Our first long road trip since being a family of four. (We have two young boys, age 2 and 3 1/2). Just thinking about this trip made me nervous. With memories of our dreadful 4-hour plane and 90-minute train experiences still vivid in my mind, I was very doubtful that these two energetic kids would stay strapped in the car for so many hours. One little trick saved the entire road trip and turned it into an enjoyable adventure for each member of our family. I am happy and proud to say that we reached the destination with no meltdown.
I used to be a very organized archivist before launching into the SAHM career, which makes my life far form being close to what “organized” means, but planning a vacation is when my skill kicked back in. Google Maps was my main ally in planning this road trip but I also used a website called RoadTrippers, which helped me identify some incredible places to visit along the way.
We drove from Minneapolis, MN to Chicago, IL. Without stopping it would take you about 7 hours but we left home at 9.30 am and arrived at 9 pm. It may sound exhausting, it is after all almost 12 hours spent on the road, but believe me that it was far from being tiring as we made several stops to play and relax and took our time to have a nice lunch at an Italian restaurant. We drove in about 2-hour stretches and took 3 breaks.Everything had been planned: where to stop and for how long and although we left Minneapolis later than intended, everything else ran smoothly and according to the plan.
One simple trick I used and I have to say that it was the smartest thing about this planning, was to print out maps of each segment. These maps are a life saver when it comes to the “Are we there yet?” question. I could easily mark it down on my son’s map and each time his face would light up as we were getting closer to the destination. “Not much longer” he would say. Time is an abstract concept kids can’t master at the age of 3. A drive to the ZOO, which in our case is 45 minutes, can feel like an eternity while a 7-hour drive goes beyond their understanding. By representing time as a line connecting the two dots on the map: departure and destination, you take it down to something they can relate to and better perceive. If on top of that, you add a visual of the destination, you help kids know what to expect at the end of the drive.My print outs also included a photo of the place where we would take a break, usually a playground, and although the first map was quite disappointing to my son as he knew we were heading to Chicago and not a playground, he got into it and was looking forward to seeing what our next stop would be.
We didn’t stop at the same places on the way back, instead I made use of Roadtrippers to discover great destinations that both kids and parents would love. If you haven’t heard of Roadtrippers before, it’s a website where you can plan your trip and find anything from restaurants and hotels to attractions, natural wonders, even weird stuff along the way. Through this website we discovered an amazing museum called “Historic Auto Attractions“. It preserves over 75 historic autos , including the world’s largest collection of presidential and world leaders limousines, John Dillinger’s getaway car, Elvis Presley’s personal car, Indy cars, TV Land cars and movie cars such as the Batmobile. It may sound like a male-oriented museum, but I can assure you that our entire family loved it. The kids loved the NASA exhibit where they could look inside two spacecrafts and I enjoyed several exhibits, such as Kennedy, Gangster Land and Famous Cars and Stars. This private collection is truly a hidden gem and I’m sure I wouldn’t have came across it if weren’t for Roadtrippers.
Another place we stopped at was the “Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor” in Madison, WI. What sets this restaurant apart is the atmosphere: there are themed tables (ours was “outer space” ), mechanical toys flying over your head and a carousel . Yes! They have their own carousel! Kids loved it.
What also helped during our road trip with young kids was the busy box I put together. I gathered the best travel toys and activities for toddlers and preschoolers, created some travel scavenger hunts for kids and purchased a few cheap items that kept my kids busy.