I remember looking at our family's fall travel schedule back in August and thinking to myself: Whoa! How in the heck are we going to do this?
It's not that we are world travelers; far from it. None of the 10 trips we took as a family since mid-August required a passport. Nor did we cross the Mason-Dixon Line, or even the Mississippi River. Only one trip involved air travel.
Both our sons, whose ages are 12 and 17, play on travel soccer teams. That means a lot of weekend trips to cities such as Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville, Gatlinburg, and a few longer trips to places such as Raleigh, North Carolina, and Bradenton, Florida.
Just booking and planning 10 weekend trips over the course of five months is a bit of a chore; but it's also a lot of fun and necessitates a lot of time spent together in a car.
Depending on the day — and the mood — there is a fine line between bonding and bondage.
We've been doing this for about 10 years, so I feel fluent in the art of the weekend family car trip. Today, I would like to share some tips.
* I'd rather negotiate a trade agreement with China than ask the question: "Where do you guys want to eat?" It seems like a simple query, but it often invites passive-aggressive behavior. Everyone in the car will typically say, "I don't care?" — which is a complete lie. You will discover this when you start tossing out suggestions. Let the heavy sighs and eye-rolling begin.
Better, I've discovered, is to wait until they have all been asleep for about an hour. Then pull into a restaurant of your choosing and announce loudly: "Wake up, everybody, we're here!" They will be so sleep-drunk and disoriented they won't be able to argue.
* Count the number of people in your travel party, subtract one (for the driver), and pack that many throw blankets. Blankets are only nominally used for warmth. They are mainly to provide each passenger a pup tent. Give a 12-year-old a throw blanket, an iPad and a pair of headphones, and they can travel to Mars without a peep. Just throw a handful of Skittles under the blanket every few hours.
* Every time the car stops, clear the vehicle of trash. When I was kid, people used to hang dainty little "litter bags" from the radio knobs that held about three chewing gum wrappers and a Kleenex. They did not envision today's Big Gulp cups, foot-long candy wrappers and Powerade bottles the size of oxygen tanks. Unless you dump at every stop, garbage will soon overtake the cabin.
* Do not get sucked into the argument that biodegradable items — such as apple cores and banana peels — are not litter and can be chucked from the car. Even if you can make an intellectual argument, you don't want to debate this with an Alabama highway patrolman. Plus, once you give boy children license to throw things from a moving vehicle, hi-jinks will ensue.
* If you have the option to leave for a weekend trip on a Friday evening or predawn on a Saturday morning, always choose morning. Leaving on Friday afternoon means you will encounter the trailing edge of rush hour in your destination city. Example: Traffic at 7 p.m. on Friday night in the ATL is still a nightmare.
If you leave at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, on the other hand, you can drive all the way to Huntsville, Alabama, without seeing another human being. On the way back, you can stop at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro and replace the earbuds you left at the Hampton Inn in Huntsville. Every lost pair of earbuds and sunglasses on planet Earth ends up in Scottsboro.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645.