We took a 2-week family road trip this summer as our main vacation. We ended up hitting 8 states, and we left from the San Francisco Bay Area. The states that we “tiptoed in” aren’t included in the above map — we ended up only spending an hour in Nebraska and about 15 minutes in Colorado. But I still think it totally counts!
We have a small pop-up tent trailer that we pull with our Toyota Sienna mini van. If you are in the market for a pop-up, we chose the Jayco Sport 10 model, and it fit all 5 of us beautifully (2 adults, kids: 12, 9, 4). We opted to get a model that doesn’t have a shower or toilet because we stayed at (almost all) KOA campgrounds.
We opted for the KOA grounds because they had swimming pools, good bathroom facilities, and a playground for the kids. I also appreciate that the Lights Out time at the campsites is 9pm; I like knowing that i’m not going to hear booming music while I’m trying to get the kids to sleep. The KOAs that we went to were all family-friendly and I felt safe, which was important to me when so far away.
Months (about 6 months) before we left, we outlined our route and made camp reservations. We knew we wanted to see Dinosaur National Park, Yellowstone, and Mt Rushmore. The kids also really wanted to see “the world’s largest baked potato” in Idaho. Those were the destinations we kept in mind while planning our itinerary. Adam also wanted to limit the driving to about 400 miles a day or less.
I bought an inexpensive accordion file folder and divvied it up per day. I included in each slot our camping reservation, a map of the area, and directions to the nearest hospital. I did this for every city we spent the night in. I figured if we had the local emergency room mapped out we’d never need to use it! And I was right! PHEW!!
Do not count on your vehicle’s GPS system or your phone’s turn by turn guidance. Be sure to have roadmaps of all the areas you are going to go to, and before you leave print out turn by turn instructions from one spot to another. Cell and GPS reception is quite spotty in the National Parks, Forests, and in the mountains. We’d have entire days of no cell service.
EXPECT THE KIDS TO SAY THEY ARE BORED
We drove a lot. Although we tried to limit the driving to 3 to 4 hours a day, there were days that we hit traffic or road construction crews or bad weather which slowed us down. I have fantastic kids, but I’m super glad that there wasn’t a dashboard-mounted camera to catch all the times that I yelled at them to stop complaining.
Kids are kids. Kids complain. Kids get tired and cranky. Know this and accept this before you go.
We had a rule that at the campsites there was “nothing digital.” But in the car? Whatever. Keep the kids happy — give them snacks, little toys from the dollar store, play games, and watch DVDs.
I actually bought boxed sets of new-to-my-kids DVDs to watch on the road like Punky Brewster, The Brady Bunch, Webster, Silver Spoons, and The Cosby Show. These are all family friendly and Adam and I enjoyed hearing them through the car sound system. I also liked how each episode has a bit of a moral dilemma and message.
I’m a total sap.
I had a few rolls of quarters with us that I used to pay the kids every so often for their good behavior. My idea was to dole them out for every 15 minutes or so of quiet but I wasn’t quite all that organized. Instead, I just handed them a handful here and there depending on my mood. They used these quarters to buy candy, stuff from gumball machines, and pressed pennies.
We also needed the quarters to do laundry at the campsites and to pay for parking meters. I was glad to have them!
I’m the crockpot lady, so I planned most of our meals around slow cooker food. I wrote about how I always camp with my slow cooker, here. This trip was no different, except that we were really on the road more than at a campsite, so I found the stovetop setting and the oven setting of the Ninja to be a much more efficient way to cook.
I brought along a 25-foot extension cord so we preferred to keep the Ninja out on the picnic table in the evenings while I cooked instead of stinking up the pop-up. It worked very well for us, and (in case you were wondering) you can make AWESOME bacon in it on the oven setting at 400 degrees — then you can use the drippings to make the world’s best hashbrowns!
