If you know me at all personally, then you know that my family just returned from an entire month on the road. I’ve been planning this trip for well over a year and we were all so stinkin’ excited about it that I would talk about it to anyone and everyone. Except for the internet world, because I possess some common sense, but now that we’re back, I’m ready to give you all the details. (I’m going to sprinkle a few photos throughout this post, but you’ll have to come back for Part 2 to see our whole itinerary and get details on these beautiful places.)
The most common response I received when I told people about our upcoming trip was, “I really want to do that same trip! You have to tell me all about it when you get back.”
So buckle up, buttercup, because I’m going to tell you all about it! Because this is primarily a blog about food and how my family maintains a mostly paleo existence, I will focus on how we managed to eat well and stay healthy during an entire month on the road. And all the while I’ll fill you in on some of our favorite sites and activities so you can add them to your bucket list if you haven’t already been there.
But first, let’s talk PREP! One entire month in the (old) minivan with two adults and two tweenagers with the goal of everyone still being alive and well at the end does not come without some extensive planning. In my mind, this is really the very most important part and the part where I was winging it the most. I scoured Google-land and found very little help. There was lots of information for parents of little kids hitting the road, but I didn’t find anything helpful for road trips with older kids. My hope is that our experience will help you to have a positive experience should you ever embark on such an adventure.
A little background: I love to travel. I don’t know where this comes from because I didn’t exactly grow up in a traveling family. We went to the beach on occasion, but mostly we visited Colonial Williamsburg. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Williamsburg and we actually have a little joke in our family that all trips must begin or end with Williamsburg, but this didn’t exactly stretch my travel muscle. In spite of this, I’ve always had a desire to see the country. I’d like to see the whole world too, but I want to start with this big country of ours. There is so much of it I haven’t seen. I am so blessed to live in the great state of North Carolina where we can drive a few hours and be at the beach or a few hours in the opposite direction and be in the mountains, so really, we get a lot of great experiences without going very far. But I knew that there was more out there and I wanted to see it.
There were some nay-sayers who told us driving across the country would be booor-ring, nothing to see but wheat fields and dirt. Well, I’ll have you know that it’s mostly corn fields, not wheat.
All kidding aside, I didn’t really care. Wheat fields, dirt, boring, schmoring, I wanted to see it, so see it we did!
Our primary destinations were National Parks out west and lodging in those areas fills up WAAAAY in advance, so planning tip #1 is that you settle on your itinerary and book your lodging absolutely as far in advance as you can. You may even let the availability of lodging dictate your itinerary. Ultimately, that’s how it panned out for us. If you want to actually stay in one of the National Park lodges, then you need to strap on your fortitude and get ready to call and call and call some more. They begin booking at least one year in advance and fill up immediately. There are always cancellations though, so persistence is key. We gave up on this pretty quickly though because we wanted a space with a kitchen. I’ll talk more about that later. Even so, wherever you plan to stay, you need to get that little detail nailed down early. And don’t think that because you plan to camp/RV that you won’t have any trouble finding availability. Campgrounds are among the first places to fill up.
Once you set your itinerary and pick where you will stay, you can start planning how you are going to survive in the car. Let me just say that I know flying saves time, but it does not save money or convenience. I looked at this trip considering transportation every which way and driving the whole way was by far the most economical and convenient (you basically have your house with you the whole time.) So if you need tips for a big trip involving flying, I can’t help you. And remember, we eat paleo because we have to in order to stay well. We could absolutely not survive a month on restaurant meals. We couldn’t afford it and we would be sick. Car travel means food with you at all times and this is really the only way to go for us.
But admittedly, driving does take more time and the kids can’t flop around from the floor board to the back window like we did as kids so they need plenty of entertainment for their travels. Here’s what I did:
- I bought these organizers for the back of the seat. They had a blast choosing what they would take along. It took them about a month to finalize their choices. Really, anticipation and planning of the trip is a huge part of the fun.
