Having a Good Time Not Making Good Time: Day One

Hike at Hart Park

As a kid I traveled in our family Suburban quite a bit. My parents gave us a variety of travel experiences with the most frequent being a trip from South Carolina to our roots in the Midwest and back again. As one of three kids, we had a lot of fun times and annoyed the bejeezus (Is that a word? It feels right here) out of each other. One relatively consistent theme was the success of a trip was dependent on “making good time.” How long did we think it was going to take was always compared with how quickly we made it. Bladders were trained and speed was valued.

I imagine when I embark on our coast-to-coast adventure those years of training will come in handy, but for this trip I realized it was an addiction I had to break. Traveling alone with four kids under six meant that endurance was a skill not yet developed and if we were going to enjoy ourselves, we needed to lean into the adventure. We had to prioritize the fun over the speed. When did I become so old that fun had to be prioritized? Damn Adulthood! Overall, I think being intentional about being present and having fun made a huge difference in enjoying the ride (pun intended; aren’t they always?).

We plan to make this trip a few more times in the next couple years as I don’t think we have seen even a fraction of what there is to be seen. There are places we’ll see again and others we’ll omit, but here’s a quick break-down of our stops on day one. I’m happy to elaborate on any of this if you are planning to follow in our tire tracks. I realized as I went to share the details, the trip in one long post would be overwhelming; I am entirely too verbose for that. Instead, I hope you enjoy the day-by-day.

Tuesday, January 1: Left at 8AM. On New Year’s Day. Grateful for a low-key NYE celebration, as I can’t imagine the trip with a hangover. We started in San Diego and headed north towards Fresno.


Feeding the deer at Hart Park

William S. Hart Park: Santa Clarita, CA
We planned to stop at a park in Bakersfield but ended up at William S. Hart Park in Santa Clarita. I’m not sure what attracted me to this impulse stop, but it was a hidden gem. Originally a retirement home for a former silent actor and director, it was gifted to the community and is always free. There is a barnyard with a variety of animals to feed, a large roaming space with American bison, and a short hike up a hill to a museum. I mean, seriously, who gets to start off a road trip with a beautiful short hike and feeding a deer.

William S. Hart Park
24151 Newhall Avenue
(661) 259-0855

Getting back in the van wasn’t an issue because it was cold, and the promise of heat drew the littles quickly back into their car seats. With bodies tired and the warmth of the van, we happily set off to our next location.


Clubhouse at Bravo Farms

Bravo Farms: Traver, CA
A few hours down the road, we stopped at Bravo Farms. With its seven-story tree house, feisty llama, see-saw, slide into sandbox, and other fun club houses and animals, it was the break we needed. My animal-loving heart feels compelled to include that there is a feeling that the animals could benefit from some more space and higher quality care. We picked up several mementos that were over-priced but beloved. As a directionally challenged navigator, I hate when anyone says, “You can’t miss it,” but in this case there were a dozen billboards along Hwy 99 encouraging this spot as a must-stop for all weary travelers. They make their own cheese to taste, some wine to sip, and a plethora of homemade or cute knick-knacks to purchase. Keep your expectations low and you’ll enjoy yourself.

Bravo Farms: Traver
36005 Hwy 99
Traver, CA 93763
(559) 897-5762

Leaving the adorable animals and clubhouse behind made the kids a bit more resistant to returning to the van. However, the anticipation of pizza and ice cream at the hotel got them moving. After one final quick 35-minute drive, we were pulling into our home away from home for the night.


Marriott’s TownePlace Suites: Fresno, CA

They saw us coming. I could see the front desk clerks eyeing us from the window as I unloaded my four amazing and wiggly children from the van onto the sidewalk. I was a little worried about how checking in would go as I’m sure we were not their ideal guests. My fears were quickly assuaged as one opened the door for us and the other handed each of the kids a special farm animal toy and coloring sheet. Their warmth and kindness brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t think it was possible, but it actually got better when five minutes after settling into the room I received a call asking if it would be helpful if they brought and set up a pack-n-play in the room for us. Their warmth, intuition, and generosity concluded our first day of traveling with smiles and comfort.

Fresno TownePlace Suites
7127 N. Fresno Street
Fresno, CA 93720

An extra treat at this leg of the travels was getting to meet up with my husband’s aunt and uncle. I could search the thesaurus for all the synonyms for kind and generous and it still wouldn’t touch on how truly amazing these two humans are. They brought us pizza, ice cream, and homemade cookies to enjoy on our first night away from home. Overall, we ended the day with confidence and excitement. So much excitement in fact that sleep was nearly impossible to come by. More on that later…

Eight Tips to Planning a Road Trip with Kids

“You’re brave!” I heard this comment many times before, during, and after our five-day road tripping adventure. I’m pretty sure when people heard that I was traveling solo with a 5-year-old, 2-year-old, 2-year-old, and 1-year-old, “You’re brave” was code for “You’re crazy!” It was said in a variety of ways: sometimes with a tone of astonishment, sometimes admiration, and occasionally a tinge of judgement. I’m still not sure if I’m brave or if I’m crazy, but we made it to the other side and I am looking forward to sharing both our highlights and our low points along the way.

