Helpful S&%@

We leave tomorrow for New York City (my 7-year-old is all fancy pants now because he qualified to race his Pinewood Derby car in the World Championship, so we're all hauling ourselves up there to cheer him on), and then we've only got about an 18 hour turnaround before we leave on The Trip To Everywhere™, so I better get this out while I can still breathe.

I'm about to be hauling myself by car 6,000 miles around the country with two kids, so I should be an EXPERT at how to do this crap and retain sanity by the time we get home.  Maybe I should wait and post this then.  BUT NO.  I'm going to do a sanctimonious pre-trip post about all the useful things I have at hand to make this trip a success while traveling with young kids now, because other people might be traveling for the summer as well and find something useful here, and by the time we get back in August it'll be too late.  Y'all can just remind me of all my smug plans later when I return home with my hair on fire and one kid missing.


I couldn't figure out a way to cut out the one that tracks my period, too, so I tried to take attention away from it by highlighting the useful road trip apps.  And then I pointed it out here (it's "Clue").  YOU'RE WELCOME.

iExit - I have deep love for this little guy.  It's an app that tells you what's at each interstate exit along the route you're taking, even many, many miles away.  Super helpful when ONLY Wendy's nuggets will do, none of that McDonald's BS, and you need to know if you should just go ahead and throw yourself out the window or if life will be worth living in about 23 miles.  Now, it does only work on highways, not smaller roads, but that's fine with me.
Audible - My husband and I are audio book addicts on road trips, but we never thought to use it for kids' books.  UNTIL NOW.  The idea came to me about a month or two ago when I was trying to think of a way to keep the kids present during the trip (rather than checking out to a DVD player the entire time), so we gave it a test run with a Boxcar Children story.  It. Was. Magic.  Even the 5-year-old was quiet (and he is never, ever, ever quiet) and attentive.  During breaks, we would talk about the story.  They both remembered it at random intervals later and would say something like, "Hey, look, that reminds of XYZ from the story!"  So then I downloaded All The Books.  Audible may actually own my soul now, I've given them so much money.

Outliner - The only reason I am even slightly reassured that we'll be okay on this trip is my list.  This very basic nesting list app lets me make lists of lists.  I kind of want to marry it.  Each person has an individual packing list, then there's lists of food to pack (both dry and for the cooler), lists of things to pack for the car in general, my shopping list, my to-do-before-we-leave list, my gifts-to-get-and-for-whom list, etc.  I like being able to see everything all at once, and to see the little checkmarks beside the completed items so I know what's done already, but still see it on the list.  It lets you do basic personalizing, like picking colors for fonts, using italics, bold, strikethroughs, etc.  Nothing super fancy.  Perfect for what I needed.

Roadtrippers - This has been my travel planning bible.  The basic idea is you put in where you're leaving from, where you're arriving, and it routes the trip for you and shows you points of interest (in categories you choose -- kid stuff, museums, nature stuff, monuments, campgrounds, etc.) within a certain distance on either side of the route.  You can research those points of interest further by going straight to their websites from Roadtrippers, or reading reviews directly on the Roadtrippers app/site. 

Once you've got your trip all set up and saved, you can click on your first stop to navigate to it and it will open up in whatever map app you've chosen to use (I've picked Waze; I'll talk about that in a second) with the route plotted out for you.  You just click go.  My favorite parts are the wee details:  it tells you exactly how many miles is between each stop on your trip, as well as the mileage for the overall trip; it lets you input your car info so it can tell you what to estimate your fuel costs will be for the trip; and it gives you approximate travel times (without breaks, of course) for each leg and for the overall trip. 

Sheets - Google docs spreadsheets.  I use it for our trip budget (which I've planned by accommodations, gas, attraction costs, groceries, and spending money).  Kind of boring, but it works for me and I would 1000000000000% recommend having a budget planned out and accessible beforehand.  (As you can see, I'm amazing at math.  Clearly you should listen to me.)

GasBuddy - This app lets you know the fuel prices as stations near your location.  You can have the list shown to you by distance or price.  I don't enjoy giving oil companies my money, despite the fact that I have a massive, gas-guzzling SUV, so I like to sort by price.  If I haven't forgotten to check the tank and I'm not about to have to get out and walk.

Waze - I'm sure everyone under the sun knows about Waze as a navigation app.  I've picked it because (a) it has the option to have Mr. T give you directions (I mean, COME ON) and (b) it uses crowdsourcing to give you alerts about very important things.  Very important.  


Besides my phone, I've organized...kind of the to the point of insanity.  Some of the little things that I'm doing to make my life easier:

* Folder - It's just a white, paper folder, like the kind kids use to bring home their papers from school.  In it, I've printed out all the reservations, tickets, Junior Ranger booklets, etc., and arranged them in date order so I've got everything at hand on the day I need it.

