Epic Roadtrip — Tips & Details

Epic Roadtrip

Image and text by Gabrielle.

As promised, this post is about some of the logistics of the Epic Roadtrip. I’ll start with a few overarching details. We started the trip with 11 people — 8 Blairs, 1 French exchange student, 1 English exchange student, and a niece. In Las Vegas, the niece was picked up by another family of cousins, so we were down to 10. Then, during our stay in Salt Lake City, the French exchange student flew back to Paris (it was the end of a 3-month stay with us). So on the drive home from SLC to Oakland, there were only 9 of us.

We rented a 12-seater van for the trip. On some days there were long drives, on other days, were were only in the car for an hour or so. When we started out, the three teenage boys were in the 4th row, the three teenage girls (well, Olive is almost a teen) were in the 3rd row. Oscar, Betty & June were in the 2nd row, and Ben Blair and I were in the front row.

FOOD

– In the car, we kept a cooler between the front seats. For the long drives we would stop at a grocery store and stock it with water bottles, sliced meats like salami, ham, pepperoni and prosciutto, sliced cheeses, red and green grapes, nectarines, and apples. Outside the cooler, we kept a grocery sack filled with crackers, chips and sweets (ideally nothing melty). We would pass food around the car and everyone would snack as we drove. We would fill the cooler with ice from the hotel ice machines.

– If a grocery store wasn’t available, we would stock up the cooler at a gas station mini mart. Not ideal, but fine for a meal here and there.

– We also relied on fast food. Once in awhile it was during a drive, but more often it was because we arrived back at the hotel after a long day of hiking and wanted to eat as quickly as possible before we fell into bed.

– Other times we ate a sit down meal at a full-service restaurant. Sometimes it was a pizza place — which is often the most inexpensive way to feed a big group. Other times it was whatever restaurant was best reviewed online and also family friendly. These meals were the most expensive, so we spaced them out.

– The hotels we stayed in generally offered a complimentary breakfast. This was ideal on some mornings, but on others, we wanted to sleep in and we would miss the breakfast. The hotel rooms also had small refrigerators, so we could keep milk and cereal around for random meals as well.

By the end of the trip we were so excited at the prospect of home cooked meals!

DRIVING

– To fight boredom on the drives, we definitely made use of screens and head phones. On the evening before a long drive we would remind the kids to take advantage of the hotel wifi and stock their ipods with podcasts or movies for the day ahead — and remind them to charge their devices as well.

– We also listened to audio books over the car speakers. Speaker for the Dead and Anne of Green Gables were both well-received. If a particular kid wasn’t into the story, they could put on headphones and listen to something else.

– We played car games, but we did so sparingly. We’ve found over the years that they can get irritating fast. The most popular was: I’m going to Yosemite and I’m bringing…  The first person says something that starts with A. As in, I’m going to Yosemite and I’m bringing an Antelope. Then, the next person says something that starts with B — I’m going to Yosemite and I’m bringing an Antelope and a Banana. The third person repeats that and adds something that starts with C. The game ends with someone naming everything that has been chosen from A to Z.

– At the beginning of the trip, Ben Blair assigned each child a color of car to track. For example, Betty counted turquoise cars and Oscar counted orange cars (over the course of the whole trip, he noted 53).

– As a group, we also tracked license plates. I need to check with the kids, but I believe we found all but 14, plus two from Canadian provinces.

– Sometimes we would take a break from audiobooks or personal screen time and one of the kids would play DJ. We turned up the speakers and everybody would sing along.

– As we planned the schedule, we did our best to separate the long drive days. This helped a ton. We also tried to communicate what to expect the next day as we said our goodnights, so that no one was surprised by a long stretch on the road. I think this definitely helped. Expectations can have a big affect on attitude.

– We didn’t bring pillows in the car. We weren’t really opposed to it, we just didn’t bring them. But, we did bring a stack of beach towels, because I knew we would want to stop and play in every river or lake we could find. The towels ended up doubling as pillows — the kids would lean up against the window for a mid-drive nap, with a towel to rest their head on.

– We also kept one big blanket in the car for unpredictable weather or impromptu picnics. More often, it was used to help regulate the air conditioning in the van. If the back row was hot and wanted  more AC, but the middle row felt chilly, the middle row could use the blanket.