I’m going to break this down into three posts, naturally it will be: the beginning, the middle, and the end. The thoughts seem to divide themselves in this way and will hopefully provide different insights for others planning similar trips of their own. This first post is about what I did to prepare, the second includes all our stops, and the last post shares lessons learned.

There were a lot of reasons I decided to embark on this journey and part of the reason was to dispel the myths I was telling myself about what we were capable of doing. I get out with the kids almost every day, but I always have the feeling that while we may make it to local hikes or attractions, it seemed daunting to go anywhere beyond an hour’s drive home. I have never liked the feeling of external limitations and I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling that burden either. However, I also don’t want to be reckless with our safety. Therein lies the balancing act of life.

I’ve learned even more along the way, but these were the steps of preparation that helped to make the trip successful:

Detailed, color-coded road trip itinerary

#1 Detailed, color-coded itinerary with a flexible mindset. Laminated. I planned out in detail a possible schedule for the entire trip. I didn’t have my heart set on any stop along the way, but I wanted to have a planned path and make decisions to stay on or veer off that path. I also liked having one, color-coded sheet with all the addresses along the way. As a teacher, I’ve always been a sucker for school supplies and that has seeped into my parenting. It was like the cherry on top to use our home laminator to give our guiding plan the protection to weather the trip with us.  You’ll want the pouches too; laminating is its own wonderful addiction.

#2 Insights from Trip Advisor – The reviews and suggestions from Trip Advisor helped to brainstorm and plan to keep the trip interesting and safe. It also helped us find hidden gems we wouldn’t have known about through Google searches alone.

#3 Packing a separate bag for each hotel – The idea of lugging heavy bags while also wrangling the kids was a bit overwhelming. After comparing our agenda to the weather in that city, I packed a bag for each time we would need to check in. Each bag included jammies, outfits, wipes, diapers, socks, and undies. There were 2 smaller bags that came into each hotel. One included the paperwork, laptop, and chargers. The second had toiletries and I tossed in the remainder of that day’s snacks. I also labeled the bags clearly with city and day, so I’d easily know which one to grab.   

#4 Snacks packed for each day – We live off Costco snacks and I knew elements of familiarity would be hard to find on the road. Before the trip I packed a gallon sized plastic bag for each day of the trip. There was basically one of everything for each kid each day: applesauce, veggie straws, fig bars, raisins, Belvita bars (our new family fav), trail mix, and fruit leathers. I also packed a treat item like a Hershey kiss in case we hit any rough patches along the way.

#5 Picking hotels that include breakfast – After spending the duration of my childhood with a parent working at the Marriott, we have a bias to Springhill Suites and Fairfield Inns. The service is consistent and kind, the breakfasts are delicious and predictable, and the rooms are clean and safe. Starting the day with a hearty breakfast and grabbing some food for on-the-go helped to make the trip healthy and cost efficient. I also read the reviews of each hotel prior to booking them to ensure they were in a safe area and would be family friendly.

#6 Rhythm and Routine – It would have been impossible to maintain the same routines we have at home, but I wanted to plan for our days to have a similar rhythm. I tried to plan where we would wake up and adventure, drive during nap times, check-in to the hotel, and then do a second activity. It wasn’t always possible, but planning the trip around that structure was a goal to parallel our day-to-day lives.

#7 A packing checklist that I can revisit for future trips – It may seem silly, but to this professional list maker, a checklist is gold. I can look back at exactly what we packed and what we ended up needing. As we look forward to the next trip, I won’t be starting from scratch. Even though I assume I’ll always remember a tooth brush, it’s nice to take the weight of remembering out of my brain and give it to a checklist.

#8 A Travel Guidebook – I didn’t use a book to plan the travel this time because I couldn’t find one that fit our path, but I am a hold-it-in-my-hands kind of planner. As I look forward to traveling more with the kids, I think this book will be useful in giving the kids some control in the planning. I think their influence in choosing our stops will help to bring excitement, anticipation, and enthusiasm for all.

What else do you do to prepare for your trips with the littlest travelers?

Tonight is the eve of my 2019 Happiness Project and 12 Experiments Project. I’ve been diligent in the planning and I’m excited to start a road trip with the kids in the morning to kick off January’s theme of “Never Been.” Each day we’ll travel somewhere new, even if on some days we have to settle for a new taco shop or bookstore in the neighborhood.

But as I was getting ready this morning I realized there is an even bigger goal that I must accomplish this year. I must stop yelling. As I attempted to work through my to do list, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and easily triggered. The normal conflicts and whining echoed in my brain like daggers. The mess making felt like catastrophic explosions. It was a tough morning for us all.

How can I expect my children to stay in control of their bodies and emotions when 35 years into life I’m still learning? I hate when I hear that sharp tone in my voice that wouldn’t feel good directed at an adult let alone a child. I must do better.

I have lots of intentions set for 2019. 19 tasks to accomplish and 12 experiments of happiness, but the most important goal I have for myself is to find a way to maintain, as Dr. Markham calls it, a Yellibacy in our family. No more making others feel small or sad as a way to influence their behavior.

I hope 2019 will be the year we all choose love.