Road Trip 2017 – One for the memory books

“What are you doing this summer?” my friend asked over the sound of crashing waves and giggling children. It was a windy, cold day on the beach, but spring break only comes once a year, and we weren’t spending it inside.

“We’re thinking about a road trip. I think we might leave Tallahassee at the beginning of June and not come home until right before July 4th.”

My friend’s ears perked up – I’ve noticed that most people have perky ears upon mention of a road trip.” There’s something about the elements of discovery, adventure, and not being limited to a schedule that are just so….tempting. I believe it satisfies a deep-rooted, nomadic urge to get out and explore. Sort of using modern means to feed the needs of our inner early human.

On a more present-day level, there are loads of reasons to take a road trip. Do any of these resonate with you?

  • A road trip is an adventure away from your everyday routine – who doesn’t want that every now and then?
  • You can go in any direction you choose, and easily change direction if the path you’re on doesn’t suit you. A great metaphor for life! (Or is it an allegory…?)
  • Learning opportunities abound for the kids. They can help with planning. Practice reading maps. Participate in discussions about budget and use of time. Write packing lists.
  • A person you live with works from home and summers are downright challenging. That person would appreciate the kids leaving the house for a little while. (This is absolutely the boat we’re in. My husband works from home and during the summer, when the kids are out of school, our need to play doesn’t always jive with his need to focus. We’re loud and his work is demanding – not a perfect combination!)
  • There are family and friends across the country, or even the state, that would be thrilled to see you.
  • It is much less expensive than flying. And you always have your own means of transportation, which gives you more control over when and where you travel. Also, given enough time, it’s easier to hit more destinations than if paying for plane tickets and rental cars.
  • Riding in the car for long periods of time is a great opportunity to practice patience, build conversation skills, and learn to make decisions together, such as when to stop and for how long. Not to mention the critical decision of what music to listen to!
The kids and I at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY.

The decision was made and we were Road Trip bound! Because I love giving things away, click here to download your free Road Trip Planning handout with questions to help you plan your own road trip. Some of the questions we discussed were:

  • Where should we go?
  • How long do we want to be away? Is there a target date for us to return home?
  • Who do we want to see? This could be a list of people, or no one. Maybe part of the adventure is not knowing anyone in the places you’re going.
  • Who will we realistically have time to see? We have an enormous extended family, to say nothing of friends all over the country. Who would we see this time?
  • How long will we stay in each place?
  • What would be fun for the kids to experience at each destination?
  • What do I already know about the schedules of friends and family that I need to plan for?
  • How many hours a day am I willing to drive?
  • Do we want part of this trip to be just our family? This last one I’ll go ahead and answer – Hell yes! We love, and I mean LOVE, our extended families and seeing them was a huge part of this trip, but we recognize the need for the four of us to be together too. And alone. In a place where we aren’t in anyone else’s space. And also happens to be away from our computers, home repairs, etc. This absolutely had to happen.
Jude and I enjoying the view of Bar Harbor, ME

Planning a trip like this can be just as exciting as taking it. As we sank our teeth into these questions and the details started to come together, we got a little help from the universe.

My hairdresser told me she was leaving Tallahassee – moving to Portland, ME. After my initial shock and crushing grief upon receipt of such news, an addition was made to our plans to include a stop in Portland. Any excuse to get my hair done with my girl!

A few weeks later I opened a copy of Family Fun magazine. An article about summer travel featured the Wild Walk in Tupper Lake, NY, a boardwalk up in the trees in the Adirondack Mountains. This was a place we had to see, and as fate would have it, was an easy stop to work in the day we drove from Pennsylvania to Vermont.

We researched (okay, by “we” I mean “I”), contacted family and friends, and made plans with work to come up with an itinerary. Is an outline necessary for a road trip? That depends on you. For me, taking a trip with my kids without plans is out of the question. We all needed a destination in mind when we woke up in the morning.


Here’s our list of where we would be headed an on which days:

June 7 – Tallahassee to Charlotte, NC
June 8 – Ambler, PA
June 12 – Tupper Lake, NY to visit The Wild Center, then continue to Coventry, VT
June 15 – Burlington, VT
June 18 – Steuben, ME
June 23 – Portland, ME, then on to Cape Cod, MA
June 27 – Concord, MA
June 28 – Ambler, PA
June 29 – Charlotte, NC
July 2 – Tallahassee, FL

By the end of May, all of the travel plans were made. Places to stay were all booked and the kids had a list of what kind of clothes they should pack. The next step was to plan for being in the car for six to eight hours per day.

What did we take with us?

