By Guest Blogger Amy Whitlark
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 our camper 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.
1. It Isn’t All Fun and Games
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!
3. Cooler Knowledge
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.
4. Organizational Dream
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!
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This article is amazing! We are from Alabama and just just purchased a pop up. We are currently in Brevard, NC for our maiden voyage. My husband is wanting to take off and go to Colorado, but I find the food situation intimidating. How do you store frozen food and how long will it stay frozen? We have a yeti and thought we would just constantly replenish the ice. Any advice would be appreciated! I have yet to run across anyone with pop ups who do long trips!
Trying to carry 2 weeks of food is a lot. I’ll go with about a week and a half- and then I’ll find a walmart along the way and cycle through. I never bothered with a yeti, but did get a compressor based refrigerator for the car. The only time this becomes an issue is if your not driving every day or two. Even if you pre temp your yeti,frozen foods wont stay frozen for more than a day or two. Replenshed foods will not make up the difference.
This was exactly what I was looking for! We have 4 kids (7,5,3, 1) and are looking at going from Georgia to Utah and back again in a huge circle. Lots of great advice here – mostly I’m thinking it can be done!
Wow this is great! I’m planning a trip with just myself and a friend so it should be a breeze lol… thanks for all the great ideas!
You and your family are AWESOME! My wife and I have a lot of experience traveling with children. At the present time they are 18, 17 and 6… yes I said 6. I commend you on preparing your food in advance and freezing it, as that is what we do. May I suggest you continue doing that… but prep a little less knowing you have canned alternatives such as spam, canned chicken ( cooked with peppers and onions and fajita seasoning) pre cooked bacon in a blt… etc.
If we do a 14 day road trip, we only prep say 10 days of food knowing that we can fall back on canned goods or take out.
How did you refreeze the gallon jugs of water? Did refreshing the ice daily accomplish this?
Loved your article. We are kindred spirits. A few years back we did 5800 miles in 23 days with kids ages 9, 7, and 4, also with no electronics! It can be done! We are now seasoned pop-up campers planning another epic cross-country adventure this summer. I want to encourage everyone with means to travel with kids- just take the plunge. It is so worth it!
Thank you to all you moms that didn’t bring electronics .This is what children need.This is the only way to brig back a healthy life style for children, is to experience it!!!!!! Thank you
This sounds awesome, I would love to be able to take a trip like this!
Sounds like so much fun!
A huge pop-up fan myself, I would say Amy’s organization and planning ideas are brilliant. What brave and adventurous parents!
That is awesome AND amazing!! Way to go!