Road-Trippin' 2019

We love to travel and explore the world, but this year's massive summer road trip had a few surprises up its sleeve...

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I'm over at Pam Barnhill's site again today, sharing my The Power of the Road Trip for Preschoolers post that will (hopefully) help convince you that despite all the potential negatives, it's worth it to take your young children on road trips.

Click on over to see why you should do this, then come back here and see what it really looks like, plus, check out these photos from the journey, if you missed them earlier.

We’ve had some hum-dinger summer trips as a family, and this year’s might just top them all. We set out for over 10,000 miles of driving and the goal to see all the thingsdespite visiting the hottest spot in the country in the middle of summer.

We like the heat!

Just kidding. We can’t stand the heat, and usually drive away from our home in hot Florida to escape it as often as we can.
But the good old U.S.A. just happens to have some pretty incredible sites located smack in the middle of the desert and since we’re limited to G’s teacher-schedule, the desert in the middle of summer it is.

We like the heat!

(Fact: the more you repeat a phrase, no matter how obnoxious or untrue it is, the more you start to believe it!)

I’d done an across-the-country loop like this twenty years ago, but was excited to share amazing treasures like the Grand Canyon and Death Valley with G and Gv, who’d never seen them before.

And no matter how hard you try, there’s just no way to truly convey the majesty of the Grand Canyon without seeing it for yourself in person.

So, we set off, ready to live out of our car and tent for 5 weeks, to travel across 14 states and pretty much double Gv's Jr. Ranger badge collection by visiting over 65 National Park sites along the way.

This is what two years of Jr. Rangering looks like.

Sounds incredible, right?

Well, sure, but lest you think that our travel isn't without its share of crises, let me go ahead and just squash that belief right now.

Because, like I said in my post on Pam's site, your road trip will include moments of crisis.

We know this well. Car battery goes dead while you're camping in the middle of a 50-mile, dusty forest road and no one drives by for two days?

We've done that.

A family of mice on said forest road (on a different year, because we're the fools who don't shy away from potentially repeating a crazy trip crisis experience, year after year) decide to take up residence under the hood of your car and then proceed to chew away all the insulation to use for a nest for all their babies?

We've done that, too.

Drive through Nebraska in an intense hailstorm that is sure to contain a bazillion tornadoes that you just can't see, only to have to set up camp in a gully during a icy-golfball lull?

Yup, we've done that, too.

Travel an hour to a state park to view the much-anticipated Statue of Liberty, only to be met with guards and guns, who tell you that "We're sorry, but the state of New Jersey is closed today, due to budget negotiations"...

Oh, yes, check that one off the list, as well.

But none of these trips have come close to what we dealt with this past summer.

Seriously, it was like the life-on-wheels version of The Money Pit, where each new day had us waking up wondering just what else could go wrong...

Besides being the biggest summer trip yet, it was also the best-planned. Fitting in over 65 sites in just 34 days could only happen with meticulous plans.

I'd outdone myself with this year's trip binder. It included calendars to provide a snapshot for each day, a 15-page spreadsheet of our itinerary, and customized maps for each leg of the journey. This sucker was hefty, but oh, so helpful!

What is that saying about the best-laid plans?

It all began 3 days before we left home. In addition to our usual pre-trip scurrying (packing, getting the oil changed, having new tires put on, eating up all the fridge food that would go bad in the weeks we were gone, etc.), we were ferrying Gv to VBS each day. A 6,000+ kid VBS. And all those kids meant one thing.


Gv brought these lovely gifts home to share, and although G completely rejected the present himself, apparently I just didn't have the heart to refuse the offering, because I came down with the full-blown, I'm-not-moving-from-this-bed flu.

Luckily, I managed to get through my last two days of work on the ice and we set off from the rink, because surely I'd be better in a few days.

So, with G at the wheel (usually I drive because I get car-sick if I do anything but passenger, and that way he can do all sorts of reading while we travel), me hacking up a lung beside him, and Gv snuffling through her very mild cold in the backseat, we set off.

Our first night was spent with friends and day two had us puttering along to our camping spot in Louisiana, where we pretty much re-lived this:

I wish that clip kept going, because it didn't include all the tire-spinning that really illustrated what our next morning truly looked like.

Thank goodness for our Subaru's AWD, otherwise we might never have made it out of that swamp.

We had a mostly uneventful day driving across Texas and then our tire light went on, and of course that happened after we left the interstate, and began driving on back roads that barely even showed up as thin, gray lines on the AAA map.

