Preparing for your first family trip!

This is a new generation. I was brought up in the 1980s. I was around cigarettes, and compared to parenting now, I’m honestly not sure how I’m alive, right now. I have stories of me going missing for hours, in my youth, that I, myself, am surprised that I had made it this far. According to my parents, I disappeared for hours because they left me alone while they were moving into a new apartment, so I walked with some kids to play Nintendo, and when I decided I should head back, there were cops there, and my mom was crying. Apparently, I had been “missing for hours” and they were “looking for me” and… I’m not sure why I’m putting the “quotation marks” because this is what really happened. I also walked out the front door at 3 years old, while they were putting groceries in, and they found me in traffic, getting honked at by cars that had stopped, because I was waving a stick at them. (Also, true story.) …like seriously, mom… dad… how was I not kidnapped? …you guys are lucky nobody wanted me…

1980d Me
This is a picture of me, at 2 years old, rocking the SHIT out of these Adidas pants, with a Marlboro Red in my mouth. …I survived 1980s parenting!

So yeah… I survived the 1980s parenting era. And now that I’m a dad myself, and bringing up things to my mom, I’ll tell you this… neither us nor them, really knew what the fuck we were doing. We winged it. When I ask my mom, now, how she allowed things to happen, she just says “there was no hand book on how to raise kids back in those days” which is bullshit, because I’ve found parenting books from the 1980s, on the internet. …I just haven’t told her yet, I’m waiting to get into another 3 hour long debate where we’re pulling up google and quoting bible verses at each other. I’m saving this for our next quarrel as “ammo.” But anyways, our parents really didn’t know what to do, they just worked and did the best they could, leaving us with babysitters that seemed fit, hopefully, nothing bad happening to us. Same thing we are doing now. If the kid gets sick, we deal with it, sometimes we luck out and our kid never gets sick, and maybe that’s not the case. We just go along with the punches that are thrown at us.

So, right now, we are in a state of information that’s never been seen, in this world, before. Thanks to social media, we are able to expose many people to things that you’ve seen, giving complete strangers travel tips on locations you found, or just sharing an experience that’s once in a lifetime. Look at all these locations that are now popular, that we wouldn’t see unless we picked up a National Geographic’s magazine while waiting at a dentist office, or something like that. Seriously, did you know the U.S. has the biggest tree in the world in it? There are so many highway overlooks built specifically to give a majestic viewing point, that one could make a career, just exposing all of them. Follow an interstate long enough, and you’ll see “overlook,” “rest stop,” or “vista point” signs, that give you a little pit stop with local history, posted around the location. Every day, I get tagged by my girlfriend, on some travel website’s video, on some place that she wants to visit. This is information that’s all around us now, that wasn’t the norm, back in the day.

Trip selfie family shot
This is the crew I normally road trip with, 2 girls and 2 adults. We’ve logged in 100+ hours on the road, together.

Okay, so as a dad, I really don’t like to leave my kids behind. I’d rather take them with me, if I can, so they can experience the road, and the stress relief it comes with, bringing excitement of the unknown, and being the first to expose them to the things in life. They are in their peak learning years. The daughters that stay with me, are 5 and 8. I want to be the one to give them an unbiased history lesson, rather than something agenda filled, being political, news media, or religious. If they get exposed to it, fine, I just at least want the chance to be the first one to explain it. So if I can take them with me, I do. And after travelling for 3 years, I’ve come to find that the road trip route, is the cheaper choice of travel.

But not that many people road trip. The people I see on the road are mostly retired or older people, I’m assuming, finally taking their retirement to travel and see the nation that they never got to see before. But our generation doesn’t want to wait, to do this. I have seen many people adapt this lifestyle where they live at a location, work a regular job, work hard, maybe go out a couple of times a month, and then take a vacation. And the better you budget, the more you can do it. Some can do it yearly, some every couple of months, while some of us just seem to be on a non stop vacation. You might be reading this, because you’re looking for any and all tips on what to do when you’re out on the road. Well, this is a “debrief” of what’s going to happen, and what you have to do, as the dad, in charge, financially, and event coordinator, that you’re going to have to deal with. I’m going to use a trip I took, a couple years ago, as example.

Million dollar highway colorado
An overlook from the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado.

