My son is at the age where he asks about things like how my husband and I got married and the things we used to do before he was born. I love that he’s interested and intrigued by our past, and we’re always excited to share the stories behind the photographs that adorn the walls of our home and live in family picture albums. One of the most interesting and fun things we did before our son was born was our honeymoon – we took a two-week road trip down Route 66. He’s heard so many stories about it that it’s taken on mythic proportions for him, and while we’ve taken him on many shorter road trips, he’s been a bit sad that he hasn’t yet gone on a “proper” one. So we decided to take him on a “proper” 9 day road trip tour of northwestern Illinois, a slice of Iowa, corner of Minnesota and the southern half of Wisconsin. It was an amazing whirlwind tour, and we all loved it – but my son had an especially amazing time on his first real road trip.
In addition to it being my son’s first real road trip, it’s been many years since my husband and I have done a road trip that lasted longer than a long weekend. It proved to be a bit of a refresher course for us, and it was certainly a new experience to do a long drive with a kid. After being home for a bit, I wanted to crystallize the tips for what I’d repeat or do differently on the next trip. This is our top ten list of road trip recommendations.
1. Always pay more than $100 per night for accommodation in urban areas. Under $100 gems can truly only be found in small towns/rural areas (such as lovingly restored vintage motor court motels or great campgrounds).
2. Starbucks doesn’t exist in rural America, and boutique coffee shops are few and far between (only in the trendier small/college towns). Plan accordingly.
3. Botanic gardens are always worth a visit.
4. When traveling with a food allergy, do your homework on safe restaurants ahead of time. Then always get accommodation with a kitchenette, or at the very least a microwave and mini fridge. You can eat decent allergy-friendly food these days from a microwave or just-add-water dehydrated meals if you have to. Breakfasts can be challenging so plan on granola or nut bars if all else fails.
5. If you have a kid that collects pressed/embossed pennies, don’t forget a roll of quarters and 25 cents worth of pennies for the penny machines found at most attractions. We had to scrounge change out of the car and mercifully had enough.
6. Carry a decent amount of cash, even if you don’t in everyday life. Attractions/activities in smaller towns/rural areas are cash-only more times than you would think.
7. If you’re doing the pool/lake/beach situation with kids, do yourself a favor and bring a set of small sand toys and a small floaty. Endless water/sand fun. If you’re not doing a pool/lake/beach situation (and even if you are), bring a set of small water guns. Being able to cool off easily on a searingly hot height-of-summer day is essential.
8. You will get a thousand miles out of a sun shade/cabana thingy. Especially if you’re photosensitive or are going to a locale with zero natural shade. Worth EVERY penny. We have a Coleman Beach Shade, and at $35 it is money well spent. The front zips up so it can also turn into a proper solo sleeping tent with adequate privacy for a kid or teen as well (or an adult willing to sleep in a slightly scrunched up position).
9. For kids, the Sterilite Stack & Carry 4-Layer Organizer is a MUST HAVE. It makes a great car activity center for the littles, and can sit in the back seat easily within reach. For our trip, we did one layer with ready snacks (dried fruit, meat sticks, granola bars and applesauce pouches), one layer with books, one layer with art supplies (mini colored pencils, mini coloring book and half sheets of drawing paper with a pencil sharpener), and one layer with card games and small toys (Hot Wheels cars and a cheapo kid’s binocular set). Easy car fun.
10. Get a proper trash can and seat back organizer for the car. Easily having a place to stash trash (and you will have trash during a road trip that you need to put SOMEWHERE until you find a garbage can) and essentials like tissue, hand sanitizer, sunblock, pens, etc. will go a long way to preserving your sanity while in the car for long stretches of time. And they earn their keep in ordinary driving situations too.
Bonus tips – don’t forget baseball caps/sun hats for everyone, and sandals for lounging/beach time/campground showers. Personal shade from the hot sun and comfortable footwear are not to be taken lightly.