By Kathleen Bunn with Heather Mundt – As a mom of two boys, I was fascinated to learn about Kathleen Bunn, a mom who has braved not one but three extended road trips with four boys, ages 15, 13, 11 and 9, in three years. With a final goal to visit all 50 states, the first trip comprised 50 days through the Southwest U.S. Last year’s journey included 70 days