Six Secrets To A great Road Trip
Put Simply: Just Get Out And Go!
October 1, 2017
Last month, when I was writing about Grandparents' Day, I mentioned that we take our granddaughters on a big road trip/hiking trip every year. In between, we take a day now and then and just go to a small town or great place nearby.
Since we've been doing these trips, small and big, for nearly two decades now, we've discovered some secrets to making every trip memorable and fun.
Know Your Audience
What is fun to a 5-year-old is not necessarily fun for an 18-year-old. What is safe for an 18-year-old may be dangerous or even impossible for a 3-year-old. For instance, one year we took the girls to Flagstaff Extreme, which is a huge obstacle course just south of Flagstaff.
You get to swing on ropes, climb through obstacles, tight-rope walk, zipline, climb - and all up in the trees about 20 feet off the ground. It's a blast, and even Grandma and Grandpa did it, but we wouldn't have taken the girls there when they were little. In fact, you have to be certain age to be allowed to do it.
Some Things Fine At Any Age
Other exciting things may be fine for any age - the Lava Tube Cave near Flagstaff, for example, or Karchner Caverns, Tombstone, or Colossal Cave. Knowing what your kids like is important too.
We spend so much time with ours (we have always been daycare for them) that we know what they like to do, and it's pretty much what we like to do because we started taking them with us when they were little.
We all love outdoor stuff, so we plan trips that feature great hikes or other outdoor adventures.
Do Some Research
Thanks to the internet, finding fun things to do is a lot easier than it used to be. Now that our granddaughters are older, one of the things we like to do is find coffee shops with plenty of charm and atmosphere. Posting photos of cool coffee places is something they really enjoy.
Apply The Apps
So, whenever we are planning a road trip, even just a one-day-er, I use an app like Trip Advisor or Yelp to find coffee shops where we are headed, and along the way. We have found some really cool places that way, and we probably wouldn't have even known they were there without doing a search.
All you have to do is download the Yelp and/or TripAdvisor apps, or go to tripadvisor.com or yelp.com and search for the place you're headed. They both allow you to search nearby for restaurants, things to do, hotels, etc, and you can see reviews from people who have been there.
You'll get advice on things you need to know before you go (like bring water, no dogs allowed, pack a jacket, etc.), and you can also find out what days and hours they are open. This is important! Make sure you search for things along the way as well, and that leads us to our third secret.
Don't Be In A Hurry
We took five days to do an 892-mile road trip this summer. If you do the math, you can see that we didn't cover a lot of miles each day. But, we did have a lot of fun each day. Be ready to pull over and look at stuff along the way.
We've walked out to things like boulders painted to look like a duck and the World's Largest Arizona Cypress Tree. If we pass a sign for something that looks interesting, we go look. That's how we found Granite Basin Lake!
Plan To Have Fun
If you've done your research, you should already know a few places to stop along the way. On our way down to Sierra Vista year before last, we took a tour of Biosphere 2 on the way down, and stopped at Colossal Cave on the way back. Plan to have time to have a good time. Getting there really is half the fun.
John is always willing to pull over and let us hop out and walk down a creek or out on a bridge for a cool photo. He knows that the girls get a kick out of showing off their adventures on Instagram and SnapChat.
Frequent Stops Add Pleasure
Historical markers, ruins, any natural water, kitschy coffee shops, lakes, nature trails - all of these are things we make time for when we're on the road. Frequent stops to stretch your legs and get refreshments make the day go faster and add to the pleasure of the trip.
There is nothing fun about pulling into town and searching for a place to stay. You'll get the best deals if you go online and make reservations ahead of time. Once we've decided the dates and the area of the state for our yearly trip, I start searching for places to stay in each city we'll be spending a night.
Enlist The Web
Websites like Trivago, TripAdvisor, Expedia, etc., are great places to start. You can sort by price if you like, but I always like to sort by how many stars people give them. Nothing ruins a trip as fast as a crummy motel.
I admit I've booked us into a few dives, but in general, I don't do too badly, and the girls are very forgiving. After all, it's usually just one night per town, so what the heck. If we are staying in one place for several days, though, it's a bit more important.
Now that they are older, we usually book the girls their own room. I've discovered that the best way to go about getting the exact reservations you want is to go to Trivago first, and find the best place at the best price, then call that place yourself. Don't book through the website.
Make The Call
Every time I do that, I have problems. They have a place for you to leave a message for the motel, but don't bother. Call them. I've avoided lots of problems and gotten even better prices that way.
For instance, if you book online and ask for adjoining rooms, you may get there and find out that you and your kids or grandkids are on opposite sides of the hotel. No bueno! Call and speak to them in person and you can get exactly what you need, or you can say no thanks and find a place that suits.
When you are planning where to stay and what to do, be sure to check sites like Groupon.com to see if there are deals to be had. I've gotten us fantastic deals on things like the big zipline at Goldfield, Biosphere 2, Tombstone, and lots of other fun places by checking Groupon. You can save a ton of money.
Be A Prepper
When the girls were little, I got them clipboards with storage, and packed crayons and colored pencils and paper inside to keep them busy. I also had a soft-sided cooler that I'd fill with water and snacks. One of our favorites is my homemade trail mix - Emily has a peanut allergy so I make my own, and the girls love it!
Nowadays, they have their phones to keep them busy, but I make sure I have charging cords and a way for both of them to charge their phones at the same time if they need to. I still pack snacks and water, too.
Since we do so much hiking, I always have a backpack with the basics: first aid, sunscreen, bandanas, lip balm, blister bandaids, insulated water bottles, and more trail mix. I also have a tote bag full of maps of the area we are visiting, including road maps, forest maps, trail maps, and detailed topo maps if I have them. I can take the trail map and stick it in my hiking pack before we set out on the trail.
Hotel Room Aids
I also prepare for the hotel room by bringing headache remedies, ear drops for after swimming, good hair brushes, decent shampoo and conditioner in case the stuff in the hotel isn't so great, and coffee-making supplies. I know that most hotels have those tiny little pots, but they usually only give you one packet each of regular and decaf, and it makes pretty weak coffee.
I have an electric kettle and some Stanley metal cups I found at Fry's, along with some mesh bags that hang over the cups. I spoon coffee into the bags, pour the boiling water over it, and let it steep for fabulous coffee. When there are four of you gulping it down, having your own coffee making supplies is important.
I also make sure I have plenty of snacks for them to eat in their room, and plenty of their favorite flavors of powdered creamer.
Make A List
Finally, how do you decide where you want to go? I keep a list on my phone. Whenever we hear of cool place, read about something interesting, or even drive past a road and wonder where it goes, I put it on my list. Sort of like a bucket list, but for places to go.
If a friend tells us about a great time they had somewhere, it goes on the list. John and I have a separate list for roads that we'd like to explore four-wheeling. If the girls hear about someplace that sounds awesome, they'll tell me and I can put it on the list.
Mark A Map
Along the same lines of making a list is marking a map. In my office, we have a big map of Arizona on the wall, and we put a pin in it for every place we visit. It's awesome to look at that map and reminisce. You can even find 1/8" dot stickers online if you don't want to use pins.
My map is mounted on a bulletin board so pins work just fine, but for the girls' own maps I bought them the stickers. Their friends are so impressed!
You don't have to go far, spend a ton of money, or stay away for days to have a successful road trip. Some of our favorite trips were one-day trips to Jerome, Bagdad, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Goldfield Ghost Town, etc.
Just get out and go!