Guide to Planning the Ultimate Road Trip

Two years ago, we started to plan our first family road trip. We knew that we wanted to travel west but we really had no plan. John and I had never travelled across the country in a car. In fact, the only time we had ever been west was the year before when we flew to Vegas. We consulted our friends and family who were experienced travellers, and even though they were well travelled, they had never travelled with seven kids in tow.
We made a rough route with a handful of destinations in mind, and we filled in the rest. We gained helpful insight but for the most part, we winged it. We made a plan that seemed right for us, and the only way to see if it would work was to actually do it. So, we did.
Fiverr.Trip Planner (4)
The good news, IT ACTUALLY WORKED!!
The best news, IT’S FREE!!
Our goal was to inspire others to get out of their comfort zone and explore. We hope by giving you this guide, you will travel with your own family! We have used this to plan our road trips and cross-country trips for others.

Road Trip Essentials

Top Five Road Trip Essentials


1. Entertainment – We could not have driven across the country without music, podcasts, coloring books, and Kindles. I would have gone absolutely bonkers. We have an amazing car charger that can charge four electronics. It’s kind of the best thing ever. We were always quick the Kindles once the kids started to fidget. It bought us many extra hours on the road. Never discount the power of distraction.

2. Atlas– Call us old fashioned, but there is nothing like a good Rand McNally road atlas. We used this to plan.

Food– As the head car chef, I can tell you that snacks are crucial. Being hangry in a car with eight other people is no bueno. While we did a lot of snacks type food, we also made sandwiches and ate tons of fruits and carrot sticks. Just be sure to have a place for garbage.

Pillows– There is nothing worse than napping with your neck in a weird position. I highly recommend a good travel pillow.

GoPro– We have driven through some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet. Capture it. We mounted a GoPro to the dash, and record as much as we possibly can.

What are some of your road trip essentials?
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For Christmas, the girls received a Butterfly Garden from Insect Lore. It was a magical way to learn about the lifecycle of a butterfly.


We weren’t quite sure how this would turn out. There are two types of Butterfly Gardens offered by Insect Lore, one contains live caterpillars, while the other contains a voucher to redeem for live caterpillars. We received the livings ones. If you have been following along, we were leaving Chrismas night for the better part of two weeks. Much to our delight, the caterpillars seemed to thrive in their cups and had plenty of food to sustain them while we were gone. After careful inspection of the instructions, when we returned, we would have to immediately remove the lids from the cups, with chrysalis intact, and place them in their position to emerge. So that’s what we did.

The girls spoke of their butterflies throughout the trip, wondering which stage they were. They were anxious to get home. Since they were missing key points of metamorphosis, we promised we would get another cup of caterpillars in the spring. This seemed to ease their minds a bit.

Once we returned home, we were pleased to find that we had six chrysalides dangling from the lids. We followed the instructions and prayed they would open.

Five days later, we saw our first little friend! image1

I can’t fully describe the excitement and enchantment that was in our home for the next several days. The girls sat on the top bunk for hours watching their butterflies flutter about their habitat.

Release day was met with mixed emotions. They couldn’t wait to watch their beloved pets fly about outside, but they were also saddened by the thought of not watching them every day.

We waited for unseasonably warm weather for the release. It was absolute magic.

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The girls giggled with delight as their butterflies danced around them, warming up their wings.

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They were able to observe the eyes and proboscis up close.

What this Butterfly Garden was able to convey through observation and experience was more than I could ever teach with printables and lessons. We are already planning our next cup of caterpillars! The great thing about the kit is the reusable habitat. We already have everything we need for our friends in the spring!

Planning | Summer 2016

When it comes to planning the great American road trip, one should do their research. We identified a few amazing people/families who have done their fair share of wandering. We shared our routes and made adjustments many times. We would not have had the courage to take seven children across the country and traverse the wilderness without their insight.
Thank you to our guides; Marc, Valerie and Scott, Robin, the Kellogg Family, Father Nathan, and anyone I have erroneously left out.

Summer 2016 Trip Itinerary


Our first big road trip as a family! Our itinerary is ambitious! Here are our planned stops:

  1. St. Louis, MO
    1. City Museum
    2. Lumiere Sculpture Park
  2. Hays, KS
  3. Estes, CO
    1. Day trip to Boulder
    2. Rocky Mountain National Park
  4. Dinosaur National Monument and Split Mountain
  5. Moab, UT
    1. Arches
    2. Canyonland
    3. Dead Horse Park
  6. Salt Lake City, UT
  7. Yellowstone National Park
  8. Mt. Rushmore National Monument
  9. Badlands National Park, SD
  10. Maybe a stop on the way home.

A To-Do List

word cloud

As the countdown to our epic road trip continues the list of things to do seems to keep growing.
Many of the tasks involve making specific hike plans and getting proper supplies. 
Other items are more complex.  Things like overcoming fears and finding self-confidence.
The fears to overcome are many.  And not all involve a “Revenant” like bear attack!
Most of the fears involve not being up to the challenge of providing the kids with an enjoyable experience. Or that living in such close proximity for such a long time might drive us crazy.
But, I counter these fears with my other fears.  Fears of missing out on this opportunity. The fear of looking back and regretting not going will push me through the fear of what waits for us out west.
We will be getting way out of our comfort zones. We are, pretty much, camping novices. I am not an Eagle scout.  I wasn’t even a boy scout or a cub scout. It is very likely that we do not know enough about where we are going or what we should do when we get there. But, we will learn.  We will have to embrace this lack of knowledge and ask others for help and guidance along the way. Pride will have to be put aside and dumb questions will need to be asked.
We will do our best to adequately plan and we will try to take proper precautions.  However, we will never know everything we think we need to know to embark on this adventure. Not all fears can be completely eradicated and that is where faith and bravery will have to take over.
The practical items that we need to address are things like:
  1. Buying a small enclosed trailer for towing our gear.  Since the van will be packed full of us, we need to add the additional storage space with a trailer.  In my mind, we will tow a 4’X6′ enclosed trailer.  This will be plenty of space for our tents, clothes, food, camping supplies and maybe even bikes.  The challenge is finding a trailer that is affordable and also practicing towing the trailer behind the van. (anyone looking to sell a used trailer?)
  2. Meal planning for kids with allergies.  We need to figure out a way to make vegan granola bars and trail mix.  What can be cooked at a campsite that we won’t get burned out on after being in a tent for over a week? How many hot dogs are just to many hot dogs?
  3. Water! We need to make sure we bring enough water with us and have the capability of finding and filtering water if needed.
  4. Kids safety is a major concern.  There are the medical issues. Noah’s epilepsy and SEVERE food allergies always seem to be lurking. Eli and Kam constantly deal with Elhers Danlos stuff.  But there are other safety concerns also. Philip will be learning to walk while we are journeying through canyons and mountain ranges. Naomi has no fear and loves to climb. Both of them will likely spend a significant amount of time riding in backpacks or slings.
  5.  Lots of supplies.  Sunscreen, bug spray, compass, warm weather clothes, cold weather clothes, lots of socks
The list could go on and on and on.
Any suggestions?  Please let us know.
Finally, the last fear that awaits us at the other end of this trip…
What if we don’t want to come back????


Our seven-year-old son, Noah, has epilepsy. He has had seizures since he was 18 months old. They vary in severity and length but the really bad ones are tonic-clonic, last over 10 minutes, and cause him to stop breathing. Thankfully, they are 99.99% controlled with medicine.
Currently, Noah is taking a liquid form of his medication and it is extremely volatile. It must be kept at room temperature or it will not be effective. This is nearly impossible when tent camping near the desert.
nuero noah
We met with his doctor a few days ago to switch his medication from a liquid to a tablet, so temperature changes will not be a factor.  It may not seem like a big deal but this is a huge win for him!  We still have to figure out a place to store his rescue meds but to know he will have his maintenance meds is such a relief.

Foraging With Food Allergies

Today, Eli went foraging in the woods with his book club and it’s a super big deal. Eli has Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) and has a lot of food allergies. We don’t do potluck dinners or attend a lot of birthday parties, and we certainly do not go foraging in the woods. But we are reading My Side of the Mountain, and we are stepping outside of our comfort zone.

I use “we” because as a mom, the thought of accidental exposure terrifies me. The thought of him having a flare keeps me up at night. So today, we went foraging and it was great. He ate foods that were safe and he is ok. We’re ok. This book club has stretched us in a good way. We have grown as mother and son. I am so proud of him. Sam was brave. Eli was brave. So I must be brave.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way…WE WENT FORAGING!!

We collected garlic mustard. It is an invasive species that is out of control in our local parks. We started by identifying the plant’s leaves which have “teeth like” edges. Once we found them, we pulled them out by the root to prevent them from coming back. It is important to gather them in the spring because it prevents them from flowering, and they tend to taste better.

Once we gathered enough garlic mustard, we headed back to the nature center where we separated the plants from the roots and washed them. We found some chives growing nearby, so we grabbed those as well. Then we were ready to make our pesto.

Here’s our recipe. We omitted Parmesan cheese and substituted the traditional pine nuts with sesame seeds. I can’t wait to make this again!


Garlic Mustard Pesto

  • 1 cup garlic mustard (rinsed well)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 T  chives
  • 2 T  sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Igniting Change


Yesterday I took Eli to his first book club meeting at the Cincinnati Nature Center. The book they have chosen to read is “My Side of the Mountain”, by Jean Craighead George. It is about a twelve-year-old boy who runs away from home to live in the woods in the Catskill Mountains. It is a coming of age tale about survival and determination. I thought this was a great fit for Eli and that it would mesh well with our upcoming travels.
Eli has some social anxiety and is always nervous when entering a situation for the first time. Yesterday was no exception. I watched in the rearview mirror as he wrung his hands. He kept repeating questions about who would be there and what it would be like. His bottom lip began to quiver as we pulled into the main entrance of the Center and he was fighting back tears as I parked the car. While he was gathering his snack tote and book, I found a small blue post-it note and wrote “I AM BRAVE!” in big letters and stuck it in the pocket of his jacket.
The outdoors has a way of healing, sparking curiosity and inspiring change.
The outdoors has a way of healing, sparking curiosity and inspiring change. After a walk in the woods and a brief talk about the book, Eli learned he would be using flint and steel in order to start a fire.  His eyes lit up. He has always enjoyed watching John make fires around the campsite and took great pleasure in collecting wood and kindling. Now he would get a chance to start his very own fire.  

He listened intently to the instructions given by the group facilitator. He made a nest out of jute by unraveling the rope and forming it. This would make good tinder and is also biodegradable. He then put on protective eye gear (safety first!). After finding a good piece of flint and learning how to hold the steel properly, he began practicing his strikes. It took him several times to work up a spark. I wish I could have captured his face the first time he saw the flash from his flint.

jute and flint

After a few minutes, he added some char cloth to the flint and steel combo. The red embers glowed on the char cloth once he connected the flint and steel. He added it to the jute tinder he made earlier. Very carefully, he blew on the makeshift nest, until it caught fire.

elis fire

He beamed. I watched Eli transform yesterday. He started our journey making me promise that this was the last book club I would make him attend and he left excited about their next meeting. He walked a little taller as we wandered down the trail back to our car. He had a bounce in his step and a new found confidence.