If you're a weekend camper or cottager, the countdown has begun. While you're playing a game of car Jenga with coolers and duffel bags, the kids are already fighting over who has to sit with the cat cage under their feet. Cargo space is like your income: no matter how much you have, you always need more.
Every family starts out a journey essentially the same way: everybody happily strapped in with waves of optimism washing over them. The first bump is usually a half hour in, when you realize you've forgotten the keys, or a phone charger, or left something in the fridge that is going to be nasty by the time you get back.
I lived through most scenarios as a kid, and to this day keep a set of cottage keys in the glove box. When you arrive with no keys, it will be the one time you didn't forget to lock a window. My dad wouldn't turn back for any reason; that would cost us making good time. If someone forgot a bag, you had to borrow your sister's clothes, or wear the weird castoffs that people had left behind over the years at the cottage.
So what do I do differently, 40 years later? What has made my trips with my kids less torture for all of us? Some things my mother would never have imagined, and a few she probably should have invented.
Wet wipes and Ziploc bags
Ziploc bags contain things. And they don't leak. Think of all the things you would prefer not to have leak inside your car on a long trip.
Wet wipes are great for sticky hands as well as spilled juice and pop. With enough practice, you can clean an entire toddler with wet wipes. Yes, you can.
How you pack matters as much as what you pack
You've probably read tips for when you're moving, and they tell you to have one box, clearly marked, with stuff to survive the first night in your new house. Medications, basic utensils, things to shower and change with. Same when you pack for a trip. Have a bag within reach that has the important things in it. Pack your cooler so you can find things on top without digging. I freeze some of the contents ahead of time so I don't have to bother with ice packs, which take up precious space.
First Aid Kit
If you don't have one, get or make one. Be sure you can get to it. Be sure it has tweezers in it. The beaver may be Canada's national animal, but the splinter just might be Canada's national injury.
In-car entertainment systems
I've caved. I fought this for years, but it took a trek in an RV to make me realize that while those in the front seat have something to do, the view from the back can be limited. I still don't think back-to-back movie watching is a great idea, but dangling a 90-minute reward works well, if you have it.
Involve your passengers
Let your hostages take turns having a say.
They can check out the route ahead of time at home, and maybe each get to select one non-destination place. You may not be interested in the World's Biggest Ball of String, but you have to admit, it might make a fun picture.
And it should be a rule that if your name is in a sign, you must get a picture.
On a long trip, make a stop with an activity. It doesn't have to be theme parks; even stopping for a rest at a place you can swim works wonders. And those Ziploc bags? They make them big enough for wet bathing suits.
Consider comfort levels
While it's great for safety, being strapped into car seats is stifling for kids. We used to fly around the car like popcorn; we would curl up in the back, sit sideways on the seat or flip into the front seat for a change of scenery. Where possible, switch up seating positions. Sometimes a change really is as good as a rest, as my late mother used to say.
Teen on board?
If you have a G1 or G2 licence holder in the family, consider letting him or her get some wheel time in on quieter roads or off-peak hours. It's great experience for them and, while it won't take you as a driver off alert, it will change the tenor of the trip for the one who wanted to stay home.
No two ways about it: you're going to spend more than you think. While it's fine to veto junk food at every stop, if someone gets tar on their bathing suit, you're going to have to buy another one.
You're building memories. Good or bad, these will be the stories told at weddings and funerals, and the photos that will mark the narrow window of time that you will all travel together.
It just seems like forever.