I learned the hard way.
It can be the source of fondest memories or the stuff of nightmares. When I was in high school I took a road trip with my best friend and his parents from my home in Massachusetts to Walt Disney World in Florida. I worked at my job at an ice cream store all Summer so that I could buy a Nintendo Gameboy and some games so that my friend and I could play games together on the ride.
This also meant I also had to buy a brick of batteries just to get through West Virginia. We made some memories along that trip including spending hours under an overpass because the rain was so bad, having the car break down and causing my friend’s father to teach us some colorful words as frustration overtook him.
Despite there being some hiccups on that trip, as a dad, I am determined to have good road trips with my family. This was something I thought about a lot on a recent to New York City in the 2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD SUV.
1. Make Sure Your Car is Road Worthy
On our recent road trip to New York City we were driving a brand-new Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD. On my high school Odyssey – because it felt like we were never going to get home – we were in a compact car stuffed to the hilt. As I mentioned it broke down, was very small and at times was a source of frustration.
For our New York trip the CX-9 was certainly road worthy. However, before you head out in your own car you might want to check on a few things.
Make sure that you have a current oil change, plenty of air in the tires and your fluids are topped off. You’ll thank me when you are driving through bugs the size of golf balls and you have plenty of wiper fluid to keep that windshield clean.
2. Can Your Car Hold Everything You Need?
At a length of 16 1/2 feet, the Mazda CX-9 is a fairly long car. By some standards, it can be considered over-sized. The car had a trunk that was able to hold all that we needed even if we were headed on a multi-day, multi-destination drive. For families who road trip a lot, and more and more, people travel by car in this country, this should be a question you ask when you buy your next car.
We had plenty of room left over which was good because we came home with more than we left with. Sound familiar?
The car was also wide enough that everyone in the front and back seats had plenty of elbow room. Both kids had lap desks full of activities for the ride and there was more than enough space for them to use the desks without bumping each other.
3. Know Before You Go
The beauty of the Internet is that you can find almost any answer to any question ever. This comes in very handy when you are heading somewhere you have never been before.
It even comes in handy when you are going someplace that you have been countless times but you’ve never driven there. I usually take the train to New York City so I’ve never driven in the city, and this can be intimidating. I prepared by finding out about parking, reviewing the driving route and looking for places to stop along the way.
4. Don’t Overthink It
I tend to worry and stress over things to the point where I don’t enjoy them. Rather, I just get through them. However, I did not want to have that happen on this trip. So, I made myself take the attitude of letting things happen as they happen.
With all the pre-planning and reviewing the route, I could put that part of the trip out of my head. Plus, I had the great navigation system in the car and Mazda’s Active Driver Display, or head up display, which showed me when I was too close to another car, or when someone was in either of my blind spots. It would also show me what type of turn I was taking and how long before I had to take it, the speed we were traveling, the speed limit and other critical road signs. In fact, I hardly ever had to look over at the 8 inch color display on the dashboard unless I was zooming out on the map to see what was coming up much further along.
5. Make Sure the Kids Have Plenty to Do
When I was in grade school my family would drive from our home in Southeastern Massachusetts to Cape Cod. This was before the area’s highways were built to take drivers straight to the Bourne Bridge. A trip that now takes us little over an hour now would take 4 hours. It would be me and my two sisters in the back seat because the trunk was full of everything we would need for vacation. We had nothing to do unless we wanted to sleep, talk or read. Mostly we would pick on each other. I don’t know how my parents put up with our antics.
When I take my family on trips now I make sure that both kids have working headphones, charged iPads, books to read, colored pencils to color with, little toys and more. I even picked up some great lap desks for each of my kids so they could organize all of their things. It helped us pack ahead of the trip, too.
It is not that I don’t want to talk with the kids on the trip. We do have time set aside where no one is on devices and we talk. I just know that the dreaded call of the bored child might come floating from the back seat if they have no entertainment. I also do not want to play “Eye Spy,” “Guess What I’m Thinking,” and “Let’s Make a Story” for a six-hour car ride.
6. What to Do With the Car Once You Arrive
New York City is a unique place. There are so many people and space is at a premium. Parking spaces are at a real premium. Check with your hotel about parking before you arrive. Is there valet parking? Will you have in and out privileges? Is your car over-sized and will cost you additional money upon arrival.
These are things I have never had to think of before and so I did my research. I ended up not finding all the info I wanted from the hotel site and instead used the Spot Hero app to find a deal on parking. I thought I had it all figured out…
7. Plans Change on Road Trips. Be Ready to Go With the Flow.
I had my plan for the drive, I had my spot reserved, I was ready and we headed to New York. The drive down was lovely. We made it about 2 1/2 hours and stopped for a hearty breakfast in Connecticut. This gave us time to stretch our legs and also realize that we had forgotten something important and had to take a side trip to Target. We then cut across Connecticut so that we could take the Henry Hudson Parkway and arrive right at Pier 60.
The plan was to drop off the family and then drive up to the hotel, park the car, stow the luggage and then walk back to Pier 60. I was doing great. Drop off was flawless. I found the hotel easily. My parking spot was at the end of the block a little past the hotel and…
The road was blocked by construction.
Turning was the only option. A decision had to be made. It was going to cost me. I could not get to the garage to park the car. There wasn’t anything else I could do, or knew to do, at the time.
So, I drove back to Pier 60 and parked there for the day. It hurt my wallet but in the end it worked out perfectly for the family. I was parked right outside the venue and so I could run bags out to the trunk of the car. Having a power lift gate was a time saver, too. Also, at the end of a very long day the kids and my wife didn’t have to walk several blocks back to the hotel. I didn’t have to carry thirty pounds of stuff all that way, either.
We got the car, paid our parking and headed to the hotel. I dropped everyone off at the hotel with the suitcase and headed to the parking garage. The construction that was happening during the day was finished, and I could get to my garage.
Side note: I learned that if you have paid for a parking space the construction crews have to let you through to that garage. They cannot prevent patrons from using businesses.
8. Leave Time for Side Trips
After our adventures in New York City, I picked up the car for our trip home. I was nervous that there would be extra fees because according to the Spot Hero app, the Mazda CX-9 was over sized and that meant a bigger fee. Luckily, I was charged only the amount I had already paid.
On the drive home, we stopped at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut. I didn’t know that the place existed until a couple of years ago. I was looking at a package of Pez and it said that there was a tour at their facility in Orange. I’m not exactly going to take a road trip just to go there but it is worth a stop on your way to or from somewhere else. The Pez Visitor Center is also a great place to stretch your legs and make a pit stop.
The visitor center is essentially a gift shop with a self-guided tour. There is also a scavenger hunt that you can participate in and if you go at a certain time you can watch the Pez being made. You can even see the Pez chopper that was built by Orange County Choppers. However, the best thing to do there is check out the tons and tons of Pez from years ago and also get the largest selection of current Pez dispensers. This is a short side trip off of I-95 and tours are only a couple of bucks per person. You get some of that back in store credit, too.
So there you have it. Eight lessons from taking our family road trip to New York City. I feel a whole lot more adventurous and I know the kids will be talking about the ???????????? that they had on that trip and not the @$%*&#! that I remember from road trips as a kid.
Need a Great Road Trip Playlist? Here’s One We Love
Take a break from the electronics and road trip games with some family singing and seat-dancing. Here’s a list of songs we love for road trips.
Disclosure: Mazda provided the CX-9 for this drive; all opinions are my own.