HOTELS

– You could definitely rent an RV for this sort of trip, or even camp the whole way. But with the limited amount of time we had to plan, we knew hotel rooms would be the fastest option for us. We needed 3 rooms, so we looked for bargains. Clean and cheap were the goals. Sometimes that meant staying a little out of the way in order to find something that worked with our budget. We started by sourcing places on hotels.com, but later ended up booking almost everything through the Choice Hotels website — I didn’t know this till I was on their website, but they seem to own all the most common roadside hotel chains throughout the west — Comfort Inn, Econolodge, Roadway Inn and a dozen more. In fact, in almost every town we stayed in, they had 3 or 4 different hotel chains.

– The exceptions were in Las Vegas and near the north rim of The Grand Canyon. In Las Vegas, we got a recommendation from my brother, and stayed at The Golden Nugget. And we stayed at Jacob’s Lake Inn on our Grand Canyon visit.

– We did laundry 3 times, always at the hotels we were staying in. We brought a box of laundry detergent with us, so we just needed quarters for the machines. We would gather everybody’s dirty laundry, sort it all, and do 3 loads (darks, mediums and whites) late at night.

– Unless we knew we had to be on the road early, we would draw the blackout curtains on the hotel windows and sleep in as much as possible. If you’re traveling with teenagers, I highly recommend this. (I love sleeping in as well.)

– As I mentioned above, the hotels we stayed at typically offered complimentary breakfast. Betty was always up earliest and was most likely to eat breakfast at the hotel. Some mornings, Ben would go down to breakfast and bring up a few plates of muffins or pastries and we’d eat in the hotel rooms after the kids were all awake. Other times we missed the hotel breakfast altogether and would pick up something like donuts at a local shop. On at least 2 days, we slept in so late that our first meal was lunch!

– If we’d planned well in advance, I would have loved to book rooms right in the National Parks at Yosemite and Zion and The Grand Canyon. Oh well. Next time!

ITINERARY

This was our schedule (you can find posts about each stop here):
Day 1 – Drive to Yosemite, visit the park in the afternoon.
Day 2 – Spend the day in Yosemite.
Day 3 – Drive to Las Vegas and sightsee in the evening.
Day 4 – Sightsee in Las Vegas.
Day 5 – Last sightseeing in Las Vegas in the morning, then drive to St. George. Cousins week welcome BBQ started at 3:00.
Day 6 – Kids at Cousins Week, Parents working at the hotel.
Day 7 – Kids at Cousins Week, Parents working at the hotel.
Day 8 – Kids at Cousins Week, Parents working at the hotel.
Day 9 – Pick up kids from Cousins Week, stay at hotel in St. George that night.
Day 10 – Photo shoot in the morning for work, then Zion in the afternoon and Grafton in the evening.
Day 11 – Drive to Grand Canyon, sightsee at the park, sleep at Jacob’s Lake.
Day 12 – Drive to Lake Powell, spend the day on the water.
Day 13 – Drive to Moab, but stop for an hour at Monument Valley on the way.
Day 14 – Spend the day at Arches.
Day 15 – More time at Arches in the morning, then drive to SLC, and stop at Ben’s parent’s home in Provo on the way.
Day 16 – Sightsee in SLC and drive into the mountains. Going away dinner for our French exchange student.
Day 17 – Take it easy in SLC. Visit the mall. Catch up on sleep. Dinner with friends.
Day 18 – Wedding in Salt Lake City.
Day 19 – Drive to Oakland.

– If you were keeping track, I realize my instagrams didn’t always line up. At most of the parks there was no phone coverage or wifi, so I would have to post pics later, when we got to the hotel, or even the following day.

– I think this trip was a bit too long. Two weeks would have been ideal, but we were planning the trip around Cousins Week and a wedding, while also trying to space out the longer drives, so the length of the trip couldn’t totally be helped. Happily, the kids were really good sports. We would review favorite parts of the trip as we went, which helped give it that epic feeling, and helped everyone remember the amazing things we’ve seen and how lucky we are.

– An annual national parks pass is only $80! We bought ours on our visit to Sequoia National Park a couple of months ago, so we were set for this trip. It gave us free entry to Yosemite, Zion, The Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and Arches. Not bad!

LASTLY

– This one is a silly tip, but I noticed when we were at Zion and at other red rock destinations, the photos looked best when the kids were wearing blues and greens. Reds and oranges make them blend into the landscape!

– Something I reminded myself of as the receipts piled up: Vacations are not for saving money. We save our money, so we can spend it on vacations.