So, when I travel by myself, for work, I usually do whatever task I have to do, for the day, grab a quick bite to eat, while I get my camera equipment, and then head out to a nearby location before the sun comes down, and I run out of day light. So I’m used to just doing things fast. Park, walk, stop and take pictures. Record some videos. In and Out. Man, I spent around 30 minutes total, walking the American side of Niagara Falls before I got all the footage I could from the area. I mean, it’s a waterfall, there’s only so much time you can look at one, before you’re like “ok, It’s just water falling over the edge.”

Whenever I travel with my kids though, I pretty much apply “Murphy’s law” to everything. Murphy’s law is a term I learned in the Marines that basically states: “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” In reference to all the times we got screwed over by having to work extra, or something unfortunate happen, due to logistics or something that is usually out of your hands. I had a trip planned, driving to Portland, pit stopping in Colorado for a nap and shower, and then head out. I wanted to make it worth it, so I wanted to drive, hit up a national park on the way for a couple hours, just hitting up the picture spots, like overlooks or just driving and taking pictures from the car, and then get to Oregon. The kids could sleep in the car, they had pillows and blankets, we are going to do so much, make soooo many memories. Sounds all nice and dandy. I am totally going to get my money’s worth on this trip.

Hiking sequioa national park california
Hiking through the Sequioa National Park in California, with the family.

Okay, I’m going to be real with you. To put it bluntly, from your trip budget, I want you to take $200. And grab those $200, raise them in the air, and throw them into the wind. Because that’s about how much to expect to spend, in “emergency/ something happened” money. Someone always gets sick, and it’s always for one day, and they spread it to the next person, and the whole trip, someone’s going to be sick, if you don’t prepare for it. You are all inside a car for a long time. Any sneeze, fart, cough, all that stays in the air, inches away, that can easily be inhaled by others. You’re going to buy bandages, you’re going to buy drinks at gas stations, snacks, food, medicine, whatever. Something’s going to happen, and you’re going to just waste money on something that needs to be spent on. I don’t know what, but it happens. “Murphy’s Law.” So just be prepare for that. It helps if you don’t count your money before and after the trip, and just request a lot of overtime at work. If you don’t do this, you are going to be pissed at the end of your trip.

I wanted to start the trip early, get the car rental, pack up and leave. Grab something on the go and get on the highway, start this trip ASAP. …nope. Get the car just fine, get home, and even though I told everyone to pack the day before, and everyone assured me they were ready, now nobody is ready. I start packing my stuff. Everyone’s still in the restroom, watching TV, on the computer… so I start to load their bags as well. Unpack my electronic road trip set up that I always have, that is hooking up my tablet to the car through Bluetooth, to play my music, while I drive, and my cell phone as a GPS to wherever we’re going. This takes a while. I take my time, and after 20 minutes, everything is set up. I’m ready to leave. But there’s no one in the car. It takes another 20 minutes for people to come out of the house and into the car, the whole time “I feel like we forgot something but I don’t know what.” (P.S. You forgot it, you’re going to have to buy it. You will always forget something. Never fails.)

California drive by shoot
A shot of the California scenery, from out of the car window, while driving out of the Sequoia National Park.

So now I finally get out of the house. But now I need to get some food for the road. Get on the drive thru, order and wait, and now, it’s been almost 1.5 hours later, and I’m barely getting into the car. Not even an hour into the drive. “I have to use the restroom!” Luckily, we’re around the first rest stop out of Houston, so we stop. There’s displays, activity center, a play ground. So guess who wants to go play and take pictures of the “Everything’s bigger in Texas” sign? …so your 5 minute pit stop just took another 20-30 minutes. 3 hours into your trip and you’re barely outside of the city. I was estimating us to be getting to Dallas, by now, and we’re barely outside of Houston. Awesome. Right on track. Expect this. Don’t get mad, just know that these are going to be “good memories” in the future.

