Seventeen states over 3 months, that’s the road trip my family and I did last summer. It was awesome! That was before the world shut down and buying toilet paper became a calculated endeavor.
This summer, I had to travel to Colorado for some family business. It should have been a long weekend sandwiched between 4 hours of plane travel; but nothing’s so simple anymore. I had to tack on 2 weeks of quarantine upon arrival and 2 weeks upon return. Then the airline changed my non-stop flight into a three legged, day-long affair. My husband and kids, seizing the opportunity to escape the confines of our house, suggested a road trip.
And that is how we ended up driving 2,000 miles, across 9 states, in 48 hours. I don’t recommend it! However, I feel like it was a safe way to go and in case you’re considering some car travel, I’ll share what made it work.
HOW WE PLANNED
We start every big event with a family meeting. I called together my husband, kids (ages 12 & 17), and son's girlfriend who came with us, to reach consensus on:
Our route and how long we expected it to take
What food and entertainment everyone would like to have
What aspect of the trip was most important to each person and their expectations
What to pack and what not to pack
And given the current situation, how we'd stay safe
WHAT WE ATE
I’ll start with my favorite topic — food! To be 100% self contained we brought along a cooler and crate of shelf-stable food. A small aside, we've been using our Yeti Cooler for 6 years and it's 100% worth the hefty price tag. Here's what we brought on this marathon event: The antipasto platter, a traveling staple for us.
Mozzarella marinated in olive oil with an herb blend
Cherry tomatoes, or packaged sun-dried tomatoes
Marinated artichoke hearts
A variety of salami and pepperoni
Bagged Sandwiches My first experience with lunch in a snack bag was a Frito Pie (corn chips topped with chili and cheese) from the five and dime in downtown Santa Fe, long before Anthony Bourdain made it infamous.
Whether it’s up your alley or not, this fast-food, standing meal is a genius invention!
We made two variations, both from the magazine 50 Campfires: The Trekking Deustchlander and The Walking Reuben. (My son made the Thousand Island dressing for the Reuben from this recipe, it was great!)
Southwest Chicken Salad, a simple recipe I created for camping to use frozen, pre-grilled chicken. It can be made ahead of time, or with ingredients straight from the cooler.
The Breakfast Splatis a gluten-free, egg-free, breakfast sandwich substitute I invented for my family. It’s travel friendly and tastes good hot or at room temperature. Its base is the Simple Mills Almond Flour Pizza Dough Mix.
We had snacks to last years! There were all the predictable items:
bags of trail mix
single serve cheese
And then I discovered these awesome little packages of macadamia nuts and did a happy dance. (I thought they only came in the larger cans.)
WHAT WE DRANK
We packed 8 gallons of water but only used 5. To keep everyone hydrated I brought along these TRUE Citrus mix-ins. The original ones are sugar free and just add a hint of citrus. The lemonade ones are sweetened with stevia, whose flavor is muted some by a touch of real cane sugar.
For emergency caffeine I packed Alpine Start Instant Coffee (my new favorite instant), a thermos with hot water, as well as ingredients for Iced Vanilla Lattes. The lattes were a little too good, here’s the recipe:
6 oz. whole milk
2 Tablespoons vanilla simple syrup
1 packet Alpine Start instant coffee
A few ice cubes
Mix all the ingredients in a cup or water bottle and drink up!
HOW WE STAYED STUFF
I'd envisioned traveling through the middle of the country and being inundated with unmasked people coughing in my face. I’m happy to report I was wrong! Except for one gas station on the western edge of Illinois, every employee we came across was masked, facilities were clean, and most people were respectful of personal distance.
We took these extra measures to avoid exposure:
We wore fresh face masks at every stop.
Disposable masks were thrown out before getting back in the car.
Fabric masks were sprayed liberally with sanitizer and then baked in the front window for 24 hours before reusing.
When possible, auto-open handicapped entrances were used to avoid surface contact.
Obviously, we washed our hands after using the bathroom and also used hand sanitizer upon returning to the car.
We used the bathroom in shifts so the keys could stay in the car and the people waiting in the car were in charge of dispensing sanitizer to those who had just returned.
Our phones were left in the car to avoid contamination.
Whoever pumped gas wore disposable plastic gloves.
Our potential exposure times were limited to bathroom stops at rest areas and roadside gas stations. We’re almost a week into quarantine at our final destination and so far everyone is healthy!
We brought along our emergency camping toilet, WAG bags (waste alleviation and gelling bags), and Travel John disposable urinals, but we didn’t need them. Everything was open, serviceable, and clean along the major highways we traveled.
HOW WE PASSED THE TIME
We brought a lot of entertainment, but the truth is we mostly slept.
Here’s what we had on deck for passing time:
Audiobooks & Music
DVD Player and Movies
Busy Bags, which are small toy bags originally designed by my grandmother, have been a road trip staple in our family for 30 years. I've updated the design and the contents have changed over the decades but their utility never fades. The goodies in these bags (shown below):
Mini Buddha board
Parasites Unleashed card game
Chat Pack for kids
Micron Colored Pens
Travel Pass the Pigs
Travel Chess board
WHAT I WORE
I have fully embraced the safer-at-home wardrobe of daytime pajamas (yoga pants and a t-shirt) — it’s awesome! And also perfect for long drives.
While classic leather driving mocs are my favorite footwear for hours behind the wheel, they look pretty goofy with athletic wear. Thank goodness for Sanuk, their yoga sling flip flops and sidewalk surfers for men and women. It's almost like driving barefoot.
Hidden under my yoga pants were what could be called athletic compression socks, but let's be real, they're my granny stockings. The essential garment for prolonged periods of sitting. Even my husband’s ankles swelled to epic proportions on this trip. I’ve tried many brands and Sigvaris is my favorite, but Darn Tough runs a close second for light compression. I gave up on Smartwool a few years ago because they fell apart too quickly.
WHAT I LEARNED
This article is almost as long as our drive! I'm impressed you're still with me ;-)
This is probably obvious to you but 48 hours was too long. We were all feeling cooked by the time we reached St. Louis, 24-hours in, at the 1,000 mile mark.
Our hours of preparation and engagement with the kids payed off in spades though. Despite the tiredness, spirits were up and complaining was down, even when things felt difficult.
And it could have been a thousand times worse; sore bodies, tired eyes, pandemic precautions and all, we were very, very grateful we didn't have to do this trek 1850s style — in a covered wagon!