Fair disclosure: I used to think that road trips were about as fun as getting teeth pulled. However, over the past few years, I’ve come to love road trips. As a matter of fact, today I prefer road trips with my kids to airline travel.
First thing you need to do is to figure out where you’re going. For us, this is easy. We spend some time with my parents in the mountains of North Carolina in the summer. With the cost of airline tickets, it was prohibitively expensive to fly to see them in 2011 when the kids and I did our first road trip. I felt that it was important for the kids to see their grandparents and my mother-in-law decided she would come along with us too.
My goal was to make the trip fun for the kids, not to get there in the shortest amount of time. I didn’t want to drive more than 4-5 hours a day, except across the eastern plains of Colorado and western Kansas where (sorry) there just isn’t a lot to see. I also wanted the kids to experience regional differences and I wanted to stop at all the places we weren’t allowed to stop at during road trips when I was a kid. Yep, the crazy American tourist traps were my goal. I really wanted to see water run uphill. Sadly, I still want to see it as there doesn’t seem to be one of those places left. Everywhere we go seems to be getting so homogenized – the same restaurants, the same stores, the same hotels – boring.
As I mapped out where we would be going, I made note of places of interest on our atlas and found those and other places online. There is a wealth of information online about things to do. It doesn’t take too long to figure out what looks interesting in any area.
I also made great use of Priceline. They have some amazing hotel bargains. On our first road trip, we were able to stay at lots of nice places for $50 – $60 a night. Hotel prices seemed to have gone up, but I usually pay less than $100 a night for 4 star hotels, and less than $80 a night for 3 star hotels.
My Facebook friends turned out to be great sources of regionally special restaurants. We found our very favorite barbecue restaurant in the country because of a recommendation from a friend on Facebook and we visit there every time we go to St. Louis. In case you were curious, it’s called Pappy’s.
A book that was an invaluable reference for regional restaurants is “500 Things to Eat Before It’s too Late.” We’d be driving and I’d have my son find something in the area under their restaurant guide that looked interesting. It was so much fun to try all these different restaurants and we got to taste great food that we would never find at home – thank goodness!
Turns out that there were actually a couple of interesting things in eastern Colorado. One is the fabulously beautiful carousel in Burlington. I have never seen one that is more gorgeous. The other is called the World’s Wonder View Tower in Genoa. It had this crazy huge, dusty collection of Americana. And the walk up the steps to the top of the tower was an adventure in itself. No bubble wrapped safety nets there. I’m glad we saw it when we did. I just looked it up online and found that the owner died in 2013 and the contents were sold in 2014. That’s quite a reminder to take advantage of opportunities when they are available, for tomorrow they may be gone.
We visited zoos and aquariums wherever we could. Topeka has the cutest little zoo. St. Louis’s zoo and Science Museum both have free admission. And there’s a place in St. Louis called City Museum that is absolutely amazing. It was a 10 story tall shoe factory back in the day. A metal artist bought it and he and his friends have created this veritable wonderland. Kids and adults can climb, slide, burrow and explore vast warrens of caves and welded features. There are slides of all sizes, up to 10 stories tall. The place is amazing and couldn’t be replicated elsewhere. We had a blast at the Children’s Museum in St.Louis and we also went up the arch. What a cool thing.
In between St. Louis and Memphis, I was able to bring my children to visit the homes, old doctor’s office (which is now a library) and graves of my great-grandparents. Family connections are so much more solid when you walk in the places where your ancestors lived.
When we went to Memphis, we toured Graceland. Elvis’s house was a 70s dream, his planes were over the top and his collection of costumes was to die for. I am so glad we went. My mother in law had sat it out on a bus tour she’d taken to Memphis with friends, so this was her opportunity to see it too.
We didn’t stay long in Nashville, but we did tour a hotel my mother in law wanted to see right by the Grand Ol’ Opry, the Gaylord. It has all these giant greenhouse courtyards and wound up being a place that we visit every time we have been to Nashville since that first road trip.
The last place we stopped before North Carolina was Knoxville. The kids had a lot of fun playing in the fountains at the World’s Fair park and at the fountains outside of the restaurant where we ate. They inspired some adults to play in those fountains too – hilarious! And why not? It’s quite warm during those southern summers.
It took us about a week to make a trip that you could blast through in a couple of days of driving, but the memories that we made will last forever. In truth, while our destination was important and we stayed there for a few weeks, the trip itself was just as important. Every road trip we have taken has been a little different, though we always make sure to stop in St. Louis. My kids and I have had some incredible, irreplaceable experiences.
Oh, and I let them gorge to their hearts content on their electronics while we are in the car. I also play lots of books on tape and motivational audios. Even if they’re ignoring them, surely some of the good stuff sinks into their brains.
Well, that’s all for tonight. I hope you enjoyed reading about our first road trip and that you got some ideas for your own road trips.