10 tips for Road Trippin’ with Just one Driver

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After our drive through the Grand Canyon to a family wedding in May, and finding that our kids are the perfect age to venture out, I got this crazy idea in my mind that I might take a road trip with them all by myself. As much as I love my husbands’ company (and him driving while I scour magazines and books) he just didn’t have enough vacation days this summer, so we had plans to just stay home….but I didn’t want to. We had a long summer ahead of us, with not much specific to look forward to, or break up the days.

{Rewind a year} When my little brother Russell found out a year ago that he would be moving from Texas to Tennessee this summer, I knew that at some point, I wanted to visit. I’d never been before (that I remembered) and I thought it sounded so fun! That seed planted in my brain along with my desire to venture out somewhere this summer, I thought…why not take a road trip with the kids to Tennessee?!? So I did! Since I was the only driver, I was a bit concerned about my ability to: a) stay alert all day long b) not get super bored c) I wanted to make sure I still had fun bonding with my kids in the car!

So, I made a plan…

10 Tips for Road Trippin' with just one driver

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I came up with a list of things ahead of time to help me with all of those concerns. Usually in our van, we’ve got myself and my husband up front, and we chat with each other a lot, while the kids have their partners in crime in the middle, and way back. The dynamics completely changed with just me and the kids. I had my oldest up front with me, then all three in the middle row behind us, leaving LOTS of space for me to find amazing antiques along the way (that I never found).

Here are my tips for a solo driver on a road trip:

  1. Find some oldie songs to introduce to the kids–My husband isn’t a fan of country music, and I used to listen to it in high school. There are SOO many fun songs that remind me of back then, I downloaded a bunch and introduced them to my kids.  I was SO happy that by the end of the trip, they had a bunch memorized, and loved them, too! It was fun to tell them stories around the songs, and reminisce about the good ole’ days. Colin Raye, John Michael Montgomery, JoDee Messina, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, and Garth Brooks are among a few!  You don’t even have to have it done before if you have a smart phone, you can have your assistants download while you drive.
  2. Download some podcasts to listen to while kids watch a movie–I tried to keep up the interaction as much as possible, but at times, we all needed some silence! When the kids watched their show, I would listen to a few podcasts. Favorites are: The Bobby Bones Show, Conversations, Freakanomics, John Bytheway, and How Stuff Works.
  3. Books on Tape–Though I didn’t get an actual book on tape, I did purchase some religious talks on audio. We did this on our family trip in May, and LOVED listening to, and then discussing the enriching talks about family communication, kindness, and other moral issues. Kids got .25 cents per discussion topic they brought up (taking notes helped) that they got to spend at the next gas station.
  4. Have a points system–My kids earned points (or coins) for positive things that happened: kindness, picking up trash without being asked, helping a younger sibling….and got points taken away for unkindness or yelling. The girls had the hardest time with that, as they were on top of each other. My oldest helped her sister with her kindergarden worksheets, but little one got easily frustrated. She got the most points taken away. She was able to also earn points by singing reverent songs (generally church related) to help bring the peace back into the car. They responded REALLY well to this point system because they LOVED picking out their own item at the store when stopping.
  5. Share stories with the kids about your youth–I had SO much fun telling some stories from back in the day. I had the full attention of my oldest, who was my co-pilot, so I told him a few stories that I said he had to keep secret from the others. Talking helps me to keep alert and awake, so having some “talking points” really helped me. Also communicating to my son that talking helps me, helped him to be more attentive.
  6. Teach your kids a new trick–when I was brainstorming about what to do in the car (and knowing that “talking” helps me stay alert) I decided I wanted to teach my 13 year old son to Say NO to Auto. I mean, I’m a photographer and teach tons of people how to use their cameras, I have to take the chance to share my passion with my kids, too. I handed him my camera, and explained all of the settings to him, and it was fun to watch him practice and get excited! What skill can you teach your kids while driving?  I also had him look up random people like Ansel Adams and learn about some people.
  7. Play the License plate game with the kids–Since my eyes are on the road anyway, I was generally the first one to spot a new plate. My kids kept track on the plates with an app we found.
  8. Use your co-pilot–It definitely helped that I had a 13 year old helping me every step of the way. He generally didn’t “tune out” and helped me all along the way, he typed texts for me, typed in directions on my phone, downloaded podcasts, music, etc. for me. He played his device games here and there, but he was really really helpful. I’m so grateful for that, and I think he liked the responsibility of being the one I needed.
  9. SNACKS–packing lots of snacks is a no brainer. I got each kid a gallon sized ziplock bag, and they picked their favorites from the stash I purchased just for the trip. The rest went into a basket in the back of the van. We only do water, and sparingly as my kids all have small bladders!   I bought things I don’t normally buy to make it a bit more “fun” in the car. I reminded them they needed to ration it out, little one had a hard time not eating it all in the first hour.
  10. Take lots of pictures along the way!!! I love pictures, but documenting the fun little details of our trip was important to me, as I want my kids to remember the adventure of it all, not just the destination. Moms–don’t forget to GET IN those pictures!

