When it comes to pacing your road trip, balance is key.
The pace of your trip is a key factor in making the experience a success that leaves everyone excited for the next one. A trip that’s too jam-packed with activities can be overwhelming and exhausting. On the other hand, a trip that is too slow or with too few planned outings can leave everyone bored. A well-paced trip keeps everyone excited for the next activity, but leaves enough space for spontaneous fun. Here are some awesome tips to help you make sure your trip gets off to a great start…
1. Limit your drive time.
Nobody wants to be cooped up in a car for too long so if you keep each drive time short and include stops in between, the “road” portion of your trip will be a breeze. I’ve found that 250 miles per day is ideal, which is usually about 3 hours a day total. Every once in a while we’ve had an exception where we had to do 4 hours to get somewhere because we had no choice, but never longer than that—ever. The point of the trip is to get out and do stuff, not just cover ground. The daily drive can be broken up with stops for activities, lunch, snacks, and even gas and bathroom breaks.
2. Don’t be overly ambitious.
Try to figure out how much time you’ll need at each activity when figuring out your day. Generally speaking, museums can take from 1 to 1 ½ hours. A state capitol building can take as little as 15-20 minutes. During the planning phase, if there is a certain city that has a lot of important activities that we don’t want to miss we plan on spending an extra day to be able to see and do all that we want. Even so, occasional miscalculations can ruin the best-laid plans, so try to always be flexible.
That means that there will be times when it won’t be possible to do an activity because it’s either out of the way, or there simply isn’t enough time. On our road trip through Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, I was really psyched to see the Notre Dame football field—the setting for one of my favorite movies of all time, Rudy. The night before, we all watched the movie (which I downloaded from netflix onto my ipad and with the help of a few cables, connected to the TV). As we started driving, the GPS informed me that our destination was 2 hours away instead of the 1 I had calculated. It was a tough call, but we ended up skipping Notre Dame so that we could continue with the other fun activities we had planned. I was heartbroken, but it just wasn’t worth the extended drive out of the way because it would have meant missing other important things in Indianapolis that we had already scheduled. C’est la vie….
3. Don’t let anyone take your trip hostage.
On our very first road trip, I planned a 12-day journey through Washington and Oregon. It started out great…until I let my soon-to-be ex-husband bully me into including Vancouver and Victoria Island (he was Canadian). In an effort to keep things going smoothly, I reluctantly agreed. This was a problem because a) it didn’t fit with our “50 States” theme, b) it was out of the way and c) by the time we arrived in Canada, we were exhausted and just wanted to go home.
Moral of the story: Make sure everyone is on board with the agenda and eager to experience all that you’ve planned—not more, or less.
4. Choose your travel buddies wisely (if it’s more than just your family).
I am a single mom, so I’ve done most of my trips with other moms and their kids (for safety, companionship and fun). We’ve had travel partners who were awesome, and some who were less than stellar. Choose people who are willing to move at your pace, respect that it’s a learning trip, and who maintain a positive attitude. I once traveled with another single mom who was very sweet, but was a little disorganized and had a problem getting her rambunctious kids packed and ready to head for breakfast by 8am. Make sure everyone understands your schedule and is willing to abide by it, otherwise you will get bogged down and end up missing some really great stuff.
5. Be aware of attention spans.
Be realistic in your expectations. You may be a civil war buff, but your kids may not want to spend an entire afternoon in a civil war museum. Spend enough time for everyone to get the message and then move on. I liken my trips to tapas—small plates, as they are known in Spanish cuisine, which offer lots of tastes, but are not a big meal. In other words, you get to experience lots of things without being overwhelmed. I also like to engage everyone in conversation about wherever we are to keep the momentum going and as a way of gauging boredom.
Above all, remember the old cliché: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Leave the game systems and DVD players at home. If you plan your trip right, no one will miss them. Everyone will be engaged throughout the day, and exhausted at the end of the night. At the end of your trip, you will be thoroughly spent, and if successful, the first night home, you will already start thinking about your next one.
The point is to have the most fun while seeing, exploring, and, of course, doing a little driving on the way to get you from stop to stop. Balance is key. If you plan your trips more or less around the pace of my itineraries, you’ll have a fun and memorable vacation.