Okay, let’s be real. A car full of kids, including one that can’t sit still for an entire movie, an adolescent boy, a hormonal teenager, and two tired parents does not make for a great road trip across the country. Perhaps, it would be a fantastic movie, one of those disaster movies that you can’t help but groaning out loud because it is so painful and funny. It was no movie; however, it was my summer holiday adventure . . . a MONTH-LONG road trip across the country. I did it and I survived.
In the spirit of helping fellow insane parents out, I want to share a few things that worked to create a successful trip. Despite the crazy-making, it was a trip of a lifetime.
1. Let go of expectations.
This was a hard one for me. I am a bit of a Pollyanna when it comes to big plans. I believe things will work out and all list items will be accomplished. Not true. The best thing I did was not imagining how the day would play out. I did not picture my son marching on the Freedom Trail in costume (I hoped, alas…). It was what it was. By not expecting perfection, what played out was unexpectedly lovely.
2. Don’t plan too much.
Yes, we were in D.C. for only 2 days and needed to see it all; but realistically, that wasn’t possible and they wouldn’t remember it if we did too much. So I picked three things for those two days. By sticking to just a few activities, we were able to absorb the information without overflowing our brains. Also, downtime is essential in traveling, so I scheduled that into our day as well. Sometimes, our downtime was swimming in the hotel pool. Other times it was lying in front of a movie. These times allowed us to have space while still being together.
3. Look them in the eyes.
When you are together all the time, you take one another for granted. I found myself saying at one point, “I AM RIGHT HERE.” I wasn’t though. I was far away in my own thoughts, trying to be grounded amid the chaos. At that moment, I wasn’t available emotionally for their issue. I had my own issues.
At one point during a child freak out, I bent down and looked my lizard-brained child in the eyes. The emotional spinning stopped. I was finally right there and available. It was all that specific child needed at that moment: to be seen and heard. From that point on, I made an effort every day to look into their eyes. I think we all need that, not just on holiday.
4. Follow the travel list.
This one is a little OCD. I have a list that I keep on my computer of all the things we need when we travel. Compiled over years and based on experience, it is as simple as it can be (we are a backpack family) while covering almost every scenario. When the car got stinky due to adolescent boy feet, I had my spray lavender oil in my purse ready to go. When adolescent boy got poison ivy in his eye, I had benadryl and tea bags in my purse.
Every family should have a specific list based on your family’s needs, but I like to keep the list small, only the essentials. I keep my list on my computer, but you can keep your list on a phone if that is more convenient. By keeping to this list, I always have the things I need and nothing extra. I also have only the basic clothes that everyone needs, and nothing extra. I think it’s helpful for everyone to have this kind of list.
5. Make them a personal calendar.
One of my children is schedule oriented. She likes to do the same thing everyday. If something changes, she needs to know about it beforehand. School is her favorite place. Everything at school is structured and specific.
Traveling is the exact opposite of school. Honestly, it is the worst gift we can give her, but our family can’t stop living just so that we can meet her needs; however, I can make it easier for her.
For this trip, I prepared her months in advance. We talked about the trip, places we were going, and what it would look like. Then, I took it a step further and printed out a calendar designed for her specifically. It was a detailed account of the hours we would be driving, where we would be staying, who we would be seeing, and the sightseeing I scheduled. I also included her specific needs when I was able to. For example: Downtime at 3. Bedtime early tonight 8:30 pm.
In order to keep her from fretting over the specifics before the trip even began, I handed her the calendar the minute the car took off. She would still have plenty of time to study it. As a reference tool, it worked perfectly. She checked it daily and could even answer the other kids’ incessant questions about the day’s itinerary. (I made one for the two of them too, but seeing that they both quickly lost theirs, it wasn’t important to them.) The anxiety that calendar relieved for my daughter was worth the 15 minutes it took me to develop.
These five things aren’t a piece of revolutionary advice, but they changed the trajectory of our trip. It truly was a trip we will all remember forever.