So, after repeatedly stopping for gas and taking forever at a gas station snack sections, and then stopping at almost every rest stop on the way, for somebody to use the restroom, we finally make it to Colorado. It’s night time before we get to the hotel. The plan was to drive over night, and get to see the Garden of the Gods, Manitou Springs Cliff Dwelling Museum, and the Manitou springs area waterfalls I had read about. We did “0” of this. None. We were so tired from repeatedly stopping for gas and rest stops, that we were way behind schedule, and missed all the day light, and made it to the hotel late into the night. We get into the hotel and everyone’s happy to be out of the car. We are supposed to just rest and shower. But kids are hungry and want to get something to eat. (You’re kids are going to eat more than usual during these trips, your “eating clock” is off, because you’re in a car all day, instead of doing your usual routines, and thus, knowing when it’s time to eat. Plus, they’re going to get bored, and eating is a good way to pass the time while sitting and watching movies.)

rest stop hike
We stopped at a rest stop in Colorado, and took an extra long time to get back on the road, as the stop had hiking trails on them.

My plans were then to go to sleep at 10pm, and wake up at 6am, get some breakfast, head out, and hit up Arches National park, on the way to Salt Lake City, Utah. But people stayed up watching hotel cable television. And at 6am, no one wanted to wake up. Nobody took a shower last night, either, so now they’re slothing their way out. They barely get up to get the hotel’s free breakfast that ends at 9am. Then they start to get ready. Next thing you know, it’s check out time. I, now, have to call the front desk, and ask for a late check out, because nobody is ready yet. Again, I start to pack up everyone’s stuff. We sloth out of the hotel finally. It’s noon. I was supposed to be at Arches National Park, according to my itinerary. Oh well. Now we have to stop and get food. So it’s another hour before we’re really on our way. By the time we get to the national park’s exit, the sun is coming down. So I just keep driving.

So far, I had 4 things to do. I had done none. But, we were still travelling, we were still technically seeing new things together, as a family, so it was all good. After days of driving, we are finally driving down the Columbia River Gorge, about to hit our destination. We were supposed to hit Portland in the late afternoon, and rest all night. But we are so far behind my schedule now, the sun has come up, and we have not hit Portland, yet. Everyone is tired again. If I go to the hotel, nobody is going to get out of that room again. We will run out of day light, we will do nothing here. So I see the entrance to the Multnomah Falls area, and I go ahead and just stop at the first waterfall. The purpose of this entire trip, was for my kids to see a waterfall, as they had never seen one before, and this area was the only ones I knew of, that were easily accessible to small children. So I stop, and we start a little bit up the trails and come back, taking pictures all over the place, stopping along the Oneonta Gorge area, the Multnomah Falls themselves, and the other waterfalls beside it. We end up getting to the hotel in the late afternoon, and just as expected, everyone doesn’t want to do anything once they lay down and the TV is on. But then again, staying at a hotel is pretty cool to little kids, I’m sure.

Horsetail Falls, Oregon
The road trip destination: The waterfalls of the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

The next day, the plan was to spend the entire day exploring, and then resting and start the drive back home to Houston. And as soon as I wake up, I am sick as a dog. It’s my turn to be sick on the trip, and even though I try anyways, and go out to explore, I’m just so sick and don’t feel good, that I have to go back to the hotel. I stay with the kids while she explores on her own. Around night time I start to feel better, so we go out to grab a bite to eat and find a cupcake place. My kids are fans of the show Cupcake Wars, and they found a former contestant’s bakery near the hotel.

The next day, we head home. And by this time, we are so tired of driving, we just stop at the hotel, eat, and rest, once we get to Denver. I had things planned but, again, we didn’t get to them. Wake up the next morning, again, late check out, and drive to Houston.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon
The iconic Multnomah Falls outside of Portland, Oregon

The trip was good. But we got to do 1 thing, out of 6 things I had planned out. Which is fine, they liked it, they made memories, we have videos and pictures. I just wanted to save some money, and maybe hit multiple locations on one big road trip, with my girls. But they’re my girls, and for some reason, they have absolutely no sense of urgency, so this was something that happened repeatedly on future trips.

So that’s basically what to expect when you’re the dad of the trip, funding and planning. It’s a hard job, so try to also remember to have your own fun when doing all of this. Don’t get distracted by the stress and lack of urgency with everybody. You’re “on vacation,” everybody wants to sleep in and THEN do things, they don’t understand that it takes some effort to see and do things in nature, but that’s okay, just put it on the list for the next road trip, and maybe you’ll get lucky and be able to see it next time around.

Also, check out this article, for more tips!

Oneonta Gorge tunnel
Make the trip about your kids, don’t just leave them at home while you explore on your own.
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