good for sleeping and back comfort. Blankets can be used for warmth and as extra pillows.
Lap desk and entertainment for the kids
Kids need a surface to write or draw on. If you have space for a cup, you can use it to hold markers and crayons or for its intended purpose. This lap desk for kids is great - it hooks to the seat, has space for cups, snacks, an iPad and drawing materials.
If you are looking for things that lay flat, don't take up much space, and can entertain the kids, check out my article on "46 Entertainment Ideas for Kids on Plane or Road Trips."
I have one that conveniently loops over the passenger seat and is accessible to the backseat
Headphones and an iPad for the Kids
Speaking of losing your mind, this will happen if you forget headphones and have someone else in your car that has a device. I also have a splitter jack for my kids' headphones that we use if one of their devices fails so that they can both watch the same movie
I'm not sure what I did before AirPods.Granted, I can only find them half the time. But when I do know where they are, it's glorious. I can charge my phone AND listen to a podcast. And all hands-free! Brilliant!
Headlamps are great for nighttime reading or drawing while in the car and are also very useful when you get to your destination
Download podcasts and/or audiobooks
I love to listen to a variety of podcasts: true crime, business, productivity and I also subscribe to some kid's podcasts
Magazines / reading material
I subscribe to too many magazines and never have time to read them all so I love getting the chance to catch up if Bill is driving
It's completely ridiculous, but every person in our family has a Yeti tumbler. Sadly, I was the last one to get one. My husband and son are militant about having icy water. I always preferred room temperature but my husband kept giving me ice until I relented and decided that I preferred it.
A well-stocked cooler
This includes water and other Drink(s) of choice like flavored seltzer water and Gatorade. For snacks, I like to bring salami, cheese, olives, and nuts. Staples like Goldfish and pretzels always make the cut too. We usually bring a small cooler but an insulated backpack cooler makes a great addition if you anticipate wanting to hike or do day trips and a picnic.
My default is the 80s channel but I love to flip through the decade channels, Willie's Roadhouse, the Elvis channel, and the comedy channels (if and only if the kids are wearing headphones).
Most importantly, take the time to look out the window and enjoy the drive. We live in a beautiful country and every state varies so much in its landscape. Make good time if you need to but don't rush past opportunities to experience great local restaurants or visit a small town antique store if you can spare a couple of hours. Hidden treasures await!