What I Learned After 17 Days on the Road With My Kids

Not to brag, but I felt like I deserved a small pat on the back after this epic road trip with my kids.  My husband stayed at home to take a class for work so this 17 day adventure was all me. The driving, the packing and unpacking, managing the kids, the food prep, ev-ry-thing.  It was a lot and the sweet relief of safely coming home safe was palpable. Although I will be posting a more in depth post later, here are some basic statistics of our trip:

Miles driven: 4,673

States:  Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado

National Parks and Monuments:  11

Hotels:  2

Campgrounds: 7 (anything from tenting it to a rustic cabin)




Aside from seeing some rather amazing sites I gained some valuable lessons.  This was the biggest road trip I have ever done solo with my kids. This was also the most labor intensive trip we have done.  The packing and unpacking of the car, the camping, less dining out and more food prep, and of course the driving. There was little time for relaxing as the lone adult.  Hopefully some of the lessons I learned will help prepare some of you with your next road trip. Here are the ten biggest lessons:

1) I won’t be able to see and/or do everything I planned.  Confession time:  when it comes to travel I am a crammer.  I want to see and do everything I possibly can while on a trip.  Exploring new places may be a borderline addiction for me. Prior to our departure I created a list of the locations we would be visiting and all the activities that interested us.  I made a lot less checkmarks on that list than I thought I would. Some of the reasons were out of my control like the weather, and some were because we ran out of time. Sometimes we were enjoying our time at one stop so much that we were not ready to leave.  This happened at Crazy Horse Monument.  There was so much to see and do that we just were not ready to leave and cut our time there short.  As a result we missed the reptile museum so we could make it to downtown Rapid City before the shops closed for the day.  Teenagers need to shop even when they are in South Dakota. Running out of time, this seems to be the nature of all road trips I think.  But that just means I need to plan a return trip. Oh darn!

template22) It was harder than I anticipated. I think that’s just typical traveling with kids.  Everyone gets tired, everyone gets cranky, everyone gets overstimulated, everyone has their share of moodiness.  The difference is when you are traveling together you feel it much more acutely because you don’t have your individual spaces to retreat to.  There were moments I just needed to give myself a time out, but when you are the only available parent that can’t always happen.  Someone is going to need something, have a question, need a hug, etc. So know in advance that it will sometimes be hard and you will question why you did this in the first place. But that just brings me to lesson 3:

WWLoop_00863) It was all worth it, even the bad stuff. The good far outweighs the bad.  I promise. There were moments of pure gold on our trip.  The way the kids watched the thunderstorm in pure wonder while we were in South Dakota, or how they pooled their money together so they could buy National Park Monopoly while we waited for our cave tour at Jewel Cave National Monument. There was the moment all three of us nestled in our tent after a long day and just watched the stars through the mesh roof.  The I love you’s at the end of a long and fulfilling day of adventure. Hearing a prairie dog chirp for the first time and being completely smitten or catching the first glimpse of the reddest rock I have ever seen in Arches National Park. These moments were all a little sweeter because of the challenges.

WWLoop_08244) In times of crisis my kids will stand with me in solidarity. I accidentally (and stupidly) got distracted and left my wallet in a gas station bathroom on day four of our trip.  I didn’t realize it until I was three hours away at Devil’s Tower National Monument. I still can’t even think of it without feeling sick to my stomach.  Fortunately it was found and turned it with everything in it. God bless the people of Wyoming! The entire event had me in tears, but I was so touched how my kids helped me. Their sibling squabbles were put aside and there was no reluctance with an early wake up the next morning when we had to backtrack to retrieve my wallet. The way they comforted me when I burst into tears was touching.  They really rallied behind their mom and it was the comfort I needed at that moment.

WWLoop_00085) The iPad will be both a curse and a blessing. Some people are anti-iPad.  Well, I have news for you, I am not that mom.  Especially when I am the only parent and logging lots of hours behind the wheel.  Plus the iPads provides me with a handy tool I like to call leverage.  I have no qualms about using it to make a meltdown come to an end or to get my son to do something like help his mom.  There were moments when all I craved was quiet.  I just needed to retreat into my head and let my thoughts meander while I drove.  The iPad was my saving grace during these times. But then there were moments where I wanted my kids to see and appreciate the beauty around us, not stare blankly at a screen. Or there were times where I needed help and had to argue for them to put the devices down.  The iPad felt like a curse at those times. Balance is something I am working on.

WWLoop_06956) We ate out more than I thought we would because the days are full and we were tired. I had grandiose plans of preparing most meals.  I also had the foresight to know this may be a challenge since I was flying solo and padded the food budget in case we dined out more than I planned.  I think the biggest challenge here is that when you don’t have another adult to assist you with food prep and dishes, eating out becomes a little more enticing. There were also some days when it was just too hot to cook.  The thought of standing in front of a camping stove while we were in Moab left a lot to be desired.  It is also a challenge because with my food sensitivities I usually have to cook two meals.  Yuck!

WWLoop_04927) I need to delegate more. As a mom it is so easy to just do everything for everyone.  I know I’m going to do it faster and with less mess than if I have my kids do it.  But with all the work I did on our trip I am looking back thinking I should have made them do more, especially my youngest.  Help with dishes and other chores, refold their clothes when their bag gets messy, etc.  In the mornings I did a lot more because I wanted to kids to get more sleep.  For me, I chose the lesser of two evils which was more work rather than cranky kids.  So that left me packing the car, rolling the sleeping bags, and shuffling stuff.  But the reality is, I really should have them do more.

WWLoop_09428) South Dakota’s Black Hills region has so much to do! There was so much fun to be had in the Black Hills area.  More than I ever knew existed. Like I mentioned in lesson number one, we did not get to do everything we had planned.  We sadly left this area wanting to see and do so much more than time allotted. We could have easily spent a week in the area and have been busy to entire time.  With the national park properties including Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the reptile garden, hiking, Custer State Park, caving, and sightseeing this is a great place for family travel.  I never realized it before this trip.

WWLoop_04729) I’m braver than I thought. I have always felt like a bit of a chicken in some ways.  I am not fearless, I am not a daredevil, and I definitely don’t seek out danger.  But this trip taught me I am a little braver than I originally thought. I am used to having my husband to rely when it comes to the bravery department.  I survived a bear visiting our campsite three times throughout the night during our stay at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  I was terrified, but it ended up being OK and created a plan in case it decided our tent seemed like a tasty option. I survived driving in some nasty weather (strong winds, downpour, and hale) when I thought I may need to pull over and cry because my nerves were so fried.  My car gets great gas mileage and is wonderfully reliable but it handles rain poorly. And most importantly I survived a 17 day road trip with my kids!template110) I would leave the trip elated to be home, but still wanting to see so much more. I’ve been home a week and I am ready to hit the road again.  See what I mean about exploring being an addiction for me? Home feels good, really really good.  It is my safe place, but I love seeing the world, discovering different places, learning what the people and culture are like, and connecting with nature.  So every time I come home it leaves me hungry for more travel.  I stare at a map thinking up new adventures and craving the beauty of the world outside of home.