A wanderer at heart, I find road trips to be my favorite form of travel. Thankfully Bill and I are highly compatible road trippers, embracing an equal balance of structure and spontaneity. Part of the fun of a road trip is the “figuring it out” as we go model, with just enough of a plan to keep forward momentum and a sense of feeling grounded. What do I enjoy most about road trips, aside from the freedom of exploration? I savor being in the close quarters of the car with my three beloved people for hours. I enjoy putting us in situations in which we are compelled to adapt together, to troubleshoot, and to innovate. It is amazing what a family can come up with, on the road. I even enjoy the variation in lodgings, some nicer than others. We learn what we can live with, and without. The sense of “home” over a two week road trip becomes the people we are with, rather than where we are. I love that feeling of not having total control over everything, of having to come up with solutions as situations arise, and the challenge of invention to my intellect. The nuances of our personalities emerge. On this latest road trip, I felt like I could have continued on for quite a bit more time, and I think the key to a happy road trip is looking at everything positively. There were times when we had an idea but had to adapt or change it at the last minute: road trips hone the skill of rolling with the punches and embracing with an open mind and heart whatever comes next. It’s all about the adventure of it, yes?

And some of the greatest happiness resides in the details:

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Home away from home: our room in Eugene, Oregon for three nights at the Days Inn. One morning, we went to breakfast in the office in our pajamas because timing-wise, it happened to make sense. I think it helps, wherever we are, to make ourselves right at home. Wandering about in pajamas is familiar to me from my dorm days. On road trips, the world is our home, and we are informal and at home in it. The best way to feel at home anywhere is not to be afraid to be ourselves, without feeling like we have to be formal.

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Watching calories/diet on a road trip is especially challenging. Have you even SEEN those delicious looking pastries in gas station pit stops? Old habits die hard, and there were times I wanted to put them all in my mouth—for 490 calories a pop. But I didn’t. Similarly, it is difficult not to want the novelty of taste, even when not biologically hungry, when taking a long stretch of road for the day. We packed our own trail mixes and protein bars and such, but even so, handfuls of those add up. I used to fall into the fallacy of “I am on a road trip and therefore I will eat road trip food,” which turns out to be a sure way to gain weight during vacation. So: what to do? Aside from just practicing self-control, one legitimate hack I have found is to order off of senior 55+ menus (or children’s menus). Most places will be accommodating, and who cares if it seems weird? Denny’s came through for me a couple of different times here. I actually ended up losing a bit of weight on this trip. We also took our scale and weighed daily to keep things real for ourselves.

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We always pack glow-in-the-dark surprises for times when we might be rolling into a place after the sun has gone down. On our first night, we pulled into Sacramento in superhero masks. Katie and Eric loved them so much, they wore them for part of the following morning… It is something to look forward to during night drives.

 

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We start happy and try to keep a positive attitude throughout. There are moments, but part of a road trip is working through moments as a family, right?

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When we send postcards to family, we also send one to ourselves at the same time. It is a way to chronicle moments of our trip right as they are happening, and the postcards become souvenirs mailed from places we wandered. Pack stamps beforehand for ease. I forgot mine, and had to buy a book. Easy enough to do, but it adds a step.

 

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Picnic outside the room! One of my favorite parts of a road trip is finding a store and cobbling together a dinner or lunch. We try to minimize the eating out, if we can. I packed a box of plastic cutlery in our car to make this easier, but it turns out that free spoons and forks are all over the place if you keep your eyes peeled. I will grab extra napkins and sometimes straws from Starbucks, as well.

 

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Enjoy the little moments in the car. Last time across the U.S. I had dozens of activities planned (mask making, license plate scavenger hunt, geography lessons, etc). It was good at the time. This time, with my children being a bit older, I decided to wing it just a bit more. I was worried this might create a greater reliance on their devices, but really, they barely touched the iPads on this trip. We spent time talking about everything, reading, or just looking around. We listened to a bit of music, but not overly so, and enjoyed a few stories on CD. But most of our entertainment this time was very in-the-moment. Some of the activities I did plan in advance, we never needed/got to. We just enjoyed being together and seeing all the new places. I did take a few moments at times and listened to some music with my earbuds just to get some in-my-own-head time (the new Ed Sheeran and new Coldplay), but for the most part we were all very present with one another.

 

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Eric sleeps in a huge bed at home, and I wouldn’t have thought this would still be comfortable…but as we packed the car, he wanted to take his pack-n-play. This was essential on our last major road trip, and it has gone on smaller road trips around California, too. Taking it this time was a good move—somehow, he still fits! He loves his little travel bed. As a result, getting both children down was a cinch most nights, and it freed up bed space. I bought that pack-n-play when I had Katie, and at the time I bought it, it seemed like a possible splurge that would have limited use. We’ve sure gotten our money out of it at this point, though! I would put such a thing on the “must have” baby registry list, for young families who like to travel quite a bit. It is not the easiest thing to get in and out of the car, but we’re going to miss it when Eric gets too big for it!

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Be silly and try new things.

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Pack a potty chair for the woods. Seriously.

 

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True love on the road trip.

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So this was neat: Katie had a very wiggly tooth all through Oregon. We kept calling it her Oregon tooth, and we talked about how cool it would be if she lost a tooth in another state. On our last morning in Oregon (in Brookings, about ten minutes from California), it came out! She put it under her pillow in Bodega Bay, and the tooth fairy visited her there. Out in Oregon, visited in Bodega Bay—what a memory!

 

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Cultivate reading.

 

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We don’t do any fast food at home. But on a road trip it becomes a bit inevitable. You are rolling in late to a stop…it’s consistent, cheap, and open late. McDonald’s came through for us a couple of different times on this trip. And there are calories on the menu. I get a grilled chicken wrap or a 150 calorie parfait (or both, if it is dinner). Bonus: the kiddos are always thrilled.

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We brought their scooters, and that was a good move. They scootered around Ashland, Portland, Eugene, and Bodega Bay. Good little way to get exercise and for them to see a wider range of a place than they could just walking. It was a last minute pack—a bit on a whim. They are now permanently on the road trip packing list.

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Know when to fold ’em. During our time in the redwoods, we wanted to go through the drive thru tree. We got in line, and the line didn’t budge for about twenty minutes. We could either be there two hours, or we could ensure reaching our next destination in time to savor it. Adaptability is key on a road trip, and having a good attitude about changing plans is also essential. We just add whatever we miss to our wish list for next time! It’s all good.

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Gas stops are highlights. The kiddos had coins to spend on gum and such at our pit stops. They liked that.

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Get cozy. Family in close quarters is special.

 

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Cherish the inside jokes. Above: there is a bike stuck in a tree at the University of Oregon. We may be some of the few who even know about it. Also: the world’s most unnecessary valet and the world’s most utterly ineffective runaway truck ramp. All of these had us laughing together heartily as a family…and that’s what trips like these are about.

 

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More scootering, in front of our room.

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The family that packs together, has a good starting time together! But one person must also take the role of packing manager: a place for everything and everything in its place is my motto!

And now we are home. The car is clean, and two weeks of clothes have been laundered and put away. We jumped back in to swim lessons on Tuesday morning, after getting home Tuesday morning at 1:00 AM. We’ve been baking fresh bread and reintegrating into the rooted life. My wanderlust is never fully at bay, but being home is its own magic, too!

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