And teeny, weeny roads meant barely any gas stations.

And did you know that about .000001% of all gas stations these days have air machines at them?

And that when you do find one of said air machines, it will cost you approximately $5,468 in coins only to use?

Well, now you know.

We topped up the air and figured that these brand-spanking-new tires just needed a little breaking-in time and we'd be good to go for the rest of the trip.

Which, of course, wasn't the case. We spent every morning for almost the rest of the trip pulling into and out of gas station after gas station, looking for air, because that darned light came on every single day.

When we finally encountered real civilization (meaning a town big enough to support a Walmart), G had the brilliant idea to buy one of those cans of fix-a-flat, which took a couple of days to kick in, but finally helped.

And then, when we passed through a town large enough to have an AutoZone, he wisely went in and bought one of these kits, just in case.

Despite all the filling-station detours, we still managed to make it to our first major stop in time to descend 750 feet into the earth to explore all sorts of interesting formations before sitting around for two hours waiting on a few furry mammals to emerge from their home in search of dinner of bugs.

Gourmet PB&J dinner while waiting on the bats at Carlsbad Caverns.

The next morning, we headed back to the cave. I'd wanted G and Gv to be able to walk down through the natural entrance, and we'd been too late to make that hike's cutoff the night before.

But in the 5-minute drive from our campsite to the visitor's center, Gv got sick. All over her car seat. And her fresh, new outfit that she had just donned, moments before.

Thinking this was a freak occurrence akin to ingesting bad clams (she'd had that PB&J the night before, made on my homemade bread, which I'd thought was the culprit because we'd been traveling for 3 days by this point, and my no-preservatives bread usually goes bad pretty quickly in a hot car), we cleaned up the mess (always fun to do away from home), got her dressed in new clothes, added our hiking clothes on top (these outfits keep us safe from sun, bugs, and other critters), and set out across the parking lot for the cave.

Poor little Gv stopped dead in her tracks, with the most pitiful, confused look I've ever seen.

She'd gotten sick again, but it was much more involved this time. And it immediately demonstrated that the earlier episode wasn't just from bad bread, but due to an affects-the-entire-GI-tract stomach virus.

Do you know how much fun it is to deal with cleaning all of that up in a visitor center restroom?

I do, and let me tell you, it is not an experience I ever want to repeat.

The poor other souls who had to use that restroom that morning. And of course this park didn't have a family restroom, which might have helped make things easier. And of course this particular handicapped stall didn't have a sink inside, so I had to subject the public to my cleaning attempts, as well.

I think it took us about two hours to recover from that mess, because of course poor little Gv was not only doing poorly hygiene-wise, but she was also becoming best buds with the commode.

The good news is that Carlsbad Caverns has a little snack bar restaurant attached to it (we only had a small bit of food we'd brought from home, as that night was going to be our first supply stop of the trip), so we were able to buy her something to put in her stomach and perk her up a bit. Her yogurt parfait cup cost $6.50 (!!!), but after tiny bites of that and a bit of banquet-seat napping, she seemed to be on the mend.

The hike down into the cave proved to be too strenuous for our weak little girl's legs, but a loving Daddy had no problem carrying her down so she could still have the experience.

The coolness of the cave and distractions of the formations seemed to help, and we were all hoping we were back on track with our trip's plan.

A slower version of the plan, due to my continued illness and Gv's weakness, but back on track, nevertheless.

We were able to pick up some Saltine's and ginger ale and other supplies at the store that night. We nervously monitored our little gal over the next few days, as she would make it almost 24 hours in-between sickness episodes before it all repeated. It was so hard for her to watch us eat real food while she was being limited to crackers and Pedialyte only, but within a few days, she was back to her chipper self.

Our next travel challenge came in the middle of the Painted Desert, a 28-mile, 15-to-30-mile-per-hour drive with no facilities of any kind until you get to the end.

This is where our ABS warning light suddenly started blinking.

And G realized that we had no emergency brake.

The good news is, our regular brakes still worked. But when we wanted to stop?

My stick-shift car just wouldn't stay put without that emergency brake!

We managed to play the old, stop-and-see-which-way-it-rolls-then-leave-it-in-the-opposite-gear game -- which worked fine, but we were pretty concerned about what this issue might really mean, wondering if the regular brakes would fail at any moment, too!

A few days later, we managed to make a small detour in to Flagstaff, which, besides Las Vegas and L.A., had the only Subaru dealerships anywhere near our route.

We parked ourselves outside the service doors an hour before they opened, but the manager told us that it would be one full day before they'd be able to even look at the car to see what the issue was, let alone fix it.