- For Easter this year, I bought the kids these travel journals. The cool thing about this particular one is that one side of the paper is lined and the other is blank. Perfect for writing about the experience and then adding a favorite picture. (I started gifting my kids things for this trip back at Christmas time. It really made shopping so much more fun to know I wasn’t just giving them junk, but things that would be really practical.)
- My son’s absolute favorite thing I bought for this trip: a trash can. Yep, the trash can was the hit of all the car accessories and activities. Specifically, I found a rectangular-ish cereal container with a flip up lid. I bought small kitchen trash bags and we just switched them out regularly. Since we ate lunch in the car most of the time and since kids snack INCESSANTLY, this did it’s job of keeping the car just a wee bit neater. I found my container at Walmart, but this one is similar. Just make sure the opening is large enough to get your trash in. Seems obvious, but many of these things have small, round openings.
- We have old iPhones and iPads that the kids use on trips for games, music, movies and TV shows. Our kids are totally into whatever my husband and I liked as kids, especially 80s music, so we decided to buy some DVD sets of shows we enjoyed as kids and surprise the kids with those for the trip. Some of their favorites were The Cosby Show, The Dukes of Hazard and The Brady Bunch. It was so fun to hear them giggle at the same things we enjoyed so long ago.
One kid had this iPad holder – because it was cheaper but did the job and the other kid had this one (shown below) because it would extend and the iPad would sit in between their seats. I also bought a headphone splitter so they would be all set up to watch the same show together. They both had movies they watched individually, but these throw-back shows they watched together.
- Several years ago, prior to a trip to Disney World, someone told us that they gave their kids quarters and pennies so they could buy pressed pennies. It makes for a fun and cheap souvenir. We introduced this ingenious idea to our kids and they loved it. So for Easter this year, instead of putting candy in those plastic eggs for the egg hunt, I put quarters and pennies in them. The eggs were all either blue or green and each kid was allowed to find their color egg only. That way they each got the exact same number of coins. Fairness is key, as all parents know. I also gave them a container of Mini M&Ms because these tubes are the perfect size to hold the coins without them getting scrambled up. The kids just load them in: two quarters, one penny, two quarters, one penny, etc. Here’s a pic of the Mini M&Ms in case you don’t know what these are. Pressed pennies are their favorite souvenir to collect. Occasionally, it’s a little irritating to track down the penny machines, but the cost savings overall is worth it.
- As for adult entertainment (not that kind), we didn’t need any. We had a lot of music so we listened to that, actually talked to each other and looked out the window. The country is BEAUTIFUL. I can’t say it enough. We were constantly surprised by the landscape. If you haven’t driven through South Dakota, you’re missing something. It’s beautiful. And the speed limit is 80 so it doesn’t take long. 😃
This last item is not for the kids’ entertainment, but simply for packing sanity: Clear plastic storage bins with locking lids.
I bought several of these flat, rectangular, clear tubs. Two held food items, one held all of our jackets.
I also bought several smaller tubs that held hats, gloves, and other small accessories.
I loved this one for our traveling medicine cabinet. The lids locked in place and the carry handle made this one easy to bring in and out of the car. One layer contained all my supplements and emergency medicine in case I got glutened (which I did – twice). The other layer contained all the extra stuff like pain meds, sunscreen, cold medicine, Benadryl, bandaids, etc. I’m the one who is most careful with my feet and shoes and I’m the one who got blisters! Moleskin to the rescue. I never found moleskin in a local store at home, so if you want this (you do) order it from Amazon. Take all that you might possibly need in this regard so you don’t find yourself searching for a drug store at the most inopportune time.
One more random box I found in my attic to hold all of our extra shoes and hiking boots. Of course, we had suitcases, a cooler and a few miscellaneous bags, but packing was much easier and more organized because of these boxes. I know my family thought me crazy to spend so much time shopping for plastic tubs, but I wanted ones with mostly straight sides (not sloping sides so as to maximize storage and save space) and I wanted locking lids. I ended up finding the perfect ones at Target. I’ve linked to the exact ones I bought. These are NOT affiliate links. I’m just showing you what worked for us.
