There may have been in a time in your life when road trips were fun. Some drunken yahoo would scream, “road trip,” and next thing you knew, you’d be on the way to a spontaneously exciting vacation through small towns and other unexpected delights.
But nowadays, with kids in the mix, the once-heavenly road to nowhere has become the path to Hell. From Vacation to RV to this summer’s annual plumbing the depths of “family” comedy — We’re the Millers – your road trip doesn’t involve sexy fun like stripping and smuggling drugs, or bonding things like accidentally driving your RV into a lake or falling into your mobile home’s septic tank. (Hilarious! When it happens to someone else…)
Real family road trips tend to be big whiny messes — just one spilled Big Gulp away from disaster.
Witness this exchange from our recent summer sojourn to visit the fam six hours away:
Kid 1: I’m so hungry.
Kid 2: Can you go to Hits 1?
Big Daddy: I just want to hear this one song.
Kid 1: It’s from 1978! Are you kidding?
Kid 2: I’m so hungry AND thirsty.
Big Daddy: Not stopping until we get to the next rest stop in 37 miles.
Kid 1: Can you PLEASE GO TO HITS 1?
Kid 2: Cody Simpson – YES.
Big Daddy: Now are you happy?
Kid 1: If we can stop. I AM SO HUNGRY. I’m starving to death. You can feel my ribs.
Kid 2: Yah, can we PLEASE STOP? I’m so thirsty… and I have to pee. Mom, can I drink your coffee?
And from my dark inner reaches, spoken silently from the remnants of my “happy place,” and as I fork over the last gulp of my coffee while simultaneously fumbling for the Advil: Please save me. If there is a G-d, please smite my car-mates and put us all – including Cody Simpson – out of my misery.
This all took place while we sat in traffic, approximately a half hour into our drive and less than 10 miles from our house. (Did I mention we live in the LA area? Even driving a couple of towns over can qualify for a road trip in my corner of the world…)
Lucky for me, I’d scrawled some ideas for surviving a family road trip – and magically enough, second only to dosing the kids with Benadryl (much more effective when they were babies), the following worked. I share with you now seven ways to cure your summertime road trip blues:
1) Win the battle of the radio: While I know that everyone can listen to his or her own music on his/her own tiny device from the future, it’s always better in theory in than in practice. Hence, the battle over the radio. To remedy this potential landmine, here’s a game my husband invented: Set the radio to the hits station, and everyone picks who will sing the next song. Winner gets control of the dial. If you get first dibs on either Robin Thicke or Daft Punk (or whomever has been beaten to death on summer radio), you are guaranteed a win. To get that primary crack, insist on age before beauty.
2) Don’t resist the rest stop: Seriously, what crazy American ritual makes us insist on riding 300 miles before the first stop? When I road tripped with some kid-free BBFs a couple months ago, they had one rule: we stop when any one of us needed to. And guess what? Not holding in pee makes everything much more pleasant.
3) Get help from Yelp: All you have to do is type in what the best stops are along your route, and you’ll get great recommendations for everything from meals, best-condition bathrooms, and other insights into random roadside stops from cheapest gas, to best place to buy beef jerky, and the weirdest roadside attractions.
4) Book it: This is one that’s helped enormously by summer homework – particularly if your child is old enough for a rather lengthy, rather classic novel assignment. Under the guise that you’d like to help him/her get through the work, you read the book out loud. Two things now happen: one is that your child is a captive prisoner and hearing a live action audiobook so when you get home, no riding junior’s ass to get the work done, and two is, within minutes everyone (but hopefully not the driver) will be sound asleep. Which leads me to…
5) All hail, nap time: Remember when we took nap time for granted? My husband and I used to drive our kids around for hours just to give them to sleep for a blessed 20 minutes. That early training comes in handy on road trips, and is easily employable if you keep them up as late as possible the night before you leave. That way either your kids, or you, or both, carve a chunk of time off the trip catching some ZZZ’s.
6) Travel in comfort, not style: Two words: Neck pillow. It’s particularly cunning if you refuse to take it off even when you go into the gas station store to pee or buy snacks. The neck pillow does double duty then, ensuring your family stays far away from you while you shop — thus allowing you to choose the snacks you want without interruption or correction from the peanut gallery.
7) Did I mention drugs? I am still not above dosing the kids with Benadryl, or myself with extra Advil, a homeopathic muscle relaxant I enjoy called Formula 303, or a cocktail of all of the above. And if you have a hip flask from the days of yore and road trips, why not fill it to the brim (as long as you’re not driving)?
So if you see me flying down Route 66, just know I’m getting some kind of kick. It’s not what it was, but then again, the destination isn’t the point: it’s all about the Journey… preferably playing “Don’t Stop Believing,” on the classics station. (Take that, Cody Simpson!)