A tank full of gas and a tightly packed minivan? Check. Our dog-eared copy of Drive I-95, heavily highlighted? Check. Three excited children—my 11-year-old son, my 5-year-old daughter, and my 4-year-old grandson? Check, check, and check.
With all systems go, we took off on a thousand-mile trek down the East Coast, starting in New Jersey and ending in Florida. Our destination was Disney World, but as Harry Chapin once wrote, "It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good." With that in mind, we hoped to make the 16-plus hours of road time as exciting as a spin on Buzz Lightyear's Astro Orbiter.
Well, OK, maybe that's too ambitious. But we did want to make things as comfortable, enjoyable, and painless as possible. And if we could make it a bit fun, so much the better.
When the alarm went off at 4 (yes, we're talking 4 a.m.), I was bleary-eyed but excited. My husband, Scott, and I quickly made coffee, finished packing the van, and roused the kids to put them—jammies and all—into their car seats.
Road Trip Success Tip #1: Do as much of the drive as possible while the kids are still sleeping.
We planned to pull out of the driveway by 4:30 a.m., and with any luck, it would be five hours later before the kids woke up and needed breakfast and bathroom breaks. By that time, we'd be almost a third of the way through the trip without a single, "Are we there yet?"
I always enjoy driving, and I was looking forward to taking my turn behind the wheel. We had loaded all the iPods with personal favorites, selected a variety of books on tape, and picked out appropriate videos to pop in when boredom levels rose.
Tip #2: Take advantage of technology.
I remember endless road trips with my siblings, crammed in the back of my mom's old station wagon, where we entertained each other with made-up verses to "Kumbaya." But if you want to arrive at your destination without a pounding headache from one too many rounds of "A Thousand Bottles of Beer on the Wall," plug in whenever you can. Walkmen, iPods, portable DVDs, and in-car video units can be lifesavers on long journeys. Of course, the best made plans often go awry. We had just crossed the Delaware line when my grandson Bryan needed a potty break—a mere half hour from home, but we had to remember...