– Ben drove the entire time. What a champ! He knows driving is not my favorite thing, so I managed kids and food and charging devices while he did the driving. I know his was the harder job!

Okay. That is lot of information. I hope it’s more helpful than overwhelming. And I’d love for you to add your own tips, advice or observations in the comments. I’m sure many of you are roadtrip experts! Also, I’m curious: if/when you take roadtrips, do you prefer to be the driver or a passenger?

P.S. — On an earlier post, someone asked if the exchange students chipped in. We found it simplest to have our exchange students pay for their airfare and any souvenirs they wanted, but we took care of the rest of their expenses while they stayed with us. Ralph will be heading to their homes this fall and we can make the same arrangement in reverse.

49 thoughts on “Epic Roadtrip — Tips & Details”

  1. You took care of 9 children and their food? Sweety, holding a steering wheel with your foot on the gas is NOT the more difficult job in that car. And everyone knows it.

    1. “holding a steering wheel with your foot on the gas is NOT the more difficult job in that car”

      I think you must be joking, because I feel the complete opposite. I detest being the driver for long-distances. Hah! Honestly, I don’t especially love driving even on short errands. Driving makes me super drowsy (even if I’m well rested) and it drives me nuts that I can’t check my phone or respond to emails or write down thoughts in my notebook. I don’t even like having conversations when I’m the driver — it feels like multi-tasking to me, and I inevitably get distracted and make a wrong turn somewhere.

      Maybe if I’d been taking care of 9 toddlers I would feel differently, but from view, my job was the easiest by far. The youngest 3 were really the only ones that needed managing and they didn’t need much. I was able to Instagram and write travel reports. It felt wonderful to get some work done on the road.

      But now I’m curious about how many people prefer the role of driving on roadtrips. Maybe I’ll add that question in to the post.

      1. I so so SO would prefer being in the driver’s seat! But I love when things work out where both parties feel like they’re getting away with something.

        For example, I do all the meal planning and my husband does all the grocery shopping — and neither of us can stand to do the other’s task, so we feel like we’re getting the better part of the bargain.

        Even knowing this, I can’t help but think “sucker…” every time he leaves for his weekly trip to the store! (And I’m sure he thinks the same of me when I’m surrounded by cookbooks and typing away at our grocery list.)

      2. I’m half and half, don’t really want to be the driver, but dislike turning around 300 times to attend to the kids..it makes me car sick!

      3. I’m with you. Even a couple blocks to the store and I’m sleepy. I hate the pressure of knowing I have to stay awake on long drives. Keeps me up the night before worried–and that’s a sure backfire. Much much rather be the passenger and the “passer-outer.” And every time I’m completely grateful to my husband for driving–which he loves. Lucky.

  2. That definitely sounds like an EPIC road trip! On one of my favorite roadtrips, my friends and I decided to create our own Roadtrip Soundtrack. Each of us selected a few songs that either reflected our personalities, had a specific memory attached, or were just great driving songs. It was a lot of fun guessing who chose which song. The songs usually had a story behind them so there was lots of great conversation and laughter.

    I’m curious to know what the exchange students thought of the western landscape and the road trip in general.

  3. “Vacations are not for saving money. We save our money, so we can spend it on vacations.” So true. I’ve been working on booking a trip to Australia/NZ and I keep reminding myself of the same thing – and the vacay hasn’t even started yet!

    I totally applaud your idea about sleeping in, but I always think back to my English teacher who chaperoned a big trip every other year to Europe for us high school students. We were from a very, very small town in Texas, and at a meet up before the trip, she said, “I know you’re going to be tired and want to sleep, but [Rural], Texas is for sleeping. This is Europe. This may be the only time you get to see these things and it’s just for three weeks, so suck it up and sleep when you get home.” Still makes me smile, and I still try to abide by it when I go on vacation (but a siesta is nice every once and awhile, I must admit).

    1. I’m the same as you when on vacation. I figure I can sleep at home (although I rarely do!) but I can’t hike the Grand Canyon or climb the Eiffel Tower at home. I’m not really an early morning person but I don’t like wasting time on vacation. I try not to squeeze too much into each day as it gets to be too much – especially with young kids – but I do like to be out and about.
      My husband, on the other hand, prefers to sleep more on vacation. And this is someone who gets 10 hours sleep most nights at home!
      There have been plenty of times on vacation when the kids and I have left the hotel to have breakfast and do a little sight seeing while my husband sleeps. I figure there’s no point us all missing out because just one person wants to sleep in!

