(Originally published May 11th, 2013)
Two thousand, six hundred, and twenty six miles. That’s a lot of time on the road for any man, but it’s even longer when you’re driving it with two girls under 10 years old, and longer still when you’re doing it alone.
I wanted to take the girls on a baseball roadtrip last year, but changing jobs last May put all of that on hold. Both kids were excited to go, (they’d been asking to go for the last two years,) and for me it was a great chance to spend more time with them. Understand that I’ve spent 25-30% of the last five years in a hotel or on an airplane. I’m watching my kids grow up at lightning speed and I was to the point where I felt like I was missing out. I really wanted the time to just bond with them, and I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than a roadtrip. Now, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about it. After all, 8 days on the road with them solo?! My wife and friends thought it sounded a little crazy, but the trip honestly could not have gone better and was everything I wanted it to be. 2,624 miles, two girls under 10, and only two aspirin! Want to know how? Read on.
Traveling solo with kids is an interesting experience. In some ways, traveling as a single parent is easier than with two. I know what you’re thinking? How is one parent better than two?! Authority. When you’re on your own on the road there’s only one parent in charge. Parents can be manipulated. I know, hard to believe, but kids play off of their parents. They know when one is ready to give it up, the same way they know when one is ready to pull the car over. Going solo took the guesswork out of it and the girls knew they only had the one parent running the show. So in that way, going solo worked out!
Traveling solo can also be hard to coordinate! It’s the little things that you think you know going into a roadtrip but quickly figure out are going to be harder than you thought. I’m talking about the bathroom. I’m a dude with two daughters under 10. But, they’re well past that age where it’s OK to have them in the Men’s room. I’d tell you that was the single-hardest part of the trip, coordinating when and where to go to the bathroom, and there was no clearer illustration of that than the freeway Rest Area. Rest Areas are a scary place. How am I going to use one bathroom while my kids use the one on the other side of building and completely out of site? Speed. I’ve determined through scientific trial that I can, in fact, run around a building, pee faster than two girls, and make it back to the other side before they get out. But that was in the daylight with families at every picnic table — If it had been dark, I would have kept driving. Safety is #1 on any trip, so from then on it was nothing but a gas station or McDonald’s bathrooms in plain view, preferably with security camera coverage. You don’t think about that kind of thing until you’re in that moment. It was the same way at the ballparks, San Francisco, and in Los Angeles.
Breaks and “The Drive”
We took pit stops about every 2-4 hours on the road. Remember, this isn’t NASCAR. The object is not to get wherever you’re going the fastest, it’s about getting where you’re going without losing your mind! The kids were good about letting me know when they needed a break, and I made sure to stick pretty close to their schedule. Stopping for 10 minutes to keep the girls happy when there’s another 6 hours in front of them is a pretty small concession. Don’t underestimate the power of a $1 ice cream cone or a Slurpee! I rewarded the girls with small treats during the drive. We left during Easter, so for each 2 hour leg they’d get a small egg with some jelly beans or M&Ms. It wasn’t a lot, but they felt like they were getting a treat and it helped keep them up for the next leg.
Fun on “The Drive”
I did a few things to try and break up the drive during our trip. The first and probably coolest thing was buying both girls small inexpensive digital cameras. Both girls spent a lot of time taking pictures out the window or during stops along the way. It’s fun to look back and see what they thought was cool about the trip. I setup an iPad viewing station in the backseat. The girls got one movie per day, it didn’t matter if the drive was 3 hours or 8 hours. I wanted them to see where we were going! The rest of the time they spent listening to music, (which meant hours of Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift, but it was a small sacrifice,) playing in the backseat, and writing or drawing. At one point during the trip they played Hide N Seek in the backseat for an HOUR with their stuffed animals. Who knew there were so many places to hide toys? (There aren’t.) Some rules need to take a backseat (no pun intended) during a roadtrip. That can include things like treats or foods they wouldn’t normally get, or me putting up with them singing/screaming at the top of their lungs for 10 minutes because they’re screwing around and having fun. (Which goes back to going solo — My wife wouldn’t have put up with that part, but they weren’t hurting anything so I let them go.)
If you aren’t staying at hotels with swimming pools during your roadtrip, you’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t have to be big, or even fancy, it just has to be wet! (Our stop in Fresno was one step away from Lampoon’s Vacation.) Nothing will entertain a kid easier than a swimming pool, and after 8 hours on the road, they deserved the break. The kids hit the pool 6 of the days we were on the road. It was worth every minute of it and really helped relax the kids after a busy day on the road, in a city, or at a ballpark.
There’s a reason this trip was called #MLBSpringBreak, we were traveling to see some ballgames! By the end of the trip we’d been to Mariners Opening Day (in Oakland), to Los Angeles (which wasn’t on the original schedule), to Fresno, and San Francisco, but the highlights of the trip were the things we did in between the games! When I planned the trip I actually considered taking I-5 all the way down to save time, but I just couldn’t do it. Part of why I was so excited about the trip were the things we’d see along the way. The Redwoods. A drive-thru tree? (The kids won’t see that everyday!) Days in San Francisco on the trolley or down at the Golden Gate Bridge, a visit to the La Brea Tarpits… Those are the places that truly made the trip! I-5 all the way down would have just been miles. This was adventure!
Any souvenir, big or small, is a memory! The 25 cent piece of Redwood with their initial on it is just as cool as the $20 t-shirt. You don’t have to break the bank, but go in with a budget for small things at each stop! Letting your kids pick their own postcards to send home, for example, are a great way to keep them distracted from buying yet another stuffed animal at another gift shop.
Knowing When To Say When
It’s OK to change the schedule! By the end of our trip we were slated to drive from Fresno to Sacramento for a night game, then back down to San Francisco for a day game before starting the drive back up to Seattle that same day. That would have created an extra 3 hours on the road on a drive day. I could tell the kids were wearing out. They weren’t pissed or anything, but I could tell they’d been running. We spent that Friday in San Francisco instead. We traded a AAA ballpark for a walk on the Wharf, a clear drive to the Golden Gate Bridge, and a sunny night at the hotel pool. Remember, these trips are supposed to be fun, for everyone. The day to relax and just enjoy the city turned into one of my favorites days of the trip. It also helped re-energize the girls for the last game and 2 full days of driving! Know when to say when.
Know when to say when? That also applies to the drive home. The last day of the trip was close to 12 hours. The kids didn’t ask for it — I got ahead of it. The rules are out the window on the way home. “Dad, can I…” The answer is Yes. Watch as much you want. Yes you can have ice cream. Doritos? Sure. By Day 8 my biggest goal was for the kids to make it the 12 hours home without losing it. My philosophy was rules, what rules? And it worked. No one lost it, including me. Restore order when you get home!
The biggest tip I’d give you, is unplug. When we hit the road I had visions of tweeting and blogging from the road, but it didn’t work out. I’d check in here and there, but for the most part, I didn’t go online a whole lot. We were just having too much fun! We can get so caught up in wanting to share everything that sometimes we forget to just enjoy it! It felt great to live in the moment with the girls and I’ll be honest, I didn’t miss it.
I said at the start that the trip was truly everything I wanted it to be. I got the bonding time I so desperately wanted, and I got to watch the girls grow during the trip. Amy commented a few days after we got back that it seemed like the kids were closer than when we left, and I could see it too. It’s going to sound corny, but I feel like I grew a little during the trip too. It helped me appreciate living in the moment more and it’s had me re-evaluating my life and what I want to do with it moving forward. Now the only question remaining is: How do we follow that up in 2014? When I know for sure, I’ll “Start spreading the news…”