Well, that was completely unacceptable.

After turning on all my charms, resorting to begging, and G stating that he would just keep us going and hopefully we'd all live through the day, they agreed to at least take a look at things, just to verify our safety.

Their verdict?

"There's nothing wrong with the car. You'll be fine."

Ummm, there's obviously something wrong with the car -- there's no emergency brake -- but okay, if you say it's safe to drive...

So we continued to play the rolling-car game and to automatically reach for the emergency brake every time we stopped or started, no matter how much time transpired.

We press on down the road, having to skip a few stops due to all of our issues and setbacks, but honestly only two or three, which is pretty good, considering.

Oh, wait, I just remembered something else. Before we left, we'd had two dings in our windshield repaired from last year's trip. If you're going to be driving on back roads in the middle of nowhere (or heck, even down the interstate!), then you can expect a rock to jump up and hit your windshield.

It's like they just know you're on a trip, so they come after you.

Anyway, last year's dings remained that, dings. In a full year of the Florida sun, they never cracked or expanded or blocked our view. However, we wanted them repaired before we left, because who knew what the record-breaking heat of Death Valley would do to those little buggers...

The repair was fine, but it didn't take long before the rocks heard that we were out on the open road again, because they quickly had a party on our windshield.

And we spent the rest of the trip watching a crack grow, from the bottom of the passenger side of the windshield, up and across the passenger's sight-line, totally disrupting the view.

It stopped about halfway across, so at least the driver's view was never blocked.

At this point, the crack's only about 1/3rd of the way across. And if I stretched my head all the way up until my hair touched the roof, I could manage to see pretty decently in front of me.

Friends then joined us at our campsite in the Grand Canyon, which would have been fabulous on its own, but was especially positive for G and Gv because they now had someone to talk/play with besides still-super-sick-and-getting-worse me, who by this point can't even swallow water.

And not being able to swallow water in one of the hottest spots in the country is a little scary, let me tell you.

Between G's stories from this book (that he bought before we left, just to add a little spice to our trip) and all the bazillion ranger warnings that every person needs a gallon of water a day or they will die, the fact that I couldn't swallow was less than encouraging.

So we threw out all the big hikes I'd had planned and just took a few easy strolls along the Rim Trail, and aside from a certain someone scaring me to death constantly by doing this,

Believe it or not, he got even closer to the edge. No photos of that, because I was too scared to look.

Everything was fine.

The three of us even managed to do a bit of the Bright Angel Trail on the day we departed, so all was not lost.

We continued to wind our way west, arriving at our camping friends' home just outside L.A.

We had no real desire to visit L.A.

We did, however, have a desire to visit our friends, and we figured that at some point during our 2-day stay, we'd see a few of the star-studded sights, as well.

The next day's plans included viewing the Hollywood sign, seeing the stars and prints outside Grauman's Theater, and grabbing some food truck fare while dipping our toes in the Pacific at Muscle Beach.

But our friends' GPS erroneously took us not just to view the Hollywood sign, but up to the Hollywood sign, and let me tell you, our car's transmission did not appreciate that deviation to the plan through the Hollywood Hills.

How did we know this? 

Because the transmission decided to die in the middle of rush-hour traffic on Beverly Blvd!

Oh, yes, G was putting all his I-can-drive-in-Miami-and-Italy-so-LA-won't-phase-me skills to the test and my anxiety levels were already hitting the roof, but then suddenly a grinding sound rumbled up from the floor of the car, the clutch pedal slammed down, and the car just died.

We sat in the middle of all that crazy traffic with our flashers on, praying that none of the gajillion cars swerving around us would hit us.

I'm on the phone with AAA, G is on his with the police, and in-between, we're on the phone with our friends, whose car made it through the intersection, unlike ours.

My Outback won't budge, but when the bicycle cop shows up to help with traffic control, somehow we managed to get it in neutral and since the power still worked, the power steering still made it possible for me to point the car towards the curb while G, the cop, and our friends pushed that sucker with everything they had.

After a couple hours of waiting for AAA to show up, they call to tell me that it will be another three before the tow truck can get to us. Oh, and by the way, the tow truck will only hold one passenger.

So Gv and I (& her car seat) squeeze into our friends' car and we leave G the wait for the tow.

It takes us a couple hours to go the 30 miles back to our friends' house in more insane traffic (seriously, take everything you see in the movies and on tv about L.A. traffic and multiple it by four!) and then, a couple hours after that, G is able to walk from the mechanic to the house with as much stuff as he could bring that we might need over the next couple days.