  4. We’ve definitely found that trying to avoid sit-down restaurant meals makes our vacations cheaper and less stressful. We are all about picnic lunches at parks and really simple breakfasts. If we do go out to dinner, it’s somewhere casual and family-friendly (we often rent a house for a week somewhere so we can cook dinners there most of the time). When we’re on the road, we’re much more liberal than we are at home about eating fast-food and getting treats at gas stations to keep everyone’s spirits up on long driving days. I’m hoping to try audio-books on our next trip – my husband sent me a blog post that recommended the Star Wars series which I think would appeal to my 3 boys.

  5. Sounds epic indeed! It has been fun to follow along. Another foreign exchange student question: did the student speak French in the house? Were the older kids able to keep up/remember?

    1. Good question. Generally, Charles spoke English, because one of the reasons he was here was to learn English. But, as a family, we certainly spoke more French when he was around than when he wasn’t around. And Ralph said there were many days where he felt like he and Charles only spoke French to each other.

      Funnily enough, we ran into French speakers at literally every stop on the trip. In fact, our hotel in Moab happened to be booked by large group of French travelers. It sort of became a joke as we encountered more and more French speakers. Turns out our kids had lots of opportunities to speak French on this trip.

  6. It’s been wonderful to follow your trip from afar (in my case from tiny Holland!) The mere thought of the vast distances you must have covered…I just can’t quite fathom it from here. You can cross the whole of Holland in 3 hours! So no tips or advice from me, I’m afraid; just a bit of mellow jealousy ;-)

    1. We loved our roadtrips in Europe because instead of simply crossing a state line, we drove through several countries to reach our destination. Nothing feels more epic than that! : )

      I do think that when you grow up in the Western U.S., as I did, you get used to the idea of long drives. Everything is so spread out!

      1. It is true, Western USA takes hours to cover. I going to spend some time on the East Coast this fall, and find it amazing that you can drive through several states in a day. It takes over twelve hours to cross my state (Montana, 4th largest). Europe impresses me that you can change cultures and languages in the blink of an eye.

        1. Growing up in Australia, where every state apart from two is bigger than Texas, I have a pretty skewed sense of what is a long distance! It’s an 8 hour drive from my home city to the next city and that’s short enough that many people will drive to attend a sporting event or a concert!
          Road trips in Australia can get pretty boring as there’s an awful lot of nothing between cities and towns. This is especially the case on inland road trips as about 85% of the population live along the coast. When you fly across Australia at night it’s black almost the entire way.
          The first time I flew across the US at night I was surprised at just how lit up the country is. Towns and cities everywhere. Still quite large spaces of “nothing” but not quite to the extent that I’m used to.
          Living in California now I love that there are so many amazing places to visit a relatively “short drive” away. I can’t wait to take my kids on a epic road trip like this one day. Although not in Summer. The long distances I can handle. The heat I can not – which is a little ironic coming from one of the hottest places on earth!

  7. TennesseeCassie

    Epic, indeed! I followed the Instagram pics, so I can say, “Wow!” Thanks for putting this on paper; there are some very good tips here!

  8. We just returned from a lovely trip and employed many of the same strategies that you did.

    We did camp for two nights (Humbolt Redwoods State Park and Mendocino campground), and were planning on camping for two more, but the state campgrounds between LA and San Francisco have turned off their water due to the drought, so no showers or flush toilets. So we subbed hotel rooms for those two nights in addition to the four planned nights in a hotel in SF.

    We ate a lot of picnic lunches and snacks and averaged one meal out per day. Thanks to guide books and apps, we were always able to find a great taqueria or local fish place that was reasonable (with a few memorable splurges).

    Because we flew to CA from Atlanta, we packed a duffel with a tent and Thermarests (to cushion sleeping bags) and another with sleeping bags and basic camping gear. We bought propane and a fabric tote cooler in CA, and did a big grocery run at a Whole Foods in LA before we hit the road and did quite well on a dollar/meal basis for a family of four. I actually like traveling on the cheap and then splurging because it makes everyone appreciate a nice hotel or a good restaurant. And camping can’t be beat for really experiencing some of the beautiful natural surroundings as well as unplugged family time (no cell service up in Humbolt Redwoods SP). Like you, I agree that you save money in order to travel, but it adds up quickly!

