By Guest Blogger Amy Whitlark
Married 12 years, my husband and I have taken countless tent camping trips to national and state parks across North America. Then, enter the birth of three children in five years. Enough said.
It took until this year for Michael to dare mention a month long camping trip out west with our kids, now ages 8, 6, and 2. In an even braver moment, he broke it to me, “We’re driving.”
Did he just say drive? Does he know where Colorado, Wyoming and Montana are? While I’m almost certain they’re on another continent, a quick Google search revealed they are a 30+ hour drive. Thirty hours, people!
Well, I’m here to tell you we drove 5,800 miles in 29 days, visited 14 states and 12 national parks or monuments, while pulling our new-to-us pop-up camper (yes, we took the RV plunge). I learned a thing or two along the way, and thought I’d share a few tips if your family is looking to take the cross country camping plunge.
I want to paint an honest picture. Traveling with young kids while pulling a pop-up camper is 90 percent awesome, 10 percent hassle and 100 percent worth it! The hassle involved the extra axle. While allowing for a much more affordable and memorable trip than hotels, it doesn’t come carefree. Setting up camp was cumbersome before we mastered our routine. Additionally, being pop-up rookies, we blew a tire the second day out. Having never towed an RV, we didn’t realize a safe driving speed on our camper tires was 65 miles per hour. We learned the hard way. Don’t be us.
2. Before You Go
Cooking, cleaning and laundry seem to follow us moms wherever we go (right, moms?). I was determined I was not going to be consumed with all work and no play while on vacation. I spent 12 hours before we left cooking and freezing ten days of campfire meals including breakfast burritos; sausage, egg, and cheese bagels; muffins; soups; cornbread; quiche; marinated chicken quarters; twice baked potatoes, apple crisp and more. We bought fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishables locally and utilized leftovers for quesadillas, tinfoil campfire packets, chicken kabobs, etc. I also outlined additional easy campfire meals/recipes to utilize after our freezer foods were gone. On nights we were out exploring late, we ate sandwiches or ate out. We also picnicked almost every day for lunch. Having the meal planning done in advance greatly reduced my stress and workload while traveling!
Initially, I worried how we’d keep our food at the proper temperature. We were camping without electricity and dry ice was an excessive cost. We successfully utilized a $50 Coleman cooler (no $500 Yeti, here!) on our extended road trip. I froze our meals flat in freezer bags and kept the items frozen/cold by freezing half gallon milk jugs with water (leave space at the top for expanding ice) and placing them alongside our food items. I kept our lunch supplies (hummus, jelly, cheese, etc.) in a disposable tinfoil pan at the top of our cooler allowing quick access to these heavily used items and eliminating the amount of time the cooler was open keeping the temperature down. Additionally, we did not store drinks in our food cooler, again, to eliminate it being opened frequently. We refilled our cooler every other day with ice and never once had a food temperature issue.
Our pop-up is small and offers very little storage. Juggling any amount of luggage in such tight quarters was going to be a hassle. I decided to pack our clothes in two large plastic three-drawer sets that we stored on the floorboard of the camper while driving and sat neatly on the pop-up counter while camping. Each family member had their own drawer, allowing easy access. I kept one small duffle packed in our car with a change of clothes and pajamas for each person on the rare occasion we stayed in a hotel while we washed clothes and freshened up.
With our need for luggage all but eliminated, we now had our trunk available. In keeping with easy access, I purchased three smaller drawer systems to put into our car trunk. These housed all of our food, picnic supplies, kitchen utensils, cleaning products, paper products, medicines, and first aid supplies. Everything was within a drawer reach away, eliminating the need to unpack the trunk to reach the one item that was buried. If the amount of attention our trunk got from traveling onlookers was any indication of its appeal, this idea should go viral!
5. Old Fashioned Entertainment
There is absolutely nothing about the human race riding in a car that has inherently changed since my 40-something generation was young, except that we like to entertain ourselves to death. We adventured the entire 5,800 miles without a single iPad or movie. And, you know what? Our kids did just what we did—played road trip games, finger weaved, day dreamed, drew, listened to audio books, and were probably bored (gasp!) a time or two. We didn’t make technology an option and something beautiful happened. Our kids talked to us, interacted with each other, and even whined. And, it was (mostly) music to our ears.
Are all of the above tips necessary for an amazing trip? Absolutely not! But, if you find yourself bothered by disorganization, a month long road trip will put your sanity to the test. These ideas helped make life on the road for dear ‘ole mom a whole lot easier!