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There's nothing like a crazy road trip to add fun memories and epic experiences to family vacations. Like the time I decided to invite my sister, her best friend, and their dogs to join our family on a 10-hour road trip to the beach, where we would be meeting my parents and my in-laws. To say we had a full house was an understatement! My husband and I rented the biggest SUV I have ever seen, packed it to the brim with stuff, and headed out on an adventure.
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On the way down, I was full of false confidence. A few days before our trip, I sat with a map and plotted out a cool stop every 2 hours on the way to the beach. Basically, I broke our trip down into 2-hour increments, and then I googled "(name of town) park." I looked through reviews and found parks that were dog friendly and had playgrounds and picnic tables. I thought 2 hours was about as long as the dogs and the toddler could handle being in the car without stopping. My sister's dog, Scout, and her friend's dog, Riley, are both service dogs, so they are exceptionally well behaved. But even service dogs can only take so much riding in the car. Along our route, I found a park in Monroeville, PA, that had a toddler-sized playground and a park in Williamsburg, VA, with a sand volleyball court that our toddler used to break in his beach toys just a little early.
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I did everything humanly possible to ensure success during our trip. I packed a cooler and then charged up the iPad and filled it with cartoons. I packed the car full of snacks. My toddler suddenly opens up another stomach whenever my parents or in-laws are involved in anything. My mom is constantly asking me, "Do you feed this kid?" YES! I will never stop feeding this kid! Like any 2-year-old, he's a giant slob. So considering we had a rental car, great care went into the snack choice.
I have never put more thought into a seating plan than I did for the seating plan for our trip. We put my sister's best friend, Rachel, in the back with both dogs. My sister, Sarah, and my toddler, TJ, were in the middle. All the adults had a job: Rachel was in charge of the dogs, and Sarah was the "cruise director" in charge of toddler entertainment and food and beverage service. I navigated, and my husband drove. I was supposed to take a shift driving, but when I saw the size of the SUV we rented, I chickened out.
The trip down was a huge success. Save for a bridge closure, which resulted in us killing way too much time checking out Grave Diggers Dungeon, and a less than stunning continental breakfast at our hotel, we had a flawless trip. But hey, who hasn't found themselves facing a continental breakfast that is literally only cereal and bad coffee at a roadside motel? That's just part of family road trips; it can't be avoided.
BUT, and this is a big but, I didn't put the same amount of planning into the trip home. There's a joke that travel agents are the worst at planning their own vacations. And in this instance, it was true. I simply didn't do the research in reverse. We flew by the seat of our pants, but it worked out OK. Between the trip down and the trip back, I'm pretty sure we found every playground and Starbucks between Ohio and North Carolina.
When we finally arrived at our destination, we tumbled out of the car and settled in to our home for the week. We had rented a house across the street from the beach in Nags Head, NC, with a pool and a hot tub so everyone could relax and enjoy themselves. Our mornings were filled with floating in pool rafts, and our evenings were filled with playing billards and relaxing in the hot tub. We went out to dinner and went shopping and ate way too many donuts.
Tips For Your Own Adventure
Traveling with any big group can always be a challenge. After all, you have everyone's preferences to consider. For example, my mom and dad are morning people and think 7:00 am is sleeping in. My sister, on the other hand? I don't try to reach her before noon. And that's before we even talk about food preferences, activity level preferences, and trying to keep TJ's nap schedule going. Don't even get me started on the Instacart order and the days of coordination and planning it took to put together a grocery order for 4 families. There was a multi-step negotiation process over what kind of ham to buy. Luckily, I have a tip for creating family harmony: keep the mornings and afternoons open for everyone to pursue their own activities, and then plan to meet up for dinner and evening activities. That seems to keep everyone happy!
Juggling the needs of a toddler, 2 dogs, 2 sets of grandparents, not to mention ME was a lot. But it was tons of fun too! The more the merrier!
Moments like TJ learning how to jump into a pool for the first time or eating his first hibachi made all the road trip hassles worth it. And my parents, my sister, and my in-laws got to be there and experience it firsthand instead of just looking at pictures. I would do it all again.
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