  9. Thank you for the detailed rundown of everything! Our family with 4 kids, so far, are getting ready to travel across the US before setting off for missions work in Africa. We’ve done this busy traveling in years past but after 3 years settled in one place the adventures are about too begin again! Your car, meal and hotel info is helpful as I am thinking about how to organize everything…. We booked some KOA campground.cabins for two nights, which sound great, but we’ve never tried it so we will see :)

  10. Ha! Beany’s comment made me laugh as that is exactly what I thought when I read how you feel about driving. I’m always happy to defer the driving to someone else, too. Thanks for sharing your tips & details. What a great memory for your family!

  11. Loved this. We just finished 5 days with three little ones. But I wish we had brought a cooler. I regretted not having a blanket. I also brought pillows but would rather have used towels.
    Your advice really helps as I think about longer trips: laundry in hotels and taking advantage of continental breakfast are now on my radar. Also your parks pads has me daydreaming. We are lucky to live in CA, near so many.
    Your trip sounds amazing, thanks for sharing.

  12. Emily Chandler

    I’m mixed on the child care versus driver decision. We tend to have my husband drive 10-12 hours while I take care of our two kids (1, 4). Last week I went on a 1,300 mile trip with them alone and found that it was actually easier. Maybe they were good because I was going solo and they knew I couldn’t help. Maybe me stressing out on my husband and vice versa makes them rowdy. Maybe I like driving more than I thought. Now I’m interested to try the driving role more. Traditionally, I hate driving long distances for your same reasons, Design Mom.

  13. You can’t find them everywhere, but Embassy Suites is always a good bet for our family of 5, which is too large for one regular hotel room, but booking two regular rooms is kind of awkward (our kids aren’t old enough to be in a separate room). The other great thing about ES is that it provides breakfast with the rooms–and not just continental, so my kids get a huge kick out of ordering their own special omelettes and that kind of thing. On the down side, they may not be at the most inexpensive price point. BUT, with breakfast and parking and three double beds included, we usually find that they rival other cheaper places for value.

    Also,we find that if we stay at a hotel that provides a good breakfast with lots of choices, we can get away with one other meal during the day. Vacation is a great time for snacking on food that normally wouldn’t be allowed with such frequency at home, so for our third “meal” of the day, we may just get ice cream cones or smoothies or something light. This helps our budget a little, though it should be noted that those snacks can also be pretty pricey if not limited somewhat.

    I loved all of your tips. I am thinking about road trips with my family next summer–we usually do plane trips–and will keep your thoughts in mind as we begin planning. Thanks!

  14. Your exchange students must be the envy of all exchange students. I think the most memorable thing I did with my exchange students way back in the day was take them to the thrift store so they could buy american sports team shirts.

  15. Last summer I took my 3 girls (age 1, 8 & 11) on a 7.5 week road trip. I did all the driving (over 100 hours) except for 1-2 hours on a windy road during a time when my brother was accompanying me. It took me months to plan. Unlike your family, I found leaving as early as possible to be the best for me, because I was alone and driving, that was when we were all FRESHEST. Also, the baby would be good for a few hours and then take her nap and after she awoke it was time for a stop (usually 4 hours into the days drive). When we had travel days stretched together I wanted each stop to have something interesting to do in the afternoon so I used google searches about highways I was traveling, searched for USA factory tours, unique toy stores etc. I also tried to have a pool and free bkfst at every hotel. Since my trip was long I got a triple A membership because I knew there was a large chance of something happening to us–thankfully our trial was the stomach flu….I would have had that ANY DAY over a flat tire or accident. Also, we listened to a musical each day in the car and wrote a haiku each day and my blog readers hand-sewed badges for my girls to earn along the trip. It was one of the highlights of my life as a mother. Highly recommend.

  16. Wow! Your trip sounds wonderful and truly epic!
    I would love to do this with my children some day. They are too young now (5,4,1).
    Also, I would love for you to write about hosting the French exchange student! Did having one more child make a difference? Was hosting a French student great for everyone in your family? Would you consider hosting another student from a different country? Etc.
    xo

  17. Hi Gabrielle,

    Such detail! I loved it and am inspired to plan a roadtrip with our 3 kids. Our last major roadtrip was from Spain through France, then to England. I was 9 months pregnant at the time and not quite what I’d recommend being on such a trip, but the gorgeous views, delicious food along the way and glorious space around us was wonderful. Just A LOT of bathroom breaks, too, though.
    Thank you for always sharing with us. You and your family are so lovely and hearing of your adventures is such a delightful gift. Hoping you will all enjoy the rest of your summer holidays. xx

  18. I am planning a less epic California toad trip next March. We will be my husband, my 12 year old and a 15 year old cousin. I am from SF but we all live in New England now. (Boston for us and Vermont for niece) I am trying to make each days driving 3 hours or less. We all HATE to be in the car for long periods. Seems doable but would love suggestions. Starting in SD ending in SF. Have 2 weeks and plan 3 days or so in Disneyland.

