I went on vacation to Jackson Hole, WY with my 4.5 and 2 year old. We drove. All 1,807 miles. By choice!
The Great American Road Trip
How did this come to be? Well, my parents said they were going to road trip from South Carolina to Wyoming to visit my brother and sister, who live there. This was going to be their summer adventure, and as I heard the dates, I realized it just so happened to line up with my summer break from work. So I said something like, “Mom and Dad, can I absolutely redefine your romantic, leisurely, quiet road trip by adding myself and Jack and Cora?” With Cora’s second birthday this summer, flights for our family now mean four tickets and New Orleans to Jackson Hole is not the cheapest route! So while my request stemmed from practicality and cost-savings, I also saw some major allure in a big family road trip.
My own grandparents had taken my brother and me on a week-long rafting trip as children, something I’ll never forget. I figured there was no better way to make memories with your grandparents, then to buckle up next to them for 29+ hours of driving.
My parents were actually on board from the beginning. (Let’s be honest, distanced by a quarter century from having young kids on a daily basis, they probably were romanticizing what all this quality time would be like.) They termed the trip The Great Grammy and Big Papa Road Trip and decided to cater it to my children by planning stops at fire stations along the way and booking nightly hotels with pools. They “detoured” down to New Orleans to pick us up, and we were ready to find out if we were all about to make an amazing memory….or whether we were setting ourselves up for a big, frustrating fail.
Why Our Road Trip Was Awesome
First, my parents were able to afford to put a few luxuries in place. They spread the trip over four days, rather than three, thus keeping the daily miles down. They made sure we were in hotels with pools. They also splurged for two separate rooms, thus ensuring they could reboot their energy each night and that we all had a little time apart. They also rented a Suburban, which was a comfortable fit for two car seats, three adults, and luggage.
Second, I inherited my planning genes from my mom, and we both did some major pre-trip planning. She got Jack a whiteboard activity book, travel BINGO, and I put a large number of books on CD on hold at the local library, thus giving Jack multiple entertainment options. We did let him watch TV for a couple hours each day, but I’m glad we had other activities to give him some variety.
Third, we weren’t in a rush. We had only one daily objective: get to our end point. But there was no reason to rush. We drove through lots of small towns, and we’d do some internet searches and pull off the main drag to try to find the local fire station. On day three, I realized that with a slight detour, we could get to see New Mexico. We opted for adding another state to our list rather than rushing. This resulted in our friendliest fire station visit of the drive: Clayton, New Mexico. The chief gave Jack his own Clayton Fire Rescue t-shirt, and I can hardly get it off him to wash it.
Fourth, we got the gift of quality time. My seatmate was Cora, and our trip timed with her speech explosion. I got lots of snuggles and had so much fun interpreting all of the Cora-speak for the car. On day four, we picked up my husband Jacob at the Denver airport. (It took us three days to travel what took him a three hour flight.) This ensured we got to spend the same sort of quality time with Daddy too. And then, forty miles from our final destination, the Suburban made room for one more passenger and a bike as we picked up my older brother Chris off the side of the road. What was he doing there? He’d just finished an 800 mile bike ride from Canada down to Wyoming. More quality time 🙂 And Uncle Chris became even more epic in my children’s minds.
A Few Friendly Warnings
Based on this trip, I’m a proponent of family road trips! But I do offer three warnings.
Have a throw up bag in the car. We did not. Ouch!
Don’t completely eschew your normal eating habits. Cheesy lasagna + ice cream + two days of riding in a car can equal a night of pain for a single mom managing two children, one sick, in a hotel room. Pack fruit and healthy snacks or stop at grocery stores to give you healthier food options.
Extra miles are worth better scenery. The best parts of our trip were when we were on smaller highways out in the middle of new geography or riding through old downtowns.
Future Road Trips?
I see more road trips in the Landry family future. On the first Sunday after our trip, our pastor mentioned that the East Coast woman who wrote the lyrics for America, The Beautiful had just spent a semester out in Colorado. I totally get this. There is so much beauty outside of our own corner of the world and especially, outside of our highly settled cities. I’m glad my kids got to see mountains, plains, trains, big sky, meandering rivers, cattle grazing, and deer by the road. I’m also glad that they shared that experience with their family and that we have these memories to come back to.