My family just returned from a week-long vacation in Florida. We spent 30+ hours driving on the road over the past seven days to get from Kentucky down to Florida. During my time on the road, some realizations popped into my head that I thought were worth sharing.

1) No adult conversations were ever private. It didn’t matter how distracted my kids were. They always seemed to hear or interrupt my conversations with my wife. Mentioning one of their names always seemed to set off an alert (“What did you just say about me?”). My wife and I had to turn up the music or talk in code most of the time. We wished that we had one of those glass dividers that they have in limos that can go up or down. Would it be wrong for us to install a glass divider between us and the kids in our mini-van?

2) Rest areas and truck stops are the best place to go (when you’ve got to “go”). Gas stations are a crappy place to stop for bathroom breaks. Their bathrooms are always disgusting and it’s nearly impossible to sneak through the store without the kids (or me) wanting food, candy or drinks. Plus, they never have paper towels. How am I supposed to open the nasty door without touching the door knob? Toilet paper just doesn’t get the job done.

Gas station bathrooms can also be scary. My youngest son and I were in a gas station bathroom and a really scary-looking old man burst through the LOCKED bathroom door. I told him that the door was locked and he closed the door and reluctantly went back outside. Not even 30 seconds later, he knocked again and asked how much longer we’d be because he really had to go. When I opened the door to walk out, he stepped in front of my son and I to get into the bathroom. He didn’t even close the door. I shudder to think about how scared my little boy would have been had the guy walked in on him (without me).

Rest areas and truck stops are the best because you can get in and out quickly. Their bathrooms are cleaner and larger (instead of the one bathroom in the back). Plus, at truck stops, I can get gas. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

3) GPS is the best thing ever invented for road trips. Throughout our vacation, my wife and I entered addresses/locations in the GPS apps on our smart phones and blindly followed its directions. We almost always found our destinations without problem (and never had to ask for directions). Plus, GPS would tell us how many miles and how much time we have left before we reached our destination. It was a fun way to gamify my driving experience (to make it less boring) and I could actually tell the kids how much time we had left (see #6 below).

I highly recommend checking out the Waze mobile app. It’s great because other users can report traffic delays ahead and you can avoid them. At one point, we were able to get off an exit and bypass at least an hour of sitting in traffic on the highway.

4) DVD players/tablets/iPods are the second best thing ever invented for road trips. Our mini-van has a DVD system with wireless headphones and we were able to listen to my iPod (without crummy radio commercials) while the kids watched their movies. This was the first road trip where we were able to play DVDs AND listen to music at the same time. The kids also had tablets (with headphones) and could watch movies or play games. The only time we ran into problems were when one of the kids’ tablets died on them. We had a power inverter (like a power strip for your car) with us to power the tablets but they never seemed to charge them fast enough.

My baby girl was all smiles even after spending nearly 30 hours in the car over the past week.

My baby girl was all smiles even after spending nearly 30 hours in the car over the past week.

5) Mini-vans are the perfect road trip vehicle. The kids were able to spread out and not be right on top of each other. Our mini-van is configured with two captain’s chairs in the middle and then a bench seat in the back. My two younger kids sat in the middle with my oldest in the back. Plus, my wife had easy access to the back whenever she needed to smack, I mean help, one of the kids. Whenever my kids sit next to each other, they end up fighting so any extra space between them is huge.

6) “Number of movies to watch” is a valid form of measuring how much time we had left on our trip. For example, if we had 6 hours left, I’d tell the kids that they needed to watch approximately 4.5 more movies before we would reach our destination. My kids are still a little too young to understand what time and distance really means but they understood what it meant to watch more movies to fill in the time.

7) My home city is killing us on gas. When we left town last Saturday, we paid around $3.89/gallon to fill up our gas tank. I’d say that on average, we paid around $3.30/gallon in the seven to eight times we filled up during our road trip through Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. With an 18-gallon tank in our mini-van, we saved almost $10 every time we filled up in another city. It blows my mind that there can be such a fluctuation in gas prices across the U.S. I know there are a lot of considerations that go into gas pricing but I still think it’s crazy.

8) How on earth did we survive road trips when I was a kid? I don’t think I could survive a road trip nowadays without the things I mentioned above. I know times were a lot different 30 years ago when I was a kid but I still don’t know how we did it. All I really remember about road trips when I was a kid was beating the crap out of my brother in the seat next to me. I sure hope my parents have better memories about those trips than me.

We had a great time on vacation and had very little incidents. Sure, there were arguments and fights but it was pretty pleasant experience overall.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how I look at it), we don’t have any road trips planned for the near future. With that being said, my wife and I will continue to think up ways to make our family road trips go smoothly.

I want to remember a vacation for the all the right reasons.

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