* Baggies - Y'all, I hate to get started on my love of baggies.  It's a sickness.  They're MUST HAVE items for road trips.  You can put dirty clothes in them in the case of an accident (out of either end of one's body), you can put things you don't want to get dirty in them, you can portion out individual crap for your kids because everyone has to have the same amount of the same thing or else MURDER FACES. 

The thing I'm most chuffed with as far as baggies this particular trip is using them for packing.  I got the 2-gallon sized ones (they come in boxes of 10) and picked out 10 complete outfits for both my kids.  Then I put each outfit into one baggie, laid on it and rolled around until the air was out, sealed it up, and tossed it in the suitcase.  No fighting about clothes, no forgetting socks in Indiana, no making a giant mess of the other clothes while trying to find underpants.  I loves it, my precioussssss.

* Food Stuff - We're trying to save as much money as possible on this trip, considering we're going to be on it for the rest of our lives, so we're bringing a lot of food for making our own meals.  I've got the big "pantry" in the very back of the vehicle, but I'm keeping a small cooler for easily accessible drinks between stops and a small Rubbermaid bin of snack foods on the front passenger seat under a blanket so the sun doesn't melt the chocolate.  To hell with snacks that don't involve chocolate.

* Postcard Stamps - Rather than buying a bunch of postcards to send and then not having a way to mail them and then having to hunt down a post office on the road (and/or just mailing them when we get home, which I'm personally super guilty of), I've gotten a roll of postcard stamps to bring with us from the start.  Doesn't mean I won't still mail them when we get home, but at least my chances of sending from the actual location are better.


* US Map to Color - If I recall correctly, we're hitting 16 states on our trip.  That's a fair amount, but not enough to color an entire map, so we're going to be coloring in the states from license plates we see along the way.

* Destination Line - My kids are awful about asking, "When will we get there?  Where are we going now?  Why can't Beyonce be my mother?"  I can't do anything about that last one, but in a vain attempt to curb the other questions, I'm hanging a destination line.  It's just a piece of yarn tied between the two handles on the roof of the car by either side door.  On this line, I'm going to clip the day's stops so the kids can see how many places we're going to visit, which ones we've been to and which ones we still have left, and can recognize the vague progression of our miles that day.  Also, it will slightly obstruct my view of them and theirs of me, so when I make OMFG KILL ME NOW faces, chances are higher they won't see it.

The amount of Very Large Things we are going to see is mind boggling.

* Travel Scavenger Hunt - I had to come up with some ideas that would suit both kids, one of them being a non-fluent reader.  I love this card game for that.  It helps the 5-year-old sight learn the words, as well as being a game both of them can enjoy.

* Souvenir Buckets - I found this on some other parent's blog and thought it was sweet and smart.  You can get empty, unlabeled paint buckets at the hardware store for something like $5.  We also got the can openers and attached them to the handles for each one.  The buckets can be written on with a Sharpie, so they can be personalized for each kid.  The Sharpie can also be stored inside for everyone we visit along the way to write their signature on the outside of the bucket to create an awesome memento when we get home.  Also, buckets?  Fantastic for storing kid souvenirs, like rocks or seashells or whatever other little treasure each kid wants to collect along the way.

 * Behavioral Stuff - I like to keep it simple.  I have three car rules (basically, because I can't remember exactly right now:  don't yell, hands to yourselves, use polite words) and wrote them in giant marker on a card, laminated the card, and clipped it to the front passenger windshield shade thing.  Both kids can see it and we've gone over it with them.  If the kids stick to the rules, I praise them and let them blindly pick a circle from this little converted snack cup thing:

It's very similar to our behavior bucket with the reward coins here at home, just modified for rewards that make sense on the road.  I get that these are basic decent human behaviors that shouldn't require rewards, but apparently I'm not raising my children well enough for them to be 100% decent 100% of the time the way the experts would prefer, so there you are.

* Electronic Stuff - Yep.  We're bringing electronics.  COME AT ME, BRO.  There's no planet on which I would not bring electronics as an option on this trip, especially when part of it is through the hellscape that is the entirety of west Texas.  (I love Texas, but, y'all.  It's, like, 900 miles of dirt on that stretch.)  I want very much for my kids to be engaged on this trip, so I've got all those other options as my first line of defense, but I also have to be able to operate the car outside of the red haze of rage, or to have quiet time if they just never shut up, or to have something they actually care about to offer as a reward for good behavior.  So things with plugs it is.

Monday is our launch date, so hopefully that's when I'll touch base next.  That, or I'll just post a picture of a bottle of wine and a Do Not Disturb sign.


  1. You got my attention with those paint cans. Sparked a memory from my youth, growing up as one of five children in my family. I seem to remember empty paint cans having a lovely swing allowing a beautiful arc with enough heft to conk a sibling without actually hospitalizing them. Becomes a she said, he said, she said, etc. scenario. Good times. Godspeed to you, you crazy wonan.


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