Sunday, June 7, 2015

Hit the Road: 5 Tips to Make Your Next Road Trip an Epic Adventure

Hit the Road: 5 Tips to Make Your Next Road Trip an Epic Adventure

We've sold our house.  We're putting our things in storage.  We're leaving the business in good hands.  It's summer and we have a car. 

So we're hitting the road.

We'll be camping, hiking, driving, visiting family, seeing the sites - an epic road trip if ever there was one.  Since we don't have a lot of room (ours is a Subaru, after all, not an oversized RV), or exactly how long this road trip will last (though we're certainly hoping to be settled down before school starts in late August), we are packing and preparing judiciously.

Sure, our situation is unique.  But if you're planning a road trip - whether for the weekend, the week, or the summer, these five tips will help you be organized, efficient, and ready for adventure.

1. Make a Plan

We're headed first into the Pacific Northwest by way of central Nevada and northern California.  Boy are there are some amazing things to see on the way!  We'll be staying in a lot of national parks and so will be doing some bare bones camping (some national park campsites have only an outhouse), but we're splitting those stops up with "comfort camping" at a KOA or similar campsite with showers, flush toilets, playgrounds, and even a pool now and then.  And we'll be staying a few nights with friends along the way, too.

We've found that one of the best resources for planning a camping road trip is  National Parks have beautiful sites, are well-maintained, and come with lots of cool things to do and see.  We particularly love the Junior Ranger programs in each National Park which help kids learn about and interact with the special features of each park (check with the Visitor's Center for a booklet and later, a badge).

To make reservations, you just need to create an account (free), and then you can browse by state, region, park, and campsite.  This is a fantastic resource.  In many parks you can choose your own campsite (and see beforehand whether it's close to the entrance, the dumpster, the potty) - especially helpful if you've never been to the park you're planning to visit.

And you'll find some great gems: we stumbled upon a beach campsite on the Oregon coast (we were delighted to find it half-empty and snatched up a spot with an ocean view).  We've found that RV sites fill up fast, but tent site are generally quite plentiful.

2. Invest in the Right Equipment

The best way to keep camping and road-tripping for weeks on end manageable is to be organized.  I took an inventory of the things we would need (you know, that list-making obsession) and, since we just recently returned from a four day stint in the backcountry in Canyonlands NP where we stuffed all. of. the. things. in the back of the Jeep, we knew we wouldn't be able to live like that for more than a week.  Every evening we had to unload and every morning reload. "You guys are the kings of tetris," one passerby commented on our last day.  Yeesh.

So we invested in quality gear that will keep us organized and our supplies in good shape.  We've been building our camping supplies over several years so we have great gear, but we took advantage of the Memorial Day sales and bought a rooftop cargo carrier at REI (the last straw to making us a true Subaru family - chuckle).  Our camping gear will go in there - tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and pillows.

We've had not great experiences with suitcases lately.  We have a great set and they've been with us in many, many countries, but I realized that for packing into the car, they're really not that efficient.  Instead, I'm using three identical plastic bins - one for our clothes, one for our shoes, and one for the camp kitchen and pantry foods.  That way mud, grime, and stinky feet don't mix with clean clothes or kitchen gear and everything stays neatly compartmentalized. The bins fit just right in the back of the car with lots of room to spare and will be easy to get into and to put away.

This is also going to help us limit what we bring.  We'll have a minimal wardrobe (laundry can be done on the road) and a minimal camp kitchen (we've whittled this down to essentials over the years too and so know exactly what we need - and don't).  The one indulgence this trip are shoes.  We want regular running shoes for walks and exercise, our hiking shoes for trekking, flip flops for the shower, and a pair of "everyday" shoes for around camp or around town.  That's four pairs each for four pairs of feet - a lot of shoes.  But the bin keeps them corralled and in check.

3. Prepare for Long Days in the Car

Because space is limited, the boys are bringing only two toys each.  We're also bringing one book of Shel Silvertein's poems (because the boys have fallen in love with it in the last weeks).  But otherwise, for books, they'll be using an e-reader.  We can borrow both books and audiobooks from our local library - an excellent feature we'll be taking advantage of.

I'm a list-maker, so I've been scouring the inter webs and my favorite bloggers for great kids' book and audiobook recommendations and making long long lists.  I've also made a list for audiobooks the whole family will enjoy (more to come on that later).  And we'll be reading a few books out loud as well.  We recently finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; books two and three are definitely on the docket.

We don't have an in-car DVD player, but every so often we'll let the kids watch a movie we've downloaded on the iPad in the back seat (again, thanks to our local library we can check out up to 12 movies a month).  We just recently invested in this great headphone splitter so they can each use their own set of headphones and us adults in the front seat can still have a conversation.

4. Embrace Adventure

Two of our family rules are "Say yes to adventure" and "We can do hard things."  A few weeks ago we hiked 2.5 miles uphill in the desert to see Delicate Arch in Canyonlands NP.  We were so pleased to see so many families on the trail with kids of all ages.  And, yep, we heard some complaining: "I'm never doing anything like this again!" one kid wailed.  Granted, it was a tough hike.  And some of the things we'll be doing this summer will be tough, too.  But we want our kids to know that we can do hard things.  The best way to teach that is, well, to do hard things so we're going to keep doing them.

We also want our kids to be adventurers.  To look for new things to do and see and experience.  This is one reason why we love the National Park Junior Ranger programs so much - and why we want to spend as much time outdoors as we can.  It's good for the soul (as much for our grown-up ones as for their little growing ones).  They're bringing along an "adventure kit" - a notebook, pens and colored pencils, a mini magnifying glass, some string, a mini ruler, a little pocket knife, and a camera.  Just little things to help them interact with the world around them and record things we've seen and done (plus it's good to keep those little minds well-oiled for school in the fall).

There are lots of other way to find adventure, too. is a great resource for finding great sites.  Yelp has fantastic recommendations from great local eats to parks and other family activities.  If you'll be spending any time on the old Route 66, there are all kinds of apps and resources for finding the quirky and kitschy from Chicago to LA.  Then again, often the best adventures are the spontaneous ones you happen upon accidentally.  Really - adventure is out there, and it's easy to find as long as you're looking.

5. Be Chill

When my husband was growing up, his father would plan road-trips months (sometimes years) in advance.  And by plan, I mean chart the mileage, mark the rest stops, and create a minute-by-minute itinerary (and there was no stopping at all between scheduled breaks - the torture!).  We won't be following his lead.

Instead, we know we're traveling with an infant who needs to eat every three hours and two rambunctious boys who need to stretch their legs and burn off energy on a regular basis.  We're taking it easy.  We're planning to stop at the scenic look-outs and take the back roads and enjoy the journey.  We've learned (by plenty of experience) that things are most stressful when circumstances don't meet our expectations.  So we're letting go of those expectations.  Sure, we need to get to our next stop and set up camp before dark - but that's the only item on the agenda other than see what we see and take it slow and find adventure.


These are the days lifetime memories and epic family legends are made of.  We'll try hard to remember that and let the days unfold as they will.  We're going to enjoy the journey.  We're going to do hard things.  And we're going to work on building the kind of family culture we feel so strongly about.  We're living with intention - in this season, that means living out of the car as we camp, hike, and explore our way north by northwest in search of adventure.

See you out there.

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