For Spring Break this year, we opted to make the American Hajj, that practically religious pilgrimage that every person in this country seems to make at least one in his or her lifetime. We went to Disney World. And we did it 1980s style: in our Dodge Caravan without a computer or Gameboy (or iPad or DVD player or Kindle) around. And we also opted to do it without breaking it up into multiple days. We spent a total of nearly 30 hours traveling, and traversed almost 1800 miles. I leveled up to be a Waze Knight.
As an aside, I took this trip in a Dodge Caravan in the mid 90s with my parents and brothers. My parents, though, were wimps and spent the night in Savannah, Ga.
Leading up to this trip literally everyone we mentioned it to thought we were crazy. How will you survive that long in the car with your three kids? And you’re not taking electronics and plan to have the DVD player off? They will make you drive off the road! They will complain the whole time! There’s no way they will let you do that! My confidence that we could make it without incident was pretty unshakable, though the constant advice made Stacy waver slightly. Maybe a hotel in the middle would be a good idea?
But we did it and we’ll teach you how in this post!
Travel when it’s dark and everyone is asleep.
The way we planned our travel days, we tried to maximize the amount of time the kids and non-driving partner could sleep in the dark. Yes, sleep is important, and it would certainly be more difficult on vacation in unfamiliar surroundings, but we made a small sacrifice for overall harmony. I woke up at 1:30 a.m. the day of travel after going to bed at about 8:00 p.m. the previous day. I loaded the car with the cooler and all the rest of the bags, then started transferring the sleeping family at about 2:30 a.m. We were driving by 3:00 a.m.
Now this is just my personality, but I love driving alone in the dark. There were very few cars on the road those first few hours and we made great time. Everyone slept soundly until I stopped for gas in outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina when the sun came up. That was a full third of the driving time that they spent asleep on the way down. On the way back north, we didn’t leave until 12:30 p.m., meaning that when the kids started to go to sleep around 8:00 p.m., they were out for almost half the trip.
While Stacy drove, all the boys napped – even Matt.
Make stops. No one likes a forced march.
We stopped fairly frequently, about every 2-3 hours. While that may be mainly because I have my father’s small bladder, it also broke up the monotony of the road. We’d walk around for a few minutes, go potty, get snacks from the back, and sometimes pick up tea and water from the convenience stores. We got lunch in Savannah on the way down and went to a Walmart for dinner on the way back.
Rest room break: Stacy’s hair was starting to respond to the humidity… and car naps.
Reading Books, Playing Guys.
This trip would not have been successful if our older children weren’t in the perfect age group to read books in the car and Wesley wasn’t so obsessed with his “guys” (action figures).
Here are what they were doing in the back seat.
- Imaginext Justice League
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Lego figures
- Super Heroes Storybook Collection (When he could get a brother to read it!)
- Coloring books
- Captain Underpants by Dan Pilkey
- Captain Awesome by Stan Kirby (Comic book fans, that HAS to be a nom de plume, yes?)
- Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
- The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
- Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
- The Secret Chicken Society by Judy Cox
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
- Imaginary Veterinary by Suzanne Selfors (He had just read the first, then we found all of them for cheap at Costco and bought them all!)
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Certainly a little too advanced for him, but he wanted the challenge and we don’t discourage almost any book selection. I don’t think he has gotten very far.)
- Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Single Player and Travel Games
There are lots of single player games out there now that can be played quietly in your lap as you travel and games and activity books specifically for long car rides. We definitely recommend getting some of these to pass your time in the car!
- Gravity Maze
- Lazer Maze
- Rush Hour
- Travel Bingo
- Travel Scavenger Hunt for Kids
- Rubik’s Cube
To hold all these games on our laps, and for the boys to draw in their coloring books, we bought a couple of lap desks to go along the trip. They thought it was the coolest, making them want to use it!
By the way, if your kids are the type to get motion sickness when they read in the car, bring some Dramamine! It’ll save their vacation! Added bonus: it put Cole to sleep.
It was a lot of fun to play games together on the road. It was a time of togetherness that we really enjoyed as a family. The boys all played the bingo and scavenger hunt games to pass quite a few hours. It allowed us to enjoy the scenery around us, discover things about where we were travelling through, and it was a great way to begin our family vacation!
Lots of Snacks for the Road
We made sure we had a variety of things to eat on both the trip and while we were there. We had a cooler and four paper grocery bags full! We could meet any complaints of hunger with an appropriate response.
For grown ups:
- Cold Brew Coffee and Trickling Springs Heavy Cream
- GT’s Kombucha
- RX Bars
- Epic Bars
- Meats and Cheeses from Costco
- Pork Rinds from US Wellness
- Dried fruit and Berky and meat sticks from Steve’s Paleogoods
- GoGoSqueeze Applesaucers
- Inka Plantain Chips
- Sustain A Pak Jerky
- Bare Apple Chips
- Water Bottles
And then there was the time we stopped dead center of South Carolina on Easter Sunday and found ourselves completely unable to find a suitable place to eat. We turned to that staple of medium sized towns everywhere: we went to Walmart.
Now some of you would balk at giving Walmart even a dime of your money. But in the pinch we were in, it suited our needs perfectly. We found the following:
- Rotisserie Chicken
- Pre-made salads (Cole got a Greek salad with olives and I got a chicken Caesar)
- Vegetable snack packs with carrots and celery
- Fruit, including grapes and apple slices
- Pre-made chicken salad with celery and grapes
It made for a very nice road dinner and satisfied all of our hunger. So, thanks Sam Walton!
And now a slight miscalculation… Audiobooks
I, myself, am a huge fan of audiobooks. I have a Platinum membership to Audible and I thought the kids might enjoy listening to stories while we traveled. I was wrong.
Finian is in a stage right now where any amount of spoken audio makes him immediately declare, “This is giving me a headache!” Wesley, in true baby brother form, has picked up this trait as well. What this meant is that even books we thought they would love were immediately rejected. Alas. Perhaps you will have a different experience? Here is what we tried to listen to and what we thought should have worked.
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
- Sabriel by Garth Nix
- Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
- The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
- Harry Potter by JK Rowling (Stacy and I have bonded for years over our love for Jim Dale, the talented performer of the Harry Potter audiobooks)
And while the kids didn’t participate, I spent many pitch dark hours listening to Parasite by Mira Grant. I also recommend the Song of Ice and Fire audiobooks read by Roy Dotrice, who is very good. And if you’re traveling across the country by yourself, it would be a perfect opportunity to listen to every Wheel of Time audiobook. I got into audio books by listening to those back in 1999. On tapes, if you can believe it.
And then the breakdown…
So we had the meltdown eventually. We happen to have a van with a DVD player and we prepared for the eventuality that we may need to use it. And at 6pm, 21 hours into the 30 hour trip, we decided the boys had earned a movie while they ate their Walmart dinner. So, we put in a movie. After it was over, we asked if the boys wanted to watch another, but at this point they were so tired they couldn’t agree on another one. So, we turned everything off, watched the sun set and let them go to sleep.
Now I’d really hate to tell you I told you so, but…
Man, we pulled it off! We made it the whole car trip without any fights, arguments, or tantrums! We’re so very proud of our boys and happy that we were able to pull it off. Our trip to Disney was a memorable one, and you should expect to hear more about it in subsequent posts.