I really agonized over how to pack our clothes. I knew it would be 10 days before we had laundry facilities in our rental and I didn’t want to take precious vacation time going to laundromats or washing clothes at campgrounds so I made sure we all had 10 days worth of clothes and a few extra socks and undies. We each took two pairs of pajamas, which turned out to not be enough. It was so hot early on and since our tent does not have air conditioning, we sweated quite a bit at night. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like sleeping in sweaty pjs. So that was a little yucky. I think I would pack 3-4 pairs of pjs for a similar trip in the future.
I bought some packing cubes, but ended up not using them (these were nice and I recommend them if you think they would be helpful). This is what I did instead: the kids shared one medium sized suitcase and my husband and I shared another. We went through the trip day by day and packed exactly what we would wear – complete outfits minus shoes – starting with day 10 at the bottom and working our way up. Each night, all I had to do was unzip two suitcases, pull the top outfit from each pile and then leave the suitcases in the car. It worked VERY well and I would do it exactly like that again. We have very old, hand-me-down suitcases, so I can’t link to what I used, but they were soft-sided and similar to this. Just your average carry-on size.
I packed an extra suitcase with one nice outfit for each of us in case we ate out someplace fancier, one swim suit each and a couple pairs of long pants and long sleeve shirts for each of us. We really kept the packing minimal. For the most part, we had typical hot summer weather everywhere we went. At Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier, it got chilly at night, but we were in homes there, not a tent and we made do with jackets and hiking pants with zip on/off legs. We didn’t use our cold weather clothes at all. Which is not to say you wouldn’t need them on a similar trip. We just happened to travel during a huge heat wave so it was warmer than normal just about everywhere we went.
Here is a bad selfie of us all packed up and ready to go. We were attempting to show the very loaded van! Since we camped most of the way out and back, but not every single night, I kept all the camping gear on the left side and all the suitcases on the right side. The cooler and room temp. food was in the middle. That way, if it was a non-camping night, we didn’t even have to touch that side of the car. It really worked well and I’m very proud of myself!
Things I would do differently next time:
- Limit the screen time more. We tried to limit it on this trip, but let’s be honest, it’s easier for those in the front seat to carry on conversations and regain some sanity when the people in the backseat are silent. We love having fun conversations and listening to music and sometimes audiobooks, but we didn’t do it as much as I wish we had – looking back. At the time, it was fine, but now I wish we had done less.
- I wish we had given the kids some money to spend at gas stations. I know that may sound silly and counter to our healthy eating lifestyle, but here’s the thing: we drove 8,000 miles. We stopped for gas constantly. We had some very long driving days so my husband and I were always filling up on caffeine at these stops. The kids were always begging for a snack at the gas station and we said “no” every time but one. Gas station convenience stores are like candy land and I felt bad always saying no. I think it would be fun in the future to give them a certain amount of cash that they can spend as they will at these stops. They get to budget their money and when it’s gone it’s gone, but they also get the fun of picking out what they want from all the goodies on display.
- It might have been nice to spend two nights some places just to get more rest. I say this with a big question mark because we packed in a ton and were gone 4 full weeks. We wouldn’t have seen as much if we had relaxed more and we really couldn’t have stayed away longer. That’s always the big dilemma with us – rush, rush, rush and see more or take it easy and actually relax. We’re not so good at relaxing on vacation.
That’s it really. I have very few regrets and would pack up and go again tomorrow if we could. In fact, why don’t you all go buy my book, buy a whole bunch of Beautycounter and watch a bunch of my videos so my husband can quit his job and we can travel full time? We already homeschool so we are just poised for this life! 😉
Check back soon for Part 2 which will give you our full itinerary. In Part 3 I’ll dive deep into our favorite spots. And last, but not least, Part 4 will cover food, because that was a really big deal for us. We are firm believers in food as medicine and we wanted to stay well so we wouldn’t have to miss anything. I’ll go ahead and spoil the ending: nobody even had as much as a sniffle the whole time!
Thanks for reading!