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:
I like things clean. I feel calm and collected when the house is tidy and everything is in its place. I used to think this was a personality flaw, but now I realize I am who I am, and I like who I am.
I, Stephanie O’Dea, happen to be a sort-of-Type-A Clean Freak.
I also love the Smell of Clean. I’m not a “vinegar and baking soda” kind of person I am fine if other people clean with these products but they just aren’t the cleaning powerhouse I need them to be.
1, I don’t want the house to smell like Easter Eggs all the time and 2, I just can’t wrap my brain around the fact that the germs are dead.
Because that’s what really matters to me. DEAD GERMS.
One of the side effects of my Love Affair with Lysol® is that we don’t get sick very often [KNOCK WOOD].
Sure, we get the sniffles now and then, but colds and flus don’t wipe through our house. I mostly credit this to Proper Hand Washing [side note: evidently I wash my hands so much that my fingerprints are hard to read now? I learned this after the school district fingerprinted me for volunteer work], but I do also use a lot of Lysol® Disinfectant Spray and Disinfecting Wipes.
I still let my kids get dirty we spend a lot of time outside, and I am not worried about outdoor germs or bugs, or licking a bit of worm slime. That kind of stuff is absolutely fine with me.
One of my earliest memories is going to family church camp and watching my grandmother go over the entire room with a can of Lysol® Disinfectant Spray. She sprayed down the light switches, TV (it didn’t have a remote, so she sprayed down the controls on the front of it which I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to do with electronics), the doorknob, and the entire bathroom.
She also laid down newspapers so we never stepped directly onto the carpet… huh. I’m beginning to see where I get my tendencies…
This Is What I Do To Help Keep Us Healthy
To keep us as healthy as we can be, I do ask my kids and all kids that come into my home to wash hands. It’s become such a habit for my kids (and for me) that I don’t even really need to say anything anymore. Everyone plops their shoes/backpacks/etc. by the front door and immediately washes their hands.
We do entertain a lot of other kids after school or on playdates, and I ask them to do the same. Every once in a while I get a kid who doesn’t want to wash hands “but I just washed them after lunch” or “my mom says I don’t have to” but I stick to my guns. This is a big deal for me, and I will take kids into the bathroom if needbe and help them wash their hands properly.
I also try my hardest to keep little kids in one area of the home, and provide easy-to-wash toys. I like Duplo Legos, Little People —hard plastic toys— these toys can easily be run through the dishwasher if necessary, or I take the bin outside later and spray the toys down with Lysol® or rub them clean with a Disinfectant Wipe.
This is what I did when I ran preschool centers, too. It keeps the toys shiny and dustfree, but most importantly it keeps boogers and saliva germs away. I also at least once a month (and more often during cold and flu season) spray down the doorknobs, light switches, and TV remotes with Lysol® or use the Disinfectant Wipes. I’ve written about this in the Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life book.
This truly is one of the best ways to make sure to Kill Germs Dead before they spread throughout the family and cause illness.
Lysol® and BlogHer
I’m doing some work with Lysol® and BlogHer and am happy to share with you a new project that Lysol is working on– the Healthy Habits Program, to bring a healthy awareness about germs to kids.
Lysol has put together its Healthy Habits Bus which is a “Science Museum on Wheels” that is able to go to schools across the country to show kids how germs work (good germs vs. bad germs) and how to practice proper hand washing procedure/sneeze etiquette.
The interactive games onboard the bus include a cool Hand Scanner where kids can put their hands under the scanner and see their hands projected on a screen in front of them – with animated “germs” wriggling all over them.
Kids can then watch a video about germs and watch an “Anatomy of a Sneeze” film before being able to practice proper hand washing right there on the bus. I love interactive school projects like this. I remember getting all excited when I was little when the Brush Mobile would come to school (do they even have those anymore?) or when the Library Lady would come and help us renew all of our library cards so we could check out books at the Book Mobile.