Looking ahead at my course, I found there were quite a few interesting major cities along the way that I wanted to stop and explore. It made the 15+ hour trip seem much more do-able!  Since I didn’t necessarily know which city we’d sleep in, I just made sure I found a hotel with a pool, free breakfast, and a gym. Hampton Inn or Comfort Inn’s are generally our favorite. The pools are often open til 10pm.  After the pool, I’d do some computer work while my kids discovered the only kid friendly thing on TV that late–CHOPPED on the Food Network, and they loved it!

In the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of our travels and places we visited. Some stops had just a few hours in each city.

I’ll be writing about (click on links to read):

Memphis, Tennessee: Mud Island and Graceland

Nashville, Knoxville, Eastern Tennessee, Asheville, North Carolina, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Birmingham, Alabama, Northern Louisiana

I found out about the website/app, Roadtrippers, that I used a lot to find interesting things to do and eat in varying cities. It was a great mapping device, as well.

We had a little snafu in the middle of Arkansas. I was so busy telling my son about how I met his dad, that I didn’t realize I was almost out of GAS! When I saw I was on empty with just 5 or so miles to go, and the nearest gas station was 30 miles away, we all prayed, drove around in the sticks a little, then found this nice guy mowing his lawn. I locked the kids in the car with my phone (in case of emergency) as he pulled out a gas can from his garage, on a wagon. I do NOT condone this behavior, and it’s kinda embarrassing, but also kinda funny now that I’m on the other side of it! All I got was a blurry pic of him as we drove away… I said a prayer and felt safe, so I went for it.

run out of gas

As I mentioned, I had my teenage son as my co-pilot. Even with a broken arm, he was amazing. He’s so great to chat with, I LOVE my teenager!  When I had him downloading a bunch of songs, he told me I was “wasting my money on so many.” Not that he didn’t approve of the songs, but that I got quite a few. He was concerned about my spending habits.  I hardly ever download songs, and I was on a roll remembering my favorites from my high school days. Plus, when I’m the sole driver on a cross country trip, it is imperative to keep my brain stimulated, and rockin’ out to music from “back in the day” was just the right medicine.

His younger brother had to help a bit more in the brawn area, I love this shot of him pushing our luggage cart, and shoving stuff into the back of the van!

luggage cart

Here are some fun pictures of me and the kids on the road!

Road Trip Adventures

I had a very minor foot surgery just 2 days before we left, so it was wrapped on our trip out…it was fun to randomly stop at places like The Waffle House, that we don’t normally stop at, I liked trying new places, and the Roadtrippers app helped that a lot, too.

Road Trip Fun

I will admit, I was pretty impressed with myself and how I handled the drive. I get super narcoleptic generally on long drives, so talking, singing, and a little Dr. Pepper here and there really helped. I’m not usually a soda drinker, so when I have a little caffeine, it REALLY helps!  I have a bajillion pictures to share, but just a few for now.

Here are some of our adventures on our road trip:

Have you taken a road trip with your kids as the solo driver?? Do share your tips!

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Comments

  1. Kim Olea says:

    Kristen, you mentioned a road trip app. Was that roadtripper or roadtrippers? There are two and you seemed to like the one you used…thank you for the input. I really love your blog!

  2. Jacqueline says:

    Really neat! Love how you’re so intentional about the time you spend with your kids.

  3. I love all of your travel ideas! I am downloading both of those apps for our next trip!

  4. So fun! What are the favorite road trip snacks that your kids enjoy? I am always looking for new ones (that aren’t going to make my car a sticky mess) 🙂

    Looking forward to hearing more about the adventure!

  5. norm+hill says:

    KJ,

    So much fun, I laughed out loud at some of the stories and scenes in your picts. I can’t wait to hear more.
    Dad

  6. How Fun!!! I generally have to make my roadtrips by myself, so unfortunately, I don’t go very far! Can’t wait to hear more.

  7. This post is incredible! A long road trip along with 4 kids! Woohoo! You make it look easy. 🙂

    I especially LOVE the part where you taught a kiddo about the camera. What a marvelous idea! Wonderful way to pass the time = learning, sharing..what memories you made!

    I want to link this post on my website http://www.theeducationaltourist.com where I write about traveling families. You might be interested in some of the downloads for learning along the way! I’d love a shout out from you!

    Love the positive attitude!
    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

  8. I have a question, how do you handle restroom stops with kids by themselves? I always worry about the boys being away from me for that time. Did you feel safe on the road, and stopping in random cities? These things keep me from going alone.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Sometimes I’d send the kids into the restroom while I stayed in the car! I’m not too worried about my boys in the restroom by themselves, they are old enough and just fine. I actually felt incredibly safe, I was very prayerful about that and sought to be guided to good spots, and it all worked out!

  9. Mary Ann says:

    Great post. Such a neat family. Something tells me your bunch is fun and also well-behaved — which makes that length of a journey memorable instead of miserable! The co-pilot position is an important, yes. It brings back memories of me and my daughter. She helped with so many things as we had long commutes to and from work & school. Your son sounds like he was a wonderful co-pilot. Will look forward to read more of this adventure!

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