I also packed the pancake griddle for use at the sites. The griddle came in handy during the rain storms that we kept hitting which made cooking outside impossible. We used it for pancakes, french toast, quesadillas, and grilled cheese sandwiches. On nice days I’d use it outside, too, for lunch time cooking.
Although the pop-up has a propane grill and every campsite has a charcoal or campfire ring, we really did find that we used the Ninja or the griddle for almost all of the meals. I found that I could control the heat better and when the kids were starving it was just easier to cook on something I was used to rather than worry about the wind blowing out the propane flame.
Because we are gluten free, I worried that we wouldn’t really be able to find some of our favorite packaged food on the road. I bought a case of Gluten Free Rice Krispies before we left, and we stuck to that and yogurt and fresh fruit for breakfasts. Lunch was usually crackers with peanut butter or salami and cheese. We often ate in the car for lunch or found a local park that we could pull into to let the kids run around and get their wiggles out.
That was actually kind of fun — we would just find a suburb in a small town and drive around to find the local park. We saw some really cool playgrounds!
We ended up eating out for either lunch or dinner almost every day. In a perfect world I suppose you’d always eat at the campsite or prepare your own food, but I found it just not to be realistic. Eating at a restaurant for 1 meal a day was much less expensive than it would be to eat out for all meals, and it honestly was just kind of nice to have somebody bring me my food!
CAMPING, WITH KIDS, IN GENERAL
Using the pop-up has spoiled me, and I’d rather not tent camp anymore if I can help it. I like that the setup and tear down only takes about 20 minutes, and I like how clean this type of camping is. Since we stayed at KOAs, we all showered daily and the bathrooms were very nicely maintained. I never felt like we were roughing it — the mattresses were comfortable and I liked not having to roll up the bedding each and every day.
The kids all had their “jobs” — and they were very good at set up and tear down after 15 days on the road.
To make our home away from home a bit more comfortable, I did get a Nighttime Bathroom for me and the girls — a Luggable Loo, which came in very handy. To keep it from being gross, I simply lined it each night with a kitchen-garbage-bag and placed an open Size 5 diaper in the bottom. In the morning, I just tied up the garbage bag and took it to the onsite dumpster. It worked VERY well and I’d absolutely recommend the Loo to anyone traveling with small kids or anyone who doesn’t want to be wandering around a campground at night!
I also got a Queen Sized sleeping bag for me and Adam to use. I sometimes feel squished up in a regular sleeping bag, and it was nice to have one less thing to roll up.
We’re frugal people, and although we did each get a TShirt from Mt. Rushmore and a few more things throughout the trip, we tried to limit our spending. Also, I’m not a fan of clutter.
That said, I did collect a magnet from all of our stops, and I love looking at them now that we are home. Magnets are cheap — I think the most expensive one was $4.99, and all of the tourist-type spots have them.
I also really like the idea of taking 1 rock per place to keep as a momento. This is illegal in a lot of places, though, so if you get in trouble I release all liability!
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?
Yes. In a heartbeat. This was such a fantastic trip, and filled with so many memories. I loved every bit of it, and would highly recommend setting up a longish trip with your own family. One of my favorite things was that we were gone long enough for the daily set up, tear down, driving, etc. to feel like The New Normal. We all got into a groove, as a family, and truly enjoyed living in the moment. In this day and age of being Plugged In at All Times it’s hard to really just live in the moment sometimes.
Since I don’t have a personal facebook page and since Adam and I are pretty private about our family lives and don’t want our kids online, I didn’t feel the need to constantly update social media — I didn’t want anyone to know we were gone, anyway!
it was freeing.
And you should DO IT!
in case you were wondering about the actual itinerary: San Francisco, Reno NV, Wendover NV, Salt Lake City UT, Vernal UT, Rawlins WY, Casper WY, Mt. Rushmore SD, Buffalo WY, Cody WY, Jackson Hole WY, Jerome ID, Winnemucca NV, Lake Tahoe CA
and here was my big WE DID IT! splurge:
click the link for a printable PDF version of the golden rules for your use –steph
The Family’s Golden Rules
Summer is coming, and I plan on having the kids home with me. I don’t like having the kids at camps and try not to have a lot of structured activities planned during the summer months. It’s a little old-school, I know, but I just really like having them home with me and I like the uninterrupted free time and play that occurs when we don’t have something we HAVE to do.
