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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

I took a mom and sons road trip and survived: Here's how I stayed sane, and what I learned

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I just returned from bringing my three boys on a road trip. For two weeks, it was simply mama and sons, and for week three, my husband joined. During the “solo” part of our journey, I learned a lot about myself, about my kids, about traveling, and about life. Here’s what I took from our road trip adventure.

1. Yes, I’m crazy

My oldest is almost 6, my middle is 4, and my youngest is nearing 2. Everyone who saw me shuffling the kids around stared puzzled- like why on earth would I venture over 1,500 miles staying at over ten hotels with little kids? The answer is simple: because I’m crazy …but a good kind of crazy. I desire to instill a love for travel and adventure in my boys, and I don’t think it’s too early to do so. I want them to be able to drive from point A to point B without being glued to the iPad (even though YES, they had their tech time); I want them to learn to appreciate beauty in country roads and coastal cliffs; I want to fuel their curiosity and expose them to things they wouldn’t normally experience; and most of all- I want them to see the adventure in me; taking note that their mom values escaping our normal routine.

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So yes, call me crazy- it’s a compliment.

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2. It’s the simple things

We’re often consumed with planning extravagant vacations to pricey, populated places, or venturing via plane somewhere far, far away, but truth is- a super busy amusement park sounds like hell in the dead of summer, and there’s no way we’re about to invest in schlepping our kids on a cross country plane trip. And so, while venturing through Southern California, Central California, and the Bay Area, I learned it doesn’t take much to keep them happy, entertained and busy.

They found pure joy spotting a playground from our car window- thrilled when I pulled over to let them play. One late afternoon, we discovered an untouched beach- so what did mama do? I let them run the sand and search for sand dollars. (Didn’t matter it was nearing dinner time.) At night, we often roasted s’mores and played Uno in our PJs. All in all- I learned the cliché is very true: simple things are often the most memorable.

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3. Cater activities to age

Undertaking a road trip takes due diligence, and I was quite careful in how I pre-planned our itinerary. My approach in planning was catering to their ages and interests, in addition to selecting activities that were out of the norm. Some stuff included: olallieberry picking, touring a Clydesdale ranch, visiting a goat cheese creamery, going to kids’ museums, aquariums, cookie decorating at a local bakery, and more. I savored their awe and enjoyment in the age-appropriate entertainment, knowing their youthful spirits wouldn’t forever appreciate the tailored activities.

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4. Wine matters

While doing stuff for the kids was my top priority, I gifted myself a glass of vino on a near nightly basis. I needed it. I deserved it. And it tasted SO good. Road-tripping with littles can be extremely draining- both physically and mentally- so my dose of sweet sipping was delightfully delicious.

5. Small living quarters can be difficult, but oh-so-sweet

For three weeks, we crammed into hotel rooms, shared beds, and never EVER got any privacy. Sounds fun, right? Well, it kind of was. I got to rotate sleeping with my kids, giving each of them special mommy snuggle time… something they’ll eventually surrender. Also, the boys fell asleep whispering to one another, and hearing the sound of their laughter warmed every ounce inside me. It was genuine quality time- time that unfortunately isn’t the norm on a daily basis. Every time I got frustrated or craved some “me” time, I took a moment to recollect myself, reminding the “calm me” we were making memories. And it worked.

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6. My patience reached a new level

While I might sound like I 100% had my sanity together- there’s a lot of me that didn’t, and I lost my cool… a lot. It’s not normal to never truly be alone for three weeks straight… even when pee’ing. And truth be told, the boys had their moments testing my patience. However, I gave into myself… I’m human… and when I did get overly annoyed, I expressed it to them (as calm as possible). Sure, I may have come across hard at times, but we eventually re-gathered, talked about it, hugged, and moved on. Truth be told, whenever I needed a major break, I told them it was quiet car time and we went for a drive.

7. Get them involved

The boys wanted to feel involved in the whole road-trip process, and so, thanks to Amazon, I went old school, ordering paper maps of California. They got crayons to plot our trip and circled each destination we’d be visiting, and felt important feeling “in charge.” We also played educational “games” in the car… I’d tell them when to look for highway turnoffs (like the 101), specific street signs, and they “helped me” count miles while following directions. Plus, I can safely say they kinda-sorta know their north, south, east and west now.

Also- I let them play DJ. We took turns choosing our Pandora/Spotify stations, and I exposed them to new music… my middle son dubbed the theme of our trip as “California Dreamin’.”

8. Flexibility is key

Yeah, this is a biggy- especially for me, a psycho OCD control freak. I learned to let go of our routine… let go of meal times, bed times, nap times, etc. While some might disagree, each day was different… sometimes we’d have late nights (staying up passed 10), and others, early nights (even though I’d still tell them it was late; LOL). Sometimes snacking would be our lunch (thank goodness for Goldfish), and other times we’d indulge in big restaurant meals. In fact, I once took them to a super nice Italian eatery in Solvang because I was in the mood for fine dining. And guess what? The waiters fell in love with them, joining our table, coloring, and keeping my kids busy while I downed some seafood pasta (bless their hearts). Regardless, we embraced flexibility, and it was nice.

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9. Finding my inner child

When we went olallieberry picking, we got a full-on tour of the working farm. We came to discover it was family run, and Aaron, the kind man who led us around, ran the place with his parents. He gave us a special look at the property, guiding us first to a rope swing that swung high over a creek, explaining he grew up riding it for hours. Obviously my five-year-old was all over it, as Aaron graciously pushed him back and forth. Nicholas was in giddy heaven!

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About an hour later, before we left, I decided I wanted to take a swing, and as embarrassing as it was, I let Aaron nudge me up and push me back and forth. The boys laughed, and I smiled… that pure youthful smile we often lose as we grow up. It was then, and often throughout our journey, I let my inner child come out to play- surrendering the whole mom thing and simply being a kid with my kids.

10. Savor it

It was long. It was tiring. It was quite an endeavor. But it was a lovely experience for our family. I feel everyone needs an escape once in a while- even kids- and hitting the road was the medicine we craved. We were all exposed to places not easy to access by plane- and it truly was vacationing back to the basics; simple activities, natural beauty, and quality time. I really tried to be in the moment as much as I could, and looking back, I was. The present is so precious, and I’m glad I savored such a special experience with my sons.

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