  19. My question(s) for you is this: logistics of packing. My girls (4daughters) can sometimes be divas about outfits and shoes etc. How did you set limits? I noticed your girls hiking in sundresses – not typical hiking clothes! Second, how did you manage baggage /luggage? One of the most frustrating thing for me when road tripping is managing luggage and clean clothes/dirty clothes. Rifling thru bags to find #3’s clean undies., that sort of thing. How many bags do I really want to drag into a hotel for one night? What system works for you? I’ve read about a few systems, like ziplock bag per day per person with an outfit then dirty clothes go back in the bag. (Seems inefficient because many things can get multiple wears).

    What worked for you and what didn’t?

    PS. Loved the random too about clothes not. blending. Into the rocks!

    1. I’d love tips about this too. Even though we’re only three people traveling, when you’re living out of a suitcase, it can get chaotic fast.

  20. I would always rather have a comfortable but modest home and reliable but non-flashy car, and spend our money on trips instead! Memories, not “stuff”! :) My husband and I split the driving about 50/50 and just switch off every few hours. That way, neither of us gets too sleepy while driving or too stressed and/or bored being in the passenger seat.

  21. I would also love to know about packing! Do you let the big kids pack their own bags, but just do the littles? Is there a limit for # of bags you let each kid bring?

  22. You know what weird thing I have a question about? It’s in regard to:

    “To fight boredom on the drives, we definitely made use of screens and head phones. On the evening before a long drive we would remind the kids to take advantage of the hotel wifi and stock their ipods with podcasts or movies for the day ahead — and remind them to charge their devices as well.”

    I am so not tech savvy! Our family has a few smartphones/ipods, etc., but I don’t know where to turn on there for music and movies. What programs do your family use, and are they free?

  23. What a marvelous road trip. So impressed with Oscar and Betty late, late
    on Saturday night. We discussed our favorite books and they were amazingly involved and eager to share their opinions and to listen to others.

    Loved their smiles and excitement when they joined all of us prior to the
    wedding. They are all interested in moving things forward and in acknowledging
    other peoples’ opinions. LOVED being with all of you. Grateful that you’re
    safely home and can still sleep in until school starts.

    Such a great family and a great family trip!

  24. Awesome write up! Thank you for this! We did a road trip too, to Canada and back this summer. We live in the Bay Area- so we trekked about 2500 miles over two weeks and mostly camped. It was awesome. Something we did for the children (ages 11 & 8) was we created a travel journal. In it, we put several things- two of which were a big hit. One, was a printed out map of the US and it’s capitals. Every time we saw a license plate from somewhere else the children would highlight the state and have to announce it’s capital. We found all but 4. We also gave them each a budget and a printed out form that they tracked their beginning amount and then would list what they purchased, for how much and then deducted the amount from their current total. They used that money to purchase fun stuff, momentos, even snacks at stops- they were responsible for all of that and the math! They loved it! And, we listened to a lot of books. Totally recommend the Harry Potter series (even if you’ve already read it- it’s still fun to re-experience it) and my daughter had us listen to StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli. Really good. Road trips with with the family is fabulous!

  25. Yay! I’m one of the people who was really eager to see this post. I love how you broke it out.

    The bit about the cooler reminds me of every road trip with my dad when I was growing up. We’d either stop at a park somewhere to eat sandwiches or we’d assemble them on the road (usually my sister drew this task) and eat as we drove. He was also a fan of grapes as road food – sweet and hydrating! :)

    As for driving, I like a mix. My husband prefers to drive so he definitely does more of it, but I enjoy it too.

    I appreciate that you mention sleeping in. Like Olive, my daughter is almost a teen and she definitely likes to sleep in. On our most recent vacation we tried to provide her with that opportunity since it made for a happier traveler.

    The tip you offered that really resonated with me was ‘Expectations can have a big affect on attitude.’ Isn’t that the truth? It holds for adults as well as kids, but I know my daughter does a better job with travel when she understands what a particular day holds.