And I’m kind of lazy.
And I’m terribly cheap.
That said, I do have things that I need to accomplish this summer, and in order for me to get my work done, the kids need to find a way to fend for themselves and not run completely feral.
We have chore charts, and we do follow The Daily 7 as much as we can to keep the house in somewhat decent order. I try to let them work out their own squabbles (my kids are currently 12, 9, and 4) and choose to not intervene unless truly necessary.
(see above. I’m kind of lazy…)
AND? I am not going to always be here. I need these kids to grow up to be responsible members of society, and in order for that to happen, I can’t swoop in and fix every last thing. They’ve got to figure it out on their own.
I’ve gotten a few emails about chores, and responsibility charts, and decided to use those emails as a springboard to make up a list of Golden Rules for the house. These are certainly not the *only* rules in our house, but these are the ones that I expect to be drummed into their heads before embarking out into the Wild Wild World.
Feel free to print these out and hang them up in the play room or family room.
I hope you’re having a wonderful day!!
I seem to be getting gutsier in my old age. A month or so ago I wrote about starting a Family Game night tradition in your house, and listed some of our own family favorites. Kim and I talked in the comment section about how it would be neat to have a lending library of family-friendly games at school or in the community, and I really liked that idea.
So I emailed Hasbro.
and they sent two HUGE boxes of games— 50 in all — for the school.
I couldn’t be happier.
Thank you, Hasbro.
I need to make some sort of checklist for checking out the games, and figure out where I’m going to house them. I may need to work out of the back of the van if I can’t find an empty cabinet somewhere! The girls (and their friends) are making inventory lists for each board game, and are putting the little pieces into separated ziplocks. So far the biggest hit game has been “girl talk” which has been deemed the BEST SLUMBER PARTY GAME ever. I haven’t looked over the cards very carefully, so I’m not sure exactly how appropriate the content is, but the boxes say ages 8 and up. I’ve noticed a lot of walking backwards and duck quacking…
I’ve been trying to figure out how our PTA can give back to the school for a while (without spending any money, since there ISN’T ANY), and having a lending game library will be a huge help. We just lost our biggest “free” fundraising effort–the Amazon Affiliates account, because of the new California tax laws. This is a big blow to our school, and I am looking into ways to replace that income. If anyone has any ideas (we have Scrip, and need to campaign big time this year to get more people involved) I’d love to hear them. I really liked the Amazon thing because it was such easy money and parents didn’t feel nickled and dimed—
I’ve got six weeks to figure it out.
In the mean time, I’m going to enjoy the last month or so of summer vacation and soak every bit of it up that I can. I love having everyone home—even though it means I’m in constant fire-fighter mode.
things are going well for you?
We play a lot of games in our house. This is a photo of the family game shelves in the garage. The board games and puzzles are accessible to the big kids, but out of reach from the baby. I try to maintain a “one or two games in the house at a time” rule, to limit lost or damaged pieces.
Since my kids vary in ages (9, 6, and seventeen months), we have quite a few to choose from– but truly only play a handful on a regular basis. I always thought it would be a good idea to have a way to rent board games. Or a lending library. This might be neat to set up in schools, or through your church or neighborhood— something free the whole family can enjoy that promotes togetherness.
If you’re new to playing board/card games with your children, do not expect everyone to have fun and get along perfectly. This is real life. Go with the flow, and try not to be a dictator. Rules are important, but good sportsmanship is a much more valuable lesson to learn. I’m okay with bending rules or getting new cards/scrabble pieces to keep a game moving along and to retain interest, but the family needs to agree. Anything sneaky is cheating, and that’s not okay.
