The 7 Stages of Planning a Road Trip with Kids

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Traveling as a family of five is different than traveling as a childless couple or even traveling with one kid. For those of you who have more than one kid, remember when we thought juggling one child with accompanying accessories while traveling was hard? Ha!

If you’re a foursome or a more-some, chances are any family vacation travel includes driving. Driving the family sedan, SUV, or the minivan (that you’ve convinced yourself is super-cool) is probably how you’re going to get from your home to your vacation destination and back again. Airfare times four, five, or even more starts to get pricey and airlines don’t offer large family discounts or BOGO tickets. Unless your last name is Rockefeller, Hilton, or Kardashian, air travel will probably bust your vacation budget.

Just like any unpleasant hurdle we navigate in life — death, illness, job loss — the emotions of getting ready for a family road trip run through seven distinct stages …

Stage 1: Shock and denial

What do you mean roundtrip airfare for four people costs six bajillion dollars? No. Freaking. Way. There has to be a way to afford to fly. I wonder if I can sell any of my internal organs before we leave. I’m not really using my spleen, am I? Someone else might want it. Maybe I should visit Craigslist to see if anyone is in the market for one 40-something-year-old spleen. Or maybe my neighborhood yard sale Facebook group. Something. We can’t drive from Texas to Michigan with these noisy short people who whine when a car trip lasts more than 30 minutes.

We’re not going. This road trip is not happening.

Stage 2: Pain and guilt

I’m a terrible mother. A good mother wouldn’t be dreading spending extended time with her kids while trapped inside a minivan. I should be scouring Pinterest for “101 Fun and Educational Things to Do with Your Kids on a Road Trip.” A good mom would be excited over the opportunity to connect with her kids on a deeper level. A good mom doesn’t have duct tape and Benadryl at the top of her “Stuff to pack on what will surely be the road trip from Hell” list. A good mom probably doesn’t title her packing list “Stuff to pack on what will surely be the road trip from Hell.

Stage 3: Anger and bargaining

I might have asked my husband if we could cash in our airline miles for a ticket for me. Only me. I might have tried to convince him that spending two and a half days on the road with our children — sans me — would give him time to cement that father-son bond which is so important. This plan would be even more of a win because I’d be at the other end fresh as a daisy and well-rested. Happy wife, happy life, right?

My husband might not have achieved buy-in on this brilliant travel plan, so I might have sulked and pouted for the next four days and slammed cabinets in my finest passive-aggressive fashion every time someone in my house uttered the word “vacation.”

Stage 4: Depression

Boxed wine and store-brand cheese puffs is the perfect pairing to accompany my salty, bitter “I don’t wanna spend nine days in close contact with my family” tears. I’m perfectly okay with wallowing in self-pity. It keeps my mind off the fact that our vacation plans don’t include cocktails and peanuts at 37,000 feet.

Stage 5: The upward turn

Maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe I can concoct some new version of “I Spy” that we’ll all enjoy playing together … okay, for five minutes before I give in and allow unlimited electronic entertainment, let’s be real. Hey, maybe I’ll find some cool new kids’ apps that will keep my little angels so engrossed that they won’t have time to complain about anyone looking at them or touching them or whining because we’re out of fruit snacks. Maybe there will be (relative) peace and quiet from the back half of the minivan and I’ll get some quality time with Candy Crush.

It will probably still suck a little but we’ll get through it … together.

Stage 6: Reconstruction and working through

So, it looks like this road trip vacation thing is actually going to happen. I’ve wished for an unexpected business trip to swoop in and put the brakes on our “family fun.” I’ve wished for the cat to have an “alarming-but-not-really-life-threatening-after-it’s-all-said-and-done” medical condition that requires me to stay home and play emergency vet rescue. Maybe I’ve even wished for plague and locusts but it appears the universe isn’t going to throw me a bone.

Damn it. I guess maybe I’ll start packing.

Stage 7: Acceptance and hope

At this stage I am finally able to speak openly about our upcoming family travel without tearing up. I put on a brave face and assure the world I am seeing the silver linings. I craft Facebook statuses about how our trip will be “super amazing” and that we’re looking forward to some “unplugged family time.” Yes, of course we’re really triple checking that we’ve got all the backup chargers and power supplies packed because everyone knows “unplugged family time” is a mythical unicorn in the land of family vacations.

I am grateful that my husband doesn’t expect me to share the driving. So instead of complaining about our trip, I’m mentally calculating how many restaurants we can stop at along the way so I can get my “mommy juice” fix.

And maybe planning that post-vacation trip to the day spa.

Road tripping with kids — how bad can it really be?

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