It could have been worse!
We had a great time on YLA Leg 1. In preparation for planning Leg 2, now is the time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t so improvements can be made. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking when I planned this trip. Apparently I had a very unrealistic vision of life on the road for 31 days. A family of robots could not have executed our initial itinerary, so we mere mortals never stood a chance. Valuable lessons have been learned, and I think my future plans will better reflect reality.
The daily “dream world” scenario looked something like this:
- leave hotel/campground by 8:00 at the latest
- see attraction OR drive at least 6 hours to next city/attraction (plus all meals and misc. stops) OR sometimes both
- arrive in new location by mid-afternoon and see at least one museum or attraction
- check into the hotel, eat dinner, and relax
- have family bonding time
- get kids in bed at reasonable hour
- write new blog post and upload pictures
- get a good night’s sleep
Yeah, right! WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?
Lesson #1 – No matter how efficient you think you are, packing up and repacking the car takes FOREVER!
Somehow I thought that we could get 2 adults and 3 young kids (ages 11, 8, & 4) up, dressed, & fed, repack the car, and be on the road by 8:00 every morning. And have I mentioned that I (Mom) am NOT a morning person? Anyone who knows us is already laughing at the thought of us doing this successfully one day, much less for 30 days in a row!
Don't forget your stepladder to access the car top carrier contents.
Stuffed to capacity
We thought we had a streamlined system that would make repacking a breeze. Instead of a suitcase for each person, we had 3 jumbo-sized duffel bags. One was filled with jackets and cold weather clothes for our camping in Montana and Wyoming. The second bag held a few complete outfits for each person which we would replenish every few days. The third bag held all our remaining clothes. The thought behind this was to limit what went in and out of the car daily. The second duffel would come in and out of the car every day, while the others would be used as needed. It sounded good until we noticed the number of small things that we were wedged in and around these duffel bags and tended to shift as items were moved. We also failed to consider the sheer number of other things which needed to come inside each day: camera bag, two computers, toiletry bag, dirty clothes bag (which grew and morphed into multiple bags until we could do laundry), 3 pillows and the orange “night” bag. The “night” bag held a twin-size air mattress and electric pump, sheets and a blanket, and pajamas – all the supplies needed for a 5th person in a room for four. Transporting all this took several trips – a job for weary Dad. The next morning, it ALL needed to be reassembled and packed back into the car.
I’d like to say it was the repacking of the car that slowed us down, but it only played a part. Our long days and late nights (future lessons learned) contributed to a difficult time waking up early. Grumpy children (and grumpy Mom) had a hard time getting moving. The bags had to placed back into the car in a certain order, so Dad couldn’t really begin his job until all stuff was packed up. Needless to say, most days it was 10:30 or 11:00 before we hit the road.
Lesson #2 – Always add 2 hours to the estimated travel time
When you don’t leave until 11:00, you don’t make it very far before all the kids are clamoring for lunch. Add to that ALL the bathroom stops for a car full of children and a Mom who is drinking WAY too much Diet Coke, and you have some slow going. As Dad said, “Every time I stop this car, it takes 25 minutes and costs 10 bucks.” Can I help it if we like McDonald’s soft serve cones?
Time for a break!
The scenery in the Northwest is spectacular, with wide open spaces, vast forests, and incredible mountain ranges. Roads on our route tended to be bumpy two-lane roads that ran through every tiny town or curvy mountain roads with steep drop-offs instead of a shoulder. Traveling on these will lower your average miles per hour quite dramatically.
Bad roads add travel time
“Historical Marker” or “Scenic Overlook Ahead” signs mean pulling over for photo-ops. Add in time trapped behind RVs going 20 mph, construction zones, and traffic, and we rarely reached our destination within the estimated time frame. With very little wiggle room built into the itinerary, this caused a ripple effect that eventually required restructuring of the entire trip. Next time, I will build in “dead days” for catch-up from unforeseen delays.
Lesson #3 – Planning to drive more than six hours a day with children is not practical.
On this leg of the Year Long Adventure, we were caught between a rock and a hard place. We were trying to cover an incredible amount of territory in a limited amount of time, yet see as many things as possible. Given the way things are spread out in the Northwest, driving long distances between attractions is inevitable. We prepared as best we could. DVD player – check. Entertainment bags filled with books, art supplies, and travel games – check. Pillows and blankets to encourage napping – check. Dramamine – check.
Are we there yet?
Unfortunately, this did little to curb the expected backseat dynamic, which worsened as the hours dragged on. Bickering – check. Complaining – check. Tears – check. Constant inquiries about next meal/snack/bathroom break – check. What can you do? Children will be children. Given the long hours they were forced to spend in the car due to all the before-mentioned factors, they actually did really well. If they only had to endure a few days of late night hotel arrivals, meals at odd hours, and 8+ hour drives, all would have been well. It was the long hours day after day for four weeks that took its toll on everyone.
The next leg takes us to the Northeast, where things are much closer together. Other than a grueling few days to get to and from Texas, daily travel time will be minimal. That will be a major improvement!
We plan to apply these and the other hard-learned lessons when planning future trips. I’m sure we still have more to learn, but learning is what this adventure is all about!
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