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large family road trips with small kids: planning the itinerary.

Time for the last post in our Road Trip series! Let's talk itinerary.

 It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that 99% of you reading this have smartphones and Siri and other kinds of witchcraft at your disposal, so you may not need my old fashioned tips for planning the best routes and stops.  But as for me and my house, we will just continue to spend $25 a month on our ancient phone plan and use our crotchety old fingers to Googlysearch the cybernet for our trip planning.  Because YOLO.

All that to say, I've never used GPS or other technology on our road trips before, so I'm blissfully unaware of how much harder I'm making this on myself.  Just humor me; take any advice that might be helpful, and just smile and nod along with the rest.

If you are traveling with young kids during daytime hours, plan on stopping every two hours or so.  This year we pushed the average closer to three, but it was the first year we were able to do that.  We don't have any "questionably potty trained" kids at this moment in time, and Rocco eats about every three hours or so, so it just worked for us this year.  I would suggest ALWAYS erring on the side of stopping too frequently rather than not frequently enough. Stop before you feel like you need to, if that makes sense.  ("Kill it before it dies" is my organizational mission statement.)

Always, always make every single child go pee at every single stop. They will tell you they don't have to. They will tell you they haven't even had any sips of water since the last stop. Don't give in!! You are the grown up, and by golly, you know enough to know their acorn-sized bladder is already planning on punking you. Don't fall for it.

For our first stop, I always just plan to find a nice, civilized interstate rest area. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, since we don't stop for long. We take the kids to the bathroom, feed them a snack, let them stretch their legs, and get back on the road.  I usually search the DOT site in advance for rest areas that have amenities of some kind that tell me it's regularly maintained and supervised.

The next stop usually falls around lunchtime, though, and this is where we pull out the big guns.  We stop at a park, do a full-on picnic lunch, and let the kids play to their hearts' content.  (And then, abviously, I make them go pee again. I don't mess around.). I plan in two hours for this stop, and we usually leave feeling revived, well-fed, and ready for naps.  Smartphones are probably great for finding nearby parks while you're on the road, but I just use Google in advance to look at city maps of the larger cities we'll be driving through, to find parks that are close to the interstate. Falls Park in Sioux Falls has become our favorite lunchtime spot on our regular route.



Yes, these are photos from last year that I pulled from the blog.  Last week our computer totally crashed and I don't have access to our photos, and I've been thumb-typing this whole post on the Kindle.  Don't even get me started.


We try to plan at least one fun or unusual stop into the rest of our day.  Sometimes state tourism websites will tell you what there is to see along a specific road. Other times, I use sites like roadsideamerica.com and TripAdvisor.com to find quirky places to check out (keeping in mind the distance between stops).

For dinner, we often stop for hot food somewhere. A hot meal just revives tiny people (and grown ups) like nothing else can.  To find good places to eat, I look ahead at where we'll be around dinnertime, and check TripAdvisor for yummy spots.  Sometimes you can find some great hole-in-the-wall places; other times you end up being like, 'meh.' But you're fed and everyone has had a break from the car (and, obviously, gone pee again), so you're still winning.



I usually spend an afternoon or so planning our whole trip- both there and back.  I like to have the planning done at least a few days in advance.  Then I print out our maps and directions (because, as should be clear by now, I live with abandon about a decade behind the times).  I also print a shorthand schedule, mostly for my own crazy town brain to keep things organized.


I like to overestimate our times so that I feel awesome about making good time.  It's how I feel like I'm winning at life.


And that's how I plan our itinerary to keep things running as smoothly as possible, and to try to provide opportunities for the kids to make some fun memories! If anyone has any other itinerary hacks, or even smartphone tips and apps for traveling that you'd like to share with other readers, post them in the comments!


Other posts in this series:
how to take a large family road trip with small children.
ideas for food and snacks. (gluten- and grain-free!)
master packing list and favorite first aid items.
planning the itinerary.

3 comments :

todd said...

smart phone fart phone. we gots this!

Heather said...

We do have smartphones and we love the GPS, but we still carry paper maps for when Google decides to take a nap in downtown San Antonio for example. I also book our hotels/sleeping stops in advance, because we've been left high and dry with our family when winging it before. (Thanks, Superman Festival in Meyropolis, Illinois.) For longer trips, I don't plan stops unless theres a known point of interest. We try not to stop until someone needs the restroom or we need fuel, and hopefully are able to accomplish both. This is the one area that gets easier as your family gets older!

Heather said...

We do have smartphones and we love the GPS, but we still carry paper maps for when Google decides to take a nap in downtown San Antonio for example. I also book our hotels/sleeping stops in advance, because we've been left high and dry with our family when winging it before. (Thanks, Superman Festival in Meyropolis, Illinois.) For longer trips, I don't plan stops unless theres a known point of interest. We try not to stop until someone needs the restroom or we need fuel, and hopefully are able to accomplish both. This is the one area that gets easier as your family gets older!