Last summer my husband and I planned the trip of a lifetime for our family of 7 — 32 days, 27 states, 4 National Parks, and over a dozen stops at the homes of friends & family. With the exception of a few stops in between, this was our route:

  • Satellite Beach, FL (Central Atlantic side) to Raleigh, NC
  • Raleigh, NC to Washington, DC
  • Washington, DC to Michigan City, IN
  • Michigan City, IN to St. Louis, MO
  • St. Louis, MO to Denver, CO
  • Denver, CO to Yellowstone National Park (Montana/Idaho/Wyoming)
  • Yellowstone National Park to Seattle, WA
  • Seattle, WA to Eugene, OR
  • Eugene, OR to Crater Lake National Park, OR
  • Crater Lake to San Francisco, CA
  • San Francisco, CA to Las Vegas, NV
  • Las Vegas, NV to Williams, AZ (Grand Canyon visit!)
  • Williams, AZ to Houston, TX
  • Houston, TX to Mobile, AL
  • Mobile, AL to Satellite Beach, FL (HOME)

road trip with kids

We didn’t see ALL of the United States, but we saw a whole heck of a lot of it. My husband and I had visited many of the places on that list before, but heading to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon were new experiences for our entire family. My husband ran 1 mile in all the states where he had never run before (there were 10 news ones), my kids saw snow for the first time ever on a Colorado mountain pass (and then again at Crater Lake in Oregon), and I got to see the original Starbucks at Pike Place Market in Seattle.  There was a little bit of everything in there for each person.

We were happy to see our beds by the time we landed back at home – but we thoroughly enjoyed our road trip. This summer we opted out of vacation because I was still too tripped-out but we are already in the beginning stages of planning a road trip for next summer. If you clicked this link looking for road trip “hacks” or advice, you won’t really find it below. What I want to share are some specific lessons I learned – and one pretty epic story – from our trip. Glean from it what you will!

If your family has had success on road trips, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section, too! Here’s what I’ve got for you:

Hotels are usually best.

Stopping at the homes of all your friends and relatives along the way sounds like a fun (and cheap) way to travel but remember that your own family is going to need some down time. Plan to eat a meal, if it’s offered, with your loved ones and hang out but when you can afford it, get your own place for the night. If hotels aren’t your thing, plan to camp along the way. A night or two with really close family members, like grandparents or your siblings, makes sense but beyond that, you’re cramping another family’s style — even if they swear you aren’t.

It isn’t just about the other family though. There were many times I needed just a little bit of space to let my kids be bad or loud without chasing after them, making sure they were being respectful of someone else’s home. A month is a LONG time to be in always-on mom/dad mode. Your friends and family need space – and you will too.

Someone will get sick – so be prepared.

We made it all the way to San Francisco before anyone got sick – but then the family started dropping like flies. We cycled through a nasty stomach virus between six family members (I was the only one spared) over the course of five days. Thankfully, we were at my sister-in-law’s house with a ready washing machine and dryer – and plenty of room for us to quarantine ourselves from the healthy people.

We were SO far from home though and it was a really helpless feeling. I remember thinking that all I wanted was my own bed and bathrooms but that I was about as far away from both as I could possibly be on the continental U.S. We live on the Atlantic Ocean. My sister-in-law lives on the Pacific Ocean. I would’ve paid about anything for an instant tunnel or private plane to get us home in a few hours. It ended up being a fun (fun?) story after the fact and we still managed a small amount of sightseeing and family bonding. Looking back, I would’ve loaded up on the probiotics and multi-vitamins in the month leading up to the road trip and kept them flowing throughout (I was the only family member on a regular probiotic regimen during that trip and also the only one who didn’t get sick). I would’ve packed more medications for an array of illnesses and brought my own laundry detergent. Someone is going to get sick at some point – will you have what you need to deal with it?

You’ll have EPIC stories to share.

When we finally limped out of San Francisco, all run-down from the family sickness, we decided to wait until we were about an hour out of town to stop and load up on groceries for the many hours of driving we had planned for that day. We pulled into a Walmart just off the highway, with what appeared to be very little around us. My husband parked the minivan about halfway back in the sparse parking lot. When we came back out with our cart full of items, my older four kids sat quietly on a parking lot median and my littlest sat in the shopping cart seat as the parents filled up a cooler with ice and grocery items. A few minutes into the process, my peripheral vision caught a pickup truck idling in the aisleway near us. I looked over and my gaze locked with a man who did not look happy. I glanced over at my kids, quietly sitting, and my baby, happily dancing in the shopping cart. My husband’s entire upper body was stretched into the van, reaching for trash in the back seat.

“Brant…” I said.

He didn’t hear me.

“Brant… BRANT!”

He popped his head out as the man sped ahead and parked in a spot a little further down the aisle.

“That guy was staring us down,” I said, pointing. My husband shrugged. We got back to work.

A few seconds later, I heard the man yelling. I turned my head and my husband darted back out of the minivan because he heard it too.

“I wanted that spot!” he yelled, pointing to the spot next to our minivan where our kids’ feet dangled from the median. I quickly scanned the parking lot and noted at least 10 open spaces that were closer than the one where our kids were sitting.

I was tired. So I yelled, “Why? There’s like 100 other parking places.”

Brant glared at the guy, who pointed at him and yelled “Well if you weren’t busy playing with your dick, I could’ve parked there.”

“F– you,” my husband yelled back. I glanced at my kids, whose jaws were wide open.

“We have FIVE kids. We need the extra space. You don’t need THAT spot,” I yelled.

“Well, then YOU need to learn to close your legs,” he yelled. I could see my husband moving quickly towards the center of the parking lot, so I reached out my arm to slow him.

“Take it easy,” I pleaded. All I wanted was to keep inching closer home, and not to end up at whatever local jail this area offered.

I told the kids to get in the car and yanked the youngest out of the shopping cart, all while my husband and the man continued to yell pleasantries at each other from across the parking lot. A woman we’d seen inside who had remarked how blessed we were to have SO many children started yelling at the man from the other side of the parking lot.

A few minutes later, our family of 7 was safe in the minivan, doors locked, and we started to pull out of the parking lot.

“Well, that escalated quickly,” joked my husband, in true Ron Burgundy style. I laughed too – mainly because I was so tired I thought I might actually cry.

The kids were silent for a few minutes, then my son said: “I’m glad he didn’t say anything bad about us kids. I would’ve told him off!”

We all had a good laugh about that.

My daughter asked if we were going to get arrested. My other daughter asked if that guy was going to follow us and hurt us. I admit I was looking in the rear view mirror to be sure he WASN’T following us but I said:

“We are never going to see that guy again. We are leaving town, we didn’t break any laws, and this is already behind us.” I said, meaning it. The older kids still remember that – and probably learned a few too many obscenities in those few minutes. What I hope they remember most is this, though: Family members have each others’ backs against outside negativity. Mom and dad probably lost their cool too quickly BUT we will always defend them, and get them out of danger’s way quickly, too.

Our month-long road trip is certainly one I’ll never forget and I hope the same is true for my husband and older kids. We saw a lot of places briefly that we’d like to go back and visit for a longer span of time. I already have a file of information on travel tips for next time. This trip was a “sampling” of our spectacular country and it made me prouder than ever to call the U.S. home. I’m not quite to the rose-colored glasses phase of this particular trip but I think I’ll get there – and my grandkids will get to hear all about it.

Share your own road trip story with us in the comments.

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Feature photo and final photo courtesy of Amy Straka Photography.

Category: Travel

Tags: Katie