One does not accidentally find themselves on the precipice of a cross-country road trip with (or without) kids. No, our upcoming 3,200-plus-mile journey is not a spontaneous family vacation, but rather something that’s been a glimmer in my wife’s eyes for many years. This has been her “someday’” journey. Someday when our two daughters would be old enough to better appreciate urban exploration on foot; someday when they’d gasp deeper at the splendor of majestic national parks; someday when they could properly enjoy quirky roadside America attractions like the world’s largest picnic basket.
Well, someday has arrived.
This cross-country road trip started on Google Maps, connecting dots between here and there and “oh, we have to stop there!” As you can see, we’re taking a fairly straight route. The only debate was Utah — north for Salt Lake City or south for Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.
A few curiosities in Columbus, Ohio, will start us off before a weekend in Indianapolis, where we’ll play in the world’s biggest children’s museum. From there we’ll go west through St. Louis’s arch, catch a baseball game in Kansas City, climb the Rocky Mountains in Denver, stand in awe of the National Parks of southern Utah, live it up in Vegas, and take a big tour of California before wrapping it all up at Disneyland.
Phew. I’m a bit sleepy just typing all of that, and I think I’m going to need a vacation not only from the actual vacation, but also from the vacation prep!
We’ve allowed time every day for spontaneous, off-the-beaten path exploration should a sign or sight catch our eye, and there’ll be only one day with a total scheduled drive time of more than six hours. Additionally, there will be no back-to-back, one-night stays, meaning we can take root in a place more often than not because we like to experience destinations more than simply see them.
We invite you back to the Family Vacation Critic Blog throughout the month of July for more stories live from our trip, to discover the best cities, sights and eats along the way with us! But first, let’s look at how we’re planning to spend three weeks together in a car!
Last summer, we sat comfortably in a rugged Highlander as we explored the soccer culture of Portland, Oregon, and the rest of the Pacific Northwest. It was the perfect ride for that part of the country — tough and majestic. For this Philadelphia to Disneyland, and everywhere in between, expedition, we’ll saddle up a Toyota Sienna; the most elegant and spacious minivan we’ve ever driven. It is spacious enough for two girls to stretch out in the back and spacious enough for the volume of stuff they’ll need to keep them busy (and more to accumulate) going coast to coast!
We’re using a mix of downtown hotels and KOA Campground cabins close to the National Parks we’ll visit, all places with every kid’s No. 1 amenity: a swimming pool!
To properly live out of one’s vehicle, especially in the heat of summer, you’ll need refrigeration and because we need to save money by not dining out constantly for three weeks, we bought a snazzy Igloo Car Cooler that’ll plug into the minivan. We plan to buy groceries, pack sandwiches, and have chilled water and juices in reusable bottles. We’ll also have plenty of nuts, KIND bars, hummus, pita and pretzels on board, and will look for in-season, regional fruit from roadside stands.
Inside the Car
National Geographic Kids Road Atlas
The kids will be tracking our progress across the country and learning about state birds, mottos and historic sights (many of which we’ll be seeing!) with this youthful, fun atlas.
Boogie Board Digital Writing Pad
There’s simply no way I’ll stay sane with two children and sheets upon sheets of paper in the backseat. Boogie Boards are a mess free alternative, allowing kids to be creative without driving dad crazy, and the new Bluetooth enabled model will save their doodles to mobile devices. Now to figure out a solution for my youngest daughter’s newest hobby: paper airplane making! But speaking of mobile devices…
AT&T Mobile Hot Spot
If you’re going to be reading about our trip from the road, I’m going to need Internet access from the road! The AT&T hot spot will transform our Sienna into a mobile wireless technology hub in between free Wi-Fi during hotel stays.
I’ll be shooting with the new Samsung NX500 while my oldest daughter will be documenting the trip with the NX300. She shares my excitement for photography, meaning I get to capture the whole of America alongside her — making this adventure even more special! My girls will also be trying out the Fuji Instamix (think: a very modern Polaroid) during the trip.
My wife and both our daughters will be spending some of their downtime on the road assembling their own real-time, keepsake albums — because the scrapbooks and photo books never seem to get finished (or started) if we wait until real life begins again after vacation!
We traditionally build a playlist for each road trip featuring some favorite kindie (kids’ and indie) music that always starts with Johnny Bregar’s “Two Thumbs Up.” This year, we’ll also include a little Brady Rymer, some Recess Monkey, more than a few Okee Dokee Brothers outdoor adventure songs, and with some adult music too: Dawes, Pokey LaFarge, Good Old War, Lucius, and Brandi Carlile.
Check back throughout the next several weeks to see where we are and what we are doing as a family during our cross-country road trip! We hope you are just as excited as we are! And for more road trip ideas with kids, check out the Car Travel section.
— Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad of two pre-tween daughters. He writes about parenthood, family travel and all things childhood on his site OutWithTheKids.com. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world, although he needs to be reminded of this fact from time to time. Jeff also writes for PBS.