  • Backpacks the kids prepared on their own. These included:
    • Age appropriate workbooks for the kids
    • Blank notebooks
    • Markers, pencils, and pens
    • Flash cards for sight words and math facts
  • Movies to watch in the car. We use an iPad and a USB drive that creates it’s own wireless signal. Load movies on the USB, connect the iPad to the USB’s wireless signal, and poof! You can watch your movies in the car!
  • Plenty of snacks and water to drink
  • A cooler up front with snacks and food that I hand out. Kids get a snack bag in the back with Goldfish and Saltines (the vices of my children), I keep all cooler snacks, such as fresh fruit, cheese, and sliced turkey, up front
  • Road atlas
  • Chargers for all devices. If using your mobile phone for GPS, definitely have your charger and any additional connectors to make it work in your car up in the front seat with you
Ayla had such a great time with the selfie-stick.

Each of my kids had to fit all of their belongings into a bag. That was the only rule I imposed on their selections. This was to prevent a backpack stuffed with their biggest teddy bears accompanied by a handful of Legos and colored pencils with scraps of paper shoved into pockets. Pillow, blanket, and one stuffed animal could just be put in the car, no bag required.

Once we hit the road, it was time to enjoy the efforts of our planning – and did we ever! We were open to trying new experiences and seeing new places. And spending lots of time with people we love. We were offline as much as possible. Present for conversations. Ready and willing to get our hands dirty.

Really and truly, this Road Trip with my kids was possibly the best summer trip I’ve ever had. A huge thank you to all the people who made it special by taking us in, visiting with us, or meeting up with us for an adventure!

The original plan was for 26 days. We didn’t make it that long. We switched course and instead of Charlotte on the way home, we hit Asheville, meeting up with some buddies from Tallahassee.

In that chunk of 24 days, we saw 63 people we know and love, slept in ten different different cities or towns, and had 38 experiences that were new for the kids – and often for me too! Here’s our list:

  • Swam in a pool with a fountain
  • Playground obstacle course
  • Lego Discovery Play Center
  • Attended a huge dance recital
  • Wild Center and Wild Walk
  • Slept in a tent
  • Chased runaway farm animals
  • Swam in a pond on our cousin’s farm
  • Canoed
  • Paddled on a floating dock
  • Vacation Bible School
  • Recited a prayer from memory in front of an audience – Ayla
  • Dinner with grandkids at Ben and Frans
  • Finally visited America’s Taco Shop
  • Picked up Brian at BTV
  • Church Street Tavern with the kids
  • Creemees at Burlington Bay
  • Kicking the soccer ball at the waterfront
  • Jude’s discovery of paraphenalia
  • Echo Center
  • Fishing with Grandpa and Uncle Tyler
  • Burlington Farmer’s Market
  • Searching for sea glass
  • Hiking in Acadia
  • Exploring Bar Harbor
  • Tour of Frenchman’s Bay on the schooner Margaret Todd
  • Movie at the “we serve pizza and show movies” place
  • Baker Island tour
  • Rocky Road Latte with whip
  • Beach bonfire with weenies and s’mores
  • Explore El Galeon
  • Cars 3 with a crew of kids
  • Numbed our toes in the freezing Atlantic ocean
  • Spectacular sunsets
  • Blessing of the Fleet in Provincetown, MA including boat and beach
  • Hail coming down in Concord
  • Fire alarm at the hotel in the middle of the night
  • Lunch at Tupelo Honey with a table of nine

The experiences on this list are special not because of what they are, but because of where we were and who we experienced them with. The circumstances will never be exactly the same – that’s what makes every day special.

We have material to write about in our journals, photos to hang on our family photo wall, and stories to tell about the things we did and the people we saw.

I’ve been using this trip to teach my kids about the people that make up their family, and to give them the experience of seeing just how much of it they have. There are people we know literally all over the country, and they are, for the most part, accessible to us, if we are willing to take the time to hit the road and visit.

The journal writer living inside me is super satisfied with this trip. I love having something to write about.

Giant rocks to climb on? Yes, please!

This trip though, wasn’t just about making memories. It was about taking the trip simply because I wanted to take it. Sometimes life starts to feel like a whole lot of shoulds. A break from the litany of tasks and everyday responsibilities is necessary.  So, this summer was about doing what we wanted simple because we wanted to do it, and not because we had too.

While planning this trip, taking the journey, and upon returning, I’ve been grateful for the support and encouragement I’ve received. It’s really helped me to appreciate the magnitude of a trip like this, especially considering my husband was with us only about half the time. That’s an entirely different blog post! How to be on your own with your kids and still have a great time!

What Road Trip would you love to take? What would have to happen in your life to make that trip something that happens for you?

Click here to download your Road Trip Planning handout and use it to start planning your own adventure. Maybe even talk about it at dinner tonight. I wonder where your kids would want to go?

Sara Marchessault is a writer, publisher, teacher, and mom who is on a mission to increase joy on the planet. Through the practice of self-reflection, we become aware of what brings us joy and what does not, and we make choices to move forward or stand still. Journal writing is a powerful reflection tool that can help any of us move forward, even in the darkest of times. For ideas on how you can get the benefits of journal writing without always keeping a traditional journal, check out Sara’s book, Beyond Pen & Paper: 33 Experiments in Journaling.

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