Do you remember what it felt like to be on a long road trip as a kid? I have a lot of happy memories of the places and people we saw, but what I remember about the car itself was awful! The food was gross, the seat belts were uncomfortable, and it always felt like there were things and people piled around (or even on top of) me. It was hot, because the air conditioning couldn’t compete with scorching desert temperatures. We didn’t have movies or tablets or phones to play on, so we had to rely on the license plate game or 20 Questions to keep us entertained.
Somehow though, despite our childhood experiences, my husband and I have both grown to absolutely love road trips. We love seeing new places and exploring different parts of our country. Maybe we feel like it’s our turn to torture our children!
Our family just returned from a three-week road trip across the country and back. It was an incredible experience, but wow — it was a lot of driving! We have always enjoyed taking our five kids on road trips to various places in the Western United States ever since they were little, so they’re pretty used to it and handle it really well. But this was by far the longest car trip we’ve ever taken. We did the whole thing in our minivan, staying in hotels and with family along the way, so you could say we were in pretty close quarters. And we racked up quite a set of stats: Seven people, 21 days, 7,500 miles, 32 states, 16 tanks of gas, nine loads of laundry, and 14 different roofs over our heads. In addition, Kaitlyn, our daughter with type 1 diabetes, had to do eight insulin pump site changes, four CGM sensor changes, 100-plus blood sugar checks, and carb counts for 60-plus meals eaten out or on the road. You can probably imagine that the planning and organization involved to live out of the car like this for that long was quite a feat.
It was a lot of work, but it was so worth it. Here are some of our tips and tricks to make any car trip more doable. We did it, and so can you!
There’s nothing worse on a road trip than feeling like you don’t have room to breathe because there’s stuff all around you. We solved this problem with two items. The first: a car trash can — no more shoving trash in seat pockets or cup holders or on the floor. The one we got is large and made of sturdy fabric with a lid and hooks that hold a grocery bag as a bin liner. I’ve found that since putting this in my car, we have much less of a mess problem, because there’s always a place to toss things when you’re done with them. The second item is a seat-back organizer. I highly recommend having one for each person. The kids use them to hold all their books, toys, games, tablets, phones, chargers, snacks, etc., instead of letting them fall on the floor or all over the seats. For Kaitlyn, it was especially nice to have her blood sugar kit, low snacks, alcohol prep pads, and hand sanitizer right in front of her at all times, so she didn’t have to dig to find it or constantly ask me where it was when she needed to test her blood sugar.
Eating every meal out gets to be a little much when you’re on the road for an extended period of time. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and unhealthy to stop at a restaurant for every meal. What we do instead is eat a good breakfast at the hotel each morning and then pack a cooler with snacks and place it right behind the center console where we can easily reach. It’s also just about the only way to keep the insulin cool for this long of a trip.
It might seem super mean to make my kids stick to a strict routine and schedule even while on vacation. Isn’t vacation meant for escaping routines? Well, we’ve found that having some basic routines in place helps us feel prepared and keep our sanity. We have lists printed and laminated in each of the kids’ cosmetic cases that reminds them of everything they need to get done before bed each night and before we leave each morning. The lists include things like brushing teeth and cleaning up their stuff, and Kaitlyn’s includes checking blood sugar, making corrections, and calibrating her glucose meter.
Road trips can be long and challenging, but planning and preparation pay off. If you have any hesitation about whether you can make it work, believe me — you can! The places you’ll experience and the memories you’ll make as a family are well worth it.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.