With summer nearly approaching and endless travel possibilities on the horizon, I wanted to share something we’ve been doing lately that I’ve dubbed as: ‘The Car Cruise.’ Much like an actual cruise, it’s a road trip that covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Whether there’s a lack of finances, time or both — it’s a fun, quick way to travel. We’ve taken many of these road trips over the past several years, so I thought might be helpful to share some of our experiences and travel tips.
Honestly, I’d love to be able to take months off at a time and tour the world slowly, but so far that’s not been an option for us. All of our recent road trips have had time limits and tight budgets! But, because I’m determined to see as much of the world as I can — I’ve learned to make it work. These constraints have forced me to focus on seeing as much as possible with the least amount of time. And just like cruising on water, this condensed method allows for a “taste” of each place; which at the very least, creates a visual image and a ‘feeling’ for areas that you may want to revisit. But unlike a cruise ship, it can be completely tailored to meet each traveler’s specific needs.
All it takes is some solid research and an adventurous spirit. Besides, planning for travel is half of the fun, right?!
Here’s how it’s done:
- First, decide your starting and ending points, then find what is interesting in between. I like to come up with a title that encompasses what we’re doing, ie. “North to Alaska,” “The American Southwest,” “Andiamo- 7 days in Italy” and then go from there.
- Consider how many hours a day you are willing to drive. Since most of my road trips have been just me and 3 kids, I found that 6 hours max in the car is what they can handle right now. Some days we only drove 3 and others we pushed to 10. The latter were not fun at all, but sometimes you just have to power through! Really pay attention to mileage and timing, as well as factoring in stops for food, bathroom breaks, fueling up, or in my case — photo ops!
- Next, figure out where to stay. I look everywhere from AirBNB to Expedia to TripAdvisor to blogs to friends and even Instagram! Book ASAP, as the best places always fill up early. On some of these trips, sometimes the accommodations are roadside motels that you’d normally never consider. Remember, it’s part of the charm!
- Hone in on one or two must-see places for each stop (these might be what the area is famous for) and then seek out something unique or out of the ordinary to do. I almost always run a search for unusual, bizarre, or local secrets to try to discover “the other side.” HA! If traveling with children, always find an activity or place that they will enjoy visiting, too. And if all else fails, take them to a local park. It’s interesting to see how different they can be from place to place.
- We try to eat local and avoid chains whenever possible, so scour the internet for the best restaurants in each stop. I wish I could say I’m a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” kind of eater, but I can finally admit that I like knowing where to go in advance. There’s nothing worse than rolling into town after a long, tiring day, with 3 whiny, starving children (and possibly husband) and then having to sift through Yelp or Zagat in the car or hotel room. Instead, I make a list of any and all restaurants that keep popping up during my research phase. I love to search for “Travel Guide __(wherever I’m going)__” and see what pops up. Generally there are travel magazine articles, as well as personal bloggers that post these. Between the two, I usually find a decent list of recommendations to get me started. Then I do my own research to see what suits our family best. I use this method for shops and sights as well.
- Make an itinerary. I’m fairly organized in an old-school way in that I still print everything out and put it in an envelope that I travel with. I always have a basic plan written down of what I want to see or do each day. The list always includes restaurant options, shops to visit, things I might want to buy, and perhaps most importantly — phone numbers, contact info, reservation numbers, etc. If for some reason there’s no cell service or I’ve lost my phone, I can still access things the old-fashioned way.
- Along those same lines, print or buy PAPER maps. Yes, it’s possible that they might be completely unnecessary — but trust me when I say, as someone that has been stranded with a non-functioning Sat-Nav in the middle of nowhere with no cell-reception and not another car in sight, they just might come in handy.
- To help save money and morning stress, we always plan to make our own breakfasts and sometimes even lunches. We fill a large bin (or reusable grocery bags) with an electric kettle, coffee with a pour over filter, tea, sugar, reusable mugs, bowls, silverware, dish soap, granola, oatmeal packets, cereals, protein bars, dried fruit + nuts, chips, crackers, bread and peanut butter and jelly. I also like to pack an emergency provisions bin with water, wine – HAHA, toilet paper, wet wipes, plus a roadside emergency kit just in case.
- And finally, this is probably my biggest tip of all: you can always go back. If for some reason it becomes impossible to see and do everything planned, never fear. It just means that you’re meant to return!
Up next, I’ll be sharing some of our “Car Cruise” road trips with you….