Have kids, will summer travel

Josh Farnsworth
Have kids, will summer travel.

The suitcases, canvas bags, backpacks, coolers and rolled up blankets filled every empty spot of the van floor. With Tetris-like precision, I placed the final strategic bag under my son’s legs and celebrated a car well-packed.

Finally. Done.

Taking a few steps back, anyone walking by would have thought I was shipping my kids overseas with how tightly insulated they were around the myriad stuff we were jamming into this vehicle. But nope, not overseas. This was just a long weekend trip, so we needed the essentials - and 100 other things we couldn’t live without.

After all, who wants to part from their dozens of stuffed animal buddies for a whole two days when they can literally be surrounded by them for the duration of the trip? Seriously, it looks like we robbed a toy store and forced our children to participate.

This was the scene last summer as my family of four scheduled ourselves into a corner. Every weekend was an exercise in time management. We overbooked our schedule with so many self-imposed events that we ran ourselves into the ground at times.

And did we learn from it? Nope. One glance at my supremely inked-up calendar promises an even busier summer this year somehow…

    -Multiple trips to the beach? Check.

    -Flag football afternoons? Check.

    -Camping? Check.

    -Family and friends gatherings? Triple check.

    -A full hour to breathe and put my feet up? Sorry, we’re fresh out of whatever that is.

My calendar looks as if my kids are child stars being shuttled around from photoshoot to photoshoot because they have the world’s most ambitious publicist. Then again, sometimes, parenting is more about surviving the day.

That means we will be spending plenty of quality time in our van. That’s right, our typical soccer-parent, no frills van is our ticket to essentially everything this summer. Get acquainted, Farnsworths.

If you are facing a similar situation this summer, take my advice and be sure to pack these tips into your brain to help make your car/van rides that much more endurable…

The packing sheet

The one constant in all of this going and going is the need to be efficient when packing my car full of all of our beloved stuff. One of the silver linings from having a frenzied-paced summer last year was really crafting a plan as to the best way to pack in order to maximize your kids’ stuff while doing it faster so you can win back minutes this summer.

I’m not the type that needs an ironclad plan of attack for everything, but I swear by the packing spreadsheet. Prior to having kids, I used to be able to commit all the items I needed to memory. Unfortunately, the brain that uses that memory now has a million more things to consider.

Use multiple tabs to record several categories: food, toys, bed stuff, beach stuff, entertainment, clothes, etc. and on and on. Not only will this help you keep track of everything, but keeping the file saved somewhere, it will be invaluable next trip to understand what you need to keep the kiddos under control.

All hail the glorious grid!

A helpful strategy

My kids are very willing to help me pack the car. I’m grateful for that, but be aware, they are not helpful in the way you want them to be helpful.

An exchange from last year, pre-vacation:

Cooper: Can I please help you put stuff in the car?

Me: Sure. Grab that plastic bag and follow me.


Me: What?

Cooper (with a hint of sass and know-it-all): No. I’m taking this (heavy, breakable glass container that he is clearly struggling with).

Me (tripping over everything to grab it out of his hands a moment before it falls and shatters into a million pieces) Let’s find you a pillow or something.

Don’t just give them nothing to pack, as that will lead to an excessively grumpy attitude. And remember, you are about to spend time jammed together for hours in a confined space. So, play nice.

To avoid situations like this, plan out and pull aside the items that you don’t mind having them help you carry. Tell them the night before that a certain pile or corner of the packed items are their responsibility.

Keep glass objects a mile away from this space. Maybe two miles away.

GPS by the 1s and 2s

Kids pee. A lot. In fact, something seems to happen to their collective bladders the second you turn the keys on a long road trip.

Sure, you are probably demanding they use the bathroom prior to the drive, but that only does so much. And if your kids are anything like mine, they will wait until the last possible second to sound the alert. You know, when they are doubled over and experiencing pain.

If you are traveling somewhere more than an hour, consider plotting out and plugging in bathroom destinations into your GPS along with your final destination to always be sure you are close enough to keep from an untimely accident.


Blood pressure can surge as you travel like a carnival from town to town. That said, remember to fall back on the most important part of this journey: your perspective.

In other words, find a way to remind yourself often why you are doing what you are doing. If that means taking a photo of your goofballs and setting it as wallpaper on your phone while you program the GPS, go for it. 

The alternative is fewer adventures and fewer memories. In other words, no real alternatives that compare.

Drive safe this summer. Maybe we’ll cross paths. We’ll be the ones with stuffed animals spilling out of the van door as we make a fifth run to the gas station restroom.

Josh Farnsworth is a husband, father of goofballs Cooper and Milo, goofball himself, and award-winning writer and columnist living in Worcester. He can be reached for column ideas at josh.farnsworth@yahoo.com.