We used to have a minivan. We used it a lot. Every road trip started out looking like this – my husband, fairly calm, driving down a nice highway.
Since we started road trips with the kids prior to the advent of GPS for the regular family, our preferred method of planning out was to use Maps on Us online (which doesn’t even seem to exist anymore!) and either print the directions or write them down. While we were in familiar territory this was fine, but the further afield we drifted (and we drove across the US more than once, coast to coast) the more the drive would descend into a maelstrom of accusations and flying spit, interspersed with cries of, “I have to go potty!” And that was just my husband and myself.
When we reached our destinations, we would pull our car-tired toddlers from the car and try to excite them about whatever it was we were driving to see.
“Oh, look Mr. Dirty [all of our children have nicknames, and my son’s is particularly apt]! There’s a BIG TORTOISE over there! Can you see it?”
Then whichever child – Mr. Dirty, Evil Blond, Surly – was singled out would look, show a few minutes of excitement, then descend into something like this:
Sometimes it was the Evil Blond child whose life was up for being ruined. I mean, can you imagine how much gall it took for us to ask her if she had to go potty? The nerve!
And quite frankly, two hours into the road trip we were wondering why on earth we had ever decided to take those demon-spawn children of Satan anywhere and why our lives sucked so much. Because we were JUST GETTING STARTED when this happened:
I’d like to say that this has changed as our children have gotten older, but Surly is now nearly sixteen, and just last week on the train from Budapest to Prague she declined to leave our personal train car at least nine times during the seven hour ride and passed horrible, terrible, noxious, banned-by-Geneva-Convention gas without warning. This caused her sister (Evil Blond, a trained boxer) to throw a particularly well-aimed right hook to the body, which caused Surly to retaliate with a kick, which caused Evil blond to jump out of her seat and spit on Surly’s head, which caused Handsome Husband to start screaming about leaving one or both children by the side of the tracks somewhere in Slovakia, which caused me to get a headache, and which distracted us all so much that we mindlessly gave some guy running a donation scam for impoverished Hungarian schools 10 Euro.
And to top it all off, the delicious Pan au Chocolate bread I brought to tide my appetite over on the long journey turned out to not actually be chocolate, but some horrid fig sort of concoction and I didn’t realize that until I bit into the pastry.
It was horrid. I was not happy.
Here’s the thing: travel is ridiculously stressful. It’s never, ever, ever going to be perfect. Never. That beautiful trip to Nepal where you plan to make a religious trek to a faraway monastery and are helped along the way by people who see the purity-of-heart of a fellow traveler and seeker of truth? People will try to cheat you at least seven times in the four days you have allotted for your journey, you’ll get some kind of intestinal distress, you’ll split a hole in the crotch of your favorite jeans, and you’ll stub your toe on the brass pot being sold in a street stall.
Also – it will be the most wonderful and memorable experience of your life. And you will be so glad that you did it.
If you plan for travel this way, knowing that you’re going to lose your temper a few times, the food won’t be exactly what you’re looking for every time, and schedules aren’t as important to the people running the train as they are to you – you will have time to actually enjoy the trip. And there is so much to enjoy – for you and for your children.
My Evil Blond daughter doesn’t even remember why she was pouting in that picture at Niagara Falls above – but she does remember King Kong’s butt. And how the water we could see from our hotel window turned different colors at night. And the moment we stepped across the Charles Bridge in Prague, Surly’s issues on the train were forgotten as everyone took in the incredible sights.
Your trip will not be the perfect plan you have in your mind, but it will be an amazing experience.