It’s not about winning or losing. It’s how you play the game. — Grantland Rice
words to live by!
Preschool Games (no reading required):
Candyland– this is THE classic preschool board game. This game teaches the “luck of the draw,” taking turns, and color recognition. Ages 2.5 or so and up–child needs to be able to not flip the board, and understand taking turns.
Chutes and Ladders– the other classic preschool board game. This game has a spinner, and is a great way to introduce numbers. Try to just enjoy and not turn each play into a math lesson. Let the math come naturally— learning is best when it’s not forced, anyway! ages 4 and up.
Memory– this simple matching game is fun for all ages. If you have very young children, start with only 5-10 pairs, then build up. When I taught preschool, I started the little ones right around age 18 months. You’ll be surprised at how quickly small guys figure it out!
HyperDash– great indoor game on a rainy day, or outdoor game to let a pack of kids run off some energy. The ages on the box says for ages 7 and up, but I think that recommendation is completely out-of-whack. There are batteries, but this is a fantastic preschool game–I’d say for ages 3 and up.
Connect Four–a large version of tic-tac-toe, Connect Four is appropriate for ages 4 and over, and I still really enjoy playing with the kids. This is a good way to teach planning-ahead and strategy– important skills for more advanced games.
Go Fish, Uno, Old Maid, Crazy Eights (you can usually find these games at your local Dollar Store)– great classic card games to toss in the diaper bag, beach bag, to keep in the glove compartment, etc. You can customize the games for smaller children by limiting the amount of cards in play. Although the Uno deck says for ages 7 and up, I taught a group of 4-year-olds who picked the game up quite quickly.
Jenga –family building game, or a solo game. It’s kind of tricky to rebuild the stack for small children, but lots of fun to knock down, or to watch mom or dad “mess up” and knock the tower over.
Young School-Aged children (but still fun for older kids/adults!)
Battleship — beginning strategy game, teaches graph/cooordinates-reading. 2 player game, ages 6 and up (looks like Amazon doesn’t carry the regular vs.; you’ll need to look locally).
Apples to Apples Jr. — we love this game for building vocabulary, and for just a great family game. Children need to be able to read/sound out words. Ages 6 1/2 or 7 or so and up. GREAT game for a large group, family gathering with all ages, etc.
Boggle — fun, quick family game. Builds vocabulary, promotes reading/word-making. ages 6 and up or so. Fun for adults—Adam and I get quite competitive with Boggle.
Yahtzee — Great math skills game. This game also sets up the framework to play poker, which is a valuable skill, right? (gotta be better than Liar’s Dice… at least…)
Older Elementary-aged children to adult
Clue — the new version has added a few more rooms and weapons, and “intrigue” cards. Our family ignores the intrigue cards, and plays the classic way– we just try to solve the crime. If you’re playing with teenagers or an adults-only game, you might want to use the intrigue cards. This game is best with 3 or more players.
Blokus — Remember the old Game Boy game, Tetris? (there’s probably an app for that now, huh?) Blokus is a boardgame version of Tetris. Players use geometric blocks to build board presence and block players. Teaches spatial awareness, logic, and strategy. The game works the best with 4 players, although you can play with 2 or 3.
Carcassonne My friend, Kelly, from The Spunky Coconut told me about this game, and we’ve been playing it every couple days ever since. My kids cheat too much when they play on their own— I’d recommend having an adult involved. This is our current favorite, and when/if we outgrow this game, there are add-ons available. Great way to introduce more advanced games like Risk (which we own, but I still haven’t figured out!).
Cranium Family — This family game combines classics like pictionary, charades, and name that song in an entertaining (and not too challenging) way. (PS. Amazon is listing this for $57 right now, which is absurd. I have no idea why.)
These are our current favorites, but I’m ALWAYS on the lookout for great new games. If you have any other suggestions for me to keep an eye out for, please let me know!