    Thanks again for sharing your tips with us. There are a lot of great ideas here!

  26. I know this isn’t advice, but since we have started talking with our 13 year old about being an exchange student in 3 or 4 years, what company did you use to plan your exchange?

  27. On our driving trips I am always the driver. I prefer it far and away to being the kid handler. I think I inherited it from my dad, he loves driving too and we used to drive the 24 hours straight from California to Houston just switching off turns at the wheel when I was in college.

    For long road trips I find my kids do much better without access to technology. Maybe this will change when they’re older but at this age (6 year old twins and a 3 year old) giving them an iPod with games to play just makes them angry and irritable. We do much better with books, audiobooks, music and color wonder coloring books. I am always shocked at how patient they can be in the car!

  28. I loved viewing your tour on FB and Instagram. Being a westerner…..I enjoyed your photos of very recognizable places.

    We travel in a van but not a 12 person…..well, actually, it is but without the three rows of seats. We only have the two front captains seats. We transport my son with his paraphernalia of electric wheelchair, commode, and twin-sized air mattress (inflated). He is 28 and has cerebral palsy, so we travel this way for all of our trips. He likes to lie down when he gets tired….that’s why the air mattress.

    A few years ago, we traveled across the US from Sacramento to Washington, DC and back home. The empitus for the trip was my other son’s wedding in Chicago. Flying isn’t a great option with a handicapped individual. Then we decided since we were half way, we would go to the east coast to visit my daughter and her family in New Jersey and visit my stepdaughter in Baltimore. We were on the road for 4weeks and loved every minute of it….except for having to spend a night in western Kansas replacing a fuel pump on the way home.

    We didn’t make reservations anywhere except for the Chicago area since we were to be there for the wedding and needed handicap accessible lodging. Other than that we camped and about every third day, we would find a motel. Having a smart phone was indispensable on our trip as when my husband decided he was tired of driving, I would go on my maps app and look for the nearest campground indicator. We would drive there and camp for the night. KOA’s and other local campgrounds…..all across the US. Almost all the campgrounds had w/d facilities. Some had pools or were beside lakes. We encountered cicadas’ noise at night….the worst was at Gettysburg. A wind storm in the middle of Kansas.

    We included many LDS historical sites and luckily we hit Palmyra and Nauvoo during the pageant times. SLC, Martin’s Cove, Winter’s Quarters, Kirkland, Palmyra, Nauvoo, Independence, Liberty Jail, Far West. We would drive only 3-400 miles a day. Of course, the longest distances were out here in the west….Sacto to SLC. Kansas to Provo. We did genealogy in NY. We saw Niagara Falls, the Smithsonian museums in DC, Gettysburg. We stayed out of most of the major cities….Chicago, NYC.

    We want to do it again.

  29. Your trip definitely qualifies as epic – busy agenda with a big group!

    Not sure if you’ve ever posted about this but I’d love to hear how you manage packing with so many (little) people.

    My older kids are 6 and 9 and they’ve been helping with their own packing for over a year now – they love checking off items on a little checklist that I give them. It mostly saves me time but I still have to write up the checklist (which is different every time depending on where we’re going).

    I’d be curious to hear…How minimalist do you try to go? At what age do you find they can start to help? How do you get them to help? At what age can they pack on their own (and do you still check over what they’ve packed)? Any other general tips?

  30. Hi — so much of this post resonates with me (And I wish I had seen it sooner), because my family too took an epic road trip this summer. My husband and I took our 6 kids aged 19 months through 13 from Georgia to New Mexico over a two week period. It was a blast!!! I just wanted to add my two cents about packing. I made a generic packing list for everyone to follow and let them pack their own (with the exception of my 3 y.o. And baby of course). It contained 3 “comfortable everyday outfits” and a nicer outfit, sneakers/water shoes (we’re fans of keens which are both) and a pair of dress shoes. For the kids under 7 they brought an extra outfit in each category. With laundry being done every 2-3 days , this is the only way we kept packing manageable. We drove a dodge minivan with 8 seats (replaced the middle buckets with a bench from a car the same model at a junkyard), so no extra seats to spare, no “stow-n-go” room b/c it’s an older model car, and no roof rack. We also brought foldable scooters for the kids to zoom around at rest stops … Lots of memories were made, some of the best of which were off the beaten path (if you’re ever in Kansas, check out monument rock!!) Only thing I would do differently is prob rent a car next time, lots of wear and tear …

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