Month Long Family Road Trip

Lola MagazineLola Shreveport, Travel

Solo parent road trip: My kids and I traveled through the Southeast for a month, and here’s why you should, too.

My “just me and the kids” road trip with my tween sons (12 and 13) took shape when I started planning a four-day family rafting trip in West Virginia. Airfare for four people was expensive, but my husband didn’t have enough vacation days for a road trip. 

We decided the kids and I would road trip from Texas to West Virginia and have some adventures along the way. We bought my husband a ticket and made plans for him to meet us in Charleston and started planning.

Since I don’t like to drive long distances, I started looking at places we could stop along the way. We’re outdoorsy, so we focused on parks along what ended up being a not-very-direct route to West Virginia.

Our trip lasted a month, with stops in seven states. I got a few things wrong but a few things right, too.

My kids were homesick, and I shouldn’t have taken that personally

My kids missed my husband, their familiar home environment, friends, and our family pets. At first, I interpreted this as a slight or lack of enthusiasm for the trip.

My big lesson learned was that excitement about the present and missing home aren’t mutually exclusive.

My pit-stop planning wasn’t the best

My desire to “just power through and get there” didn’t gel with my kids’ needs. I skipped roadside attractions or detours we might have enjoyed just to make it to the next pit stop.

I wish I’d taken more time to be in the moment. I’d have taken the detours and visited the wacky roadside attractions my kids expressed interest in.

My youngest is a hardcore car napper and my most vocal complainer. Car rides are easier when he’s sleeping. At first, I didn’t communicate when I planned to stop, which almost always meant waking him up.

I also wish we’d spent more time at rest stops. Most areas have green spaces or playgrounds, and I should have taken time to stretch and let my kids run around. That would have made long driving stretches easier.

budget for splurges

Gas, hotels, and food were expensive on this extended trip, so staying within our budget was important. If I had a do-over, I would have allocated more wiggle room for splurges, like the occasional suite or adjoining room, to give us some much-needed space and privacy.

Also, sometimes it’s easier to buy Pringles in the hotel gift shop. Yes, you’ll pay three times as much for a can of chips, but a quick snack can trump a grocery store run at the end of a long day. Sometimes, instant gratification needs to win.

I let up on my (usually) rigid rules

I let my kids eat what they wanted in the car. I made them clean the back seat after every day of driving, so it wasn’t too bad.

I allowed swimming to count as a bath. Not every night but more nights than I can count on my hand (or want to admit.) We had ice cream and wine for dinner, also more times than I want to admit. Ice cream them, wine me, of course.

And yes, I know there are things in pool water that make swimming the opposite of a bath but I chose to ignore that. Zero regrets.

Kid of the day

“Kid of the day” got to push elevator buttons, unlock hotel room doors, and choose the playlist. I came up with this during a moment of intense bickering, not expecting it to work. Surprise, it did.

I didn’t expect my tweens to be that into pushing the elevator button, but it kept the peace and focused them on helping me.

I make a digital Itinerary

I created a digital itinerary, texted it to my kids, and printed a copy to keep in the car.

Some of our plans were loose, but having links and pictures that showed what was up next helped them feel in control of what we were doing. One of my kids told me this made him feel like it was really “our trip.”

My older kids liked being informed about what was going to come next. As children crave autonomy, they appreciate processing information at their own pace versus being fed details by adults.Zero regrets. No harm came from more snacks and fewer baths. They’ll (hopefully) remember when mom said yes to things she usually said no to.

What’s the takeaway?

It was fun to switch up the group dynamics. My kids got to see me troubleshoot weird car noises, build fires, and deal with a rodent issue in a hotel room, all things that would have usually landed in the dad job jar.

And while I can’t say this trip solved all of our family problems, I do notice we seek out each other’s company more often. My kids choose to play together more versus alone or with friends. We’re all more intentional about family time.

Our Stops

Hot Springs Arkansas/Hot Springs National Park

Bowling Green, Kentucky/Mammoth Cave National Park

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee/Great Smoky Mountains National Park

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Lake Charles, Louisiana (saved the best for last before heading back across the Texas state line.)

Jill Robbins is a Texas mom who loves to roam. She has a 30-year-old daughter and two sons in middle school. She knows that’s a big gap in age, but she tries to be polite when people point that out. Her writing has appeared in Business Insider, Tripsavvy, Wealth of Geeks, San Antonio Magazine, and more.