Because -- did I mention -- it was a Friday? And the tow truck pulled into the mechanic at 6:15 pm, so it was closed (until Monday!) and our vehicle would therefore be sitting outside the locked gate until they opened and could look at it to even ascertain whether it was repairable or not.

Yeah, good times.

On Monday, we learn that things are bad. G and our friend walked back down to the mechanic and saw my poor little car's innards lying strewn about the shop.

In the process of figuring out the issues, they've replaced the clutch, and the flywheel, and one or two more minor things to only discover that it needs a completely new transmission.

Which, of course would cost more than my car is even worth, and even thinking about replacing my car in everything-costs-five-bajillion-times-more-than-at-home-California was impossible for us, budget-wise.

I mean, aside from all our trip's challenges, we were able to do this vacation for less than $500...and our $100-a-week budget certainly could not handle the purchase of any type of California car -- with taxes -- and then having to pay all the car fees to bring a different car back into the state of Florida.

And we were pretty sure that even if a rental company would let us rent in CA and return in FL, the 2,500 miles that we would be driving -- and that's going back the most direct route possible, with throwing the rest of the trip out the window -- wouldn't work or be in our budget, either.

So, after much discussion with our new best friends at the car shop -- who truly felt that, in all likelihood, we should be able to make it home safely with the repairs they've already performed, we handed over the several thousand dollars that we didn't really have to continue the trip.

We left L.A. four days later than planned, having to give up a decent-sized chunk of our trip (part of which we'd already paid for, months ahead of time, in camping fees), but the upside was that -- hey, we had wonderful, gracious friends who not only gave us a place to stay for all those extra days, but with whom we had an absolutely fantastic time hanging out with, not to mention allowing me the opportunity to spend most of that time in bed, sleeping off my continued sickness, still not able to swallow very well.

On our way out of town, we had to bypass several of the sights we'd planned to visit, but we needed to make it to Zion to at least enjoy one night of camping, since we'd already missed out on staying there the night before.

The rest of the trip was amazing. Sure, we were still a bit behind schedule and often arrived at spots just as they were closing, plus my multi-week sickness limited our hikes and other explorations, but we still saw so much.

I finally got better by the beginning of week 5, so things managed to end on a better note, on that front, as well.

When we returned home, people asked how our trip went. My answer? "It was an adventure!" Because, despite all of its challenges, that's what it was. Yes, we had more than our share of difficulties on this vacation -- waaaaay more than we've ever encountered before -- but you know what? Things could have been worse. And we're all okay, and safe, and we still managed to see all sorts of amazing things and have good times, too.

And you know what we got most of all from this trip?


We will never forget all the stories from this journey -- and these shared family stories will last a lifetime!

That, my friends, is the power of the road trip.

Interested to see what some our past summer trips have looked like? Check out these posts for more stories and photos:

  • It all began with our first summer in the mountains. See what it looks like to camp with no facilities for a month with a 1-yr-old here.
  • Find year two here, which delves a bit more into how we manage to do these trips on our super-tight budget, because did I mention that we're able to do many of these trips for FREE?
  • This post tells a bit more about our second summer, and specifically shares tips on how to do this type of travel with a toddler in tow.
  • This 5 After 5 post shares some of my favorite national parks, at the time.
  • Another 5 After 5 post that tells you about other road trips, including two that I took pre-G and Gv.
  • Summer number 3 rolled around and we had this camping thing down pat. This post shares some of our cheapest tricks that we'd learned over the years.
  • This Project Snapshot post shares some fun photos from that 3rd summer's campout.
  • Looking for fun crafts to do that incorporate all that nature you're camping amongst? This post will give you loads of ideas that are not only fun, but turn out to be so cool!
  • After 3 summers in the mountains with a toddler, we decided that our preschooler is old enough to venture out on more of a traditional road trip. See this popular Passport to Fun post to learn more.
  • Have a laugh with some of these additional photos from that first major road trip vacation.
  • Taking a road trip just not possible due to your budget or schedule? Take a staycation instead. This post will provide you with plenty of ideas on how to make things fun without leaving your house.
  • And finally, Project Snapshot posts from last June and July share extra photos from all the fun of our giant, amazing road trip last year, plus this Project Snapshot post from earlier shares highlights from this year's trip, as well.

Have you ventured out onto the open road with your family yet? If so, what kinds of stories have you brought back with you? I'd love to hear!  Either leave a comment below or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com.

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