Lysol® is going to have a booth at BlogHer this year and I look forward to checking out the videos they have and learning more about their Healthy Habits Tour Bus.
Host the Lysol® Healthy Habits Bus at Your Child’s School
I’m excited to share this part with you!
Lysol’s Healthy Habits Program wants to offer your child’s school an opportunity to win a $15,000 educational grant, a one year supply of Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and Lysol NoTouch Hand Soap, and to have the Lysol® Healthy Habits Bus come to YOUR school.
To enter your school, please visit Lysol’s webpage and enter the pertinent information.
This contest ends July 31, 2014. I think this is a great way to help raise awareness about healthy habits and hand washing.
My fingers are crossed for you and your school!
Final Thoughts (Does Not Reflect Lysol’s Opinion)
Before I go, I want to bring up Super Germs and the idea that use of disinfectant, hand sanitizer, and overzealous handwashing with antibacterial soap are making us (the human race) resistant to germs and are actually making germs stronger and badder.
I am not a scientist. All I know is that as a mom, my job is to do everything I possibly can to keep my kids happy, safe, healthy, and strong.
My gut, my pediatrician, and my grandma’s teaching tell me that hand washing and germkilling is good.
If I’m wrong, and the germs are in fact getting stronger and badder because of what I’m doing to help keep my kids happy, safe, healthy, and strong, then I’m okay with it. I trust that science will continue to adapt and develop to Kill Germs Dead.
If germs can adapt, so can the scientists. I am not comfortable using my kids as guinea pigs to test out whether or not theories such as Super Germs exist.
All in all, at the end of the day, we are all doing our absolute best to raise our kids the best we can.
You’ll find them over there, in a cloud of Lysol. ;)
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!!
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!!
This contest is now over. Thank you for all who entered!! The winner has been notified via email. Have a great school year!! –steph
Thank you to Staples for providing a backpack for me to review (and for my daughter to keep), and for providing another backpack for a reader give away. Your generosity is appreciated.
It’s back-to-school frenzy season. I have a bit more time with my kids before they head back — our district isn’t beginning until after Labor Day this year. In fact we JUST got the supply list this past week and I was startled when I checked around that the local stores were already picked clean and were gearing up for Halloween!!
I don’t host very many reviews or giveaways on this site, and opt to keep them on the review page, but wanted to make sure that you don’t miss out on this cool offer.
I’ve got a seventh grader this year.
A VERY PICKY SEVENTH GRADER. (said with love, lots and lots and lots of love. I was picky in seventh grade, too.)
Her chosen backpack last year didn’t hold up to being jammed into a locker and kicked around after school during soccer practice. The bottom seam ripped and I ended up securing it with duct tape in April.
The backpack that Staples sent over? It’s wonderful. It’s terribly durable (it’s made by SwissGear, the founders of the Swiss Army Knife) and meets the seventh-grader-it needs-to-look-cool-but-not-too-cool-like-I’m-trying-to-look-cool-test.
I like that there’s a padded pocket in it for future laptop use, and I like that since we don’t have a laptop for her, she can stuff an extra binder into that slot. The straps are nicely padded and don’t dig into her shoulders even when it’s weighed down.
There are a few “secret” compartments, which is quite helpful since she just got braces and needs to carry around dental supplies.
I think you’ll really dig this backpack — it looks like it will hold up for a very long time; I’m impressed.
Staples has got pretty much anything you might possibly need for back-to-school supplies, and
would like to offer a backpack for the student in your home. One lucky winner will receive a brand new backpack of their choosing — up to a $60 value.
To enter this contest, simply leave a comment below with a valid email address in the email line. I’ll randomly choose a winner in a week — so this contest will end on Tuesday, August 27th at 5pm pacific time.
I’d also like to throw in a copy of my Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life book for the lucky winner since it follows the school calendar. This is it! This is the year you’re going to get organized!
good luck to all!
this will be the best school year, ever. I promise!