Friday, August 9, 2013

Road trip!

I don't think that the movie "National Lampoon's Vacation" was based on my childhood, but I think that the phenomenon of taking your family on a cross-country road trip was so popular in the late 70's and early 80's that that there are probably lots of people my age who feel like that could be the case.  Seriously, we even had those little boxes of tissue on our dashboard and walked around thinking we looked cool in knee-high striped athletic socks, short shorts and cropped tops and baseball shirts.  (The 80's were the dorkiest decade to grow up in, and they will never be matched for the rest of time for how awfully people dressed their children.)
When I was about 5 or 6, my dad bought a green station wagon (with wood paneling on the sides) specifically for the purpose of driving cross-country from Wisconsin to the Grand Canyon.  It was wonderful, and also a little long and boring.  Granted, we didn't have the cinematic crises of a Cousin Eddie, a closed amusement park, or a dead relative, but we did have the full family road trip experience in a time when fitting a mattress in the "way back" so your children could lay around with their gallon-ziploc bags full of candy, coloring books, and little toys to keep them busy until the car reached the end of the driveway was normal.  Seat belts?  Oh, are those the things we jammed down into the recesses of the back seat the day after we bought the car?
I can remember seeing the Grand Canyon, I vividly remember camping in Yellowstone, chasing a porcupine through the woods so my dad could get a picture of it, eating root beer flavored hard candy sticks outside a general store with a huge wooden Indian in front of it, and hearing my mom say "oh, kiiiiids, loooook at thaaaat beeeeauuuutiful view!!" about a hundred times as we kept our noses down in our puzzle books just below the rear windows out of which lay the wild and picturesque landscape of the Western United States.

We head out on vacation today, and our 5 hour car trip does not compare to my childhood road trips in duration, but the thing that remains the same throughout the ages is that the kids will get bored.  Even with a DVD player, rear-synced A/C, satellite radio, tons of snacks, and plenty of stops to get out and stretch, 5 hours is a long time to have little people in the car.
Here are some tips that will make our trip, and maybe yours, a little more enjoyable:

1. Get out and play:  The benefit of stopping to "stretch your legs" is moving around to get the blood flowing again.  Children (and me) get restless if they sit too long in one place.  Encourage them to run around and burn off some of the boredom by throwing around a disc or a ball.  I love my Pocket Disc, and it is a must for car trips.  Stuff it in the glove-box or door panel so you can grab it when it is time to make a pit stop.  Tossing something around for 10 or 15 minutes will help you, the kids, the dog, your roommates, or Aunt Edna feel a lot better about getting back in the car for another two hours. 

You can even make up a game to play inside the car.

 2. Pack plenty of snacks:  Whether you are traveling with children or just crabby adults, having plenty of snacks on hand makes the journey a whole lot more pleasant.  My personal favorites are fresh and dried fruit, nuts, energy bars, and one really good bar of chocolate.
Level Ground Trading offers amazing dried "Golden Berries" that look like big golden raisins but are mildly tart and really yummy.  Reportedly, golden berries also have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Equal Exchange has so many yummy nuts, fruits, and snacks that it is hard for me to choose what to take, but a few favorites include the Tamari roasted almonds, the Apricot Geobars,  and my favorite chocolate bar,  the Caramel Crunch with Sea SaltIt is 55% dark, which is darker than milk chocolate (37%) a bit lighter than dark (70%), and has little crunchy bits of salted caramel that are conducive to savoring along the way.  Equal Exchange also offers bananas, and you can find out where they are sold throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, Northeast, and Upper contacting
3. Get cozy.  The great thing about traveling by car is that you can typically take just a little bit more than you can on a plane, and I always make room for a cozy throw, blanket, or pillow.  Mentally, if I have something soft draped over my lap I don't feel as much like I am strapped into the world's most boring roller coaster.  Coyuchi's "Honeycomb" throw is  the perfect weight and size and breathes well to keep you from overheating.  It also folds up small for such a dense blanket.  I also love Upavim's buckwheat neck pillows.  I added lavender buds to help relax, and you can alternate placing it under each knee to improve circulation, since you'll be sitting for a long time.

For kids, the recycled cotton blankets from Green 3 Apparel have a great vintage feel, and are just right at 40" x 30" for the car and for when you arrive.
yep, that's a two-story outhouse all right

4.  Go sight-seeing.  On trips that take longer than a day you need more than an occasional bathroom break or refueling. Check your route for unique stops like the ones found on Roadside America. (How could you not want to stop at the Lunch Box Museum, sit on Einstein's Lap, or see the world's Largest Twine Ball?)  Stop at a farm stand, find a Fair Trade retailer, boost the economy of a small town by eating lunch and shopping the stores on the main square, find a playground, or take a break in a state park.

5.   Keep a travel journal.  I am the worst about collecting little bits, brochures, and memorabilia during a trip, then bringing home a big bag full of pieces of paper, information and receipts, stuffing it in a box, and never looking at it again.  Finally I have gotten a little smarter about preserving vacation memories by simply bringing a small scrapbook or journal, pen, and glue stick with me on trips.  (I also bring cute paper clips and washi tape, but let's not get off topic.)  Mr. Ellie Pooh has lovely spiral bound notebooks made of handmade (or rather, elephant-made) unlined paper.  They are just right for a travel log.  I paste down ticket stubs, napkins, and other bits as I go, adding notes, impressions, little doodles, and things I want to remember.  This is a great way to help older kids stay busy between pit stops too.  If I took photos of a certain place or experience I leave some blank 4x6 spots on the pages and jot down what image I want to add or feeling I want to capture.  At the end of the day when I am editing out photos I can make sure I hang on to those that I'll want for the page and when I am back home and ready to print out pictures, I know what I need to print out and what I can delete.

If you are taking one last trip before summer ends, enjoy the journey, and if you are traveling with children, just remember, it isn't so much about whether they actually watch the sun set over the Tetons, but more about the fact that you made it possible that they could.

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