Washington - So what did this quartet of road trips teach me, other than that I really need a blinged-out minivan? Glad you asked!
Ignore the clock
Among the many wonders of the technology age is the discovery of new natural laws, such as: Once in a car with children, you will never, ever, transit a distance as swiftly as that clearly childless voice on your GPS says you should. This maxim neatly accompanies the age-old wisdom about haste, waste and the pointlessness of stressing over being late.
The antidote: Assume every drive will take 20 percent longer than the GPS ordains and make contingency plans around that, like learning your lodging provider's late check-in procedures, identifying towns where you could have a layover in a pinch and packing a mobile cocktail bar in case you need to sleep in your car. Also...
Plan for longer rest stops
At heart, I'm a manic road tripper, fuelled by a get-there-fast-then-have-fun ethos that has compelled me to hold my bladder for hours and, with the low-fuel light on, pass cheerily illuminated gas stations in the middle of nowhere at midnight hoping to milk every mile out of my tank before refilling. Bad moves both, and especially foolish with dependents on board.
Drive in the dead of night
Kai and Christina love night driving, especially when that entails being lifted from their beds at 3 a.m. and placed in a prearranged nest in the back of the car. My wife does not love this, so to make it go as smoothly as possible, I pack the car to the 99th percentile before going to sleep, then get up before everyone else and make coffee, arrange blankets, fluff pillows, position stuffed animals, ensure the iron/thermostat/circular saw is turned off and pull the car to within three feet of our back door.
(Almost) forget about healthy eating
Over the past 20 years, I've become a bit of a health nut. For a stretch, I also became a whole lot more ambitious in the sense of thinking I could coerce my family into eating healthily on road trips, despite the fact that I can't accomplish this even at home.
This often resulted in arriving at a destination and crankily gathering up trash from my reluctant fast-food stops while staring forlornly into a cooler full of neglected, meltwater-soaked produce.
Imagine the longest, most insufferable meeting of your life. Now imagine enduring it without pay or your phone or the neural pathways to grasp that it might eventually end. That's how many kids feel on long car rides.
That doesn't mean parents have to tolerate mutiny, but it does mean we need gentler ways of regaining control than, say, threatening an extended stay in a condemned motel or, as my friend Zoe admitted to doing, dropping her daughter's peanut M&Ms out the car window one by one while speeding down the highway in hopes of getting her to calm down. (Field report: Epic fail.)
Improvise, and stay flexible
Our Adirondacks trip came together last-minute, and while we wanted to bring bicycles, we didn't own a bike rack. So 90 minutes before we planned to leave, I called our local bike shop and asked if they had any old, used or otherwise cheap-but-functional racks.