It was a daunting prospect to be sure. My first family road trip to Disney with my three children, ages 2, 8 and 10. Spring Break airfares seemed unjustifiable. So after plotting my route on Google Maps, I figured a 14-hour drive from Columbus, OH to Orlando was doable, as long as I planned well.
I wax nostalgic remembering my own childhood road trips to Florida with my family. Back then we passed the excruciating hours with fun highlighter books where you’d use your invisible pen to reveal answers to quizzes, play connect the dots, word searches and more. We also got a kick out of playing Mad Libs and inserting potty humor in our attempts to be funny. My parents played old cassette tapes– anytime I hear Kenny Rogers’ Gambler play I flash back to family road trips.
What a difference a few decades make thanks to road trip tech!
I planned to hit the road well before sunrise. The night before the trip I jotted down a few last-minute reminders of items to pack. My favorite checklist app is Remember the Milk. It’s my go-to app to manage everything from items I need to pack to grocery lists and things I need to do (like leave Fireball the cat extra dry cat food) in preparation for our trip. I made sure not forget all the comforts of the 21st Century for the kids - cell phones, portable gaming systems, a DVD player and their respective chargers.
Before you can bust out the electronic games and DVDs on a trip, it’s important to stretch each individual distraction tactic as long as possible. We always start road trips with music. The Pandora app is a constant in our car. We have a diverse mix for every mood – Disney Princess music for the little one, Pitbull (censored) and Mackelmore for the pre-teens and Norah Jones for my sanity while the kids nap. When things get really tense, we turn on Pandora’s PG Comedy station and enjoy some bland comedy from family-friendly comedians. There’s a bacon skit that gets the kids giggling every time.
The entire trip I relied on Google Maps to get us to every new location. Seriously, I didn’t print out a single page of maps. The kids absolutely LOVE that Google Maps always has the answer to their perpetual question, “Are we there yet?” They know not to ask me. I had planned a mid-way stop for the trip, aiming to reach Savannah, GA before dark and allowing our excitement and adrenaline to get the majority of driving done on day one.
I knew we had hotel reservations outside of Savannah the first night of our trip, so I pushed myself to get there before sunset, and this helped us stay on track during day one. Our goal was to make it to the hotel pool while I still had some energy left to swim!
On day two of our road trip to Disney, I planned for two short tours to help get the kids’ restless energy out. Sometimes a well planned detour off your direct route may add an hour to your overall travel time, but it can be well worth it. I am an avid user of Trip Advisor (LOVE their app). I discovered sites in the Savannah area that ranked high on other travelers’ to-do lists and I could ensure it would be interesting for the kids, as well. Using the Trip Advisor app, you can find local hot spots using the “Near Me Now” GPS function or enter a destination while you’re still planning your trip and find out what activities, restaurants and more other travelers most enjoyed.
After a full morning of adventure, we got back in the car for what we hoped would be a short 4.5 hours to Orlando. As we drove down Interstate 95 past St. Augustine, FL, something terrible happened. The “time left to destination” increased by three hours. Google Maps showed red on the map, indicating severe traffic, where something terrible must have happened (and I was thankful we had stayed and played on the beach longer so we weren’t part of whatever happened). Google Maps re-routed us through some back roads and small towns bordering swamps.
More than an hour later we had made our way to Interstate 4 near Deltona, FL to find it was still closed down from a major accident, and Google Maps re-routed us once again. We made it to our hotel in Disney World a few hours late, but without any permanent damage and had a wonderful vacation.
Thankfully, through it all – Pandora, YouTube, Google Maps, Trip Advisor and the Little Mermaid on DVD made our road trip one of the most enjoyable I can remember in years. And yes, when the toddler got really cranky, we got creative and rewound back to good old-fashioned, “Wheels on the Bus” and “Old MacDonald” sing-alongs. We even purchased a Mad Libs at Cracker Barrel.
It was a good trip – but I wouldn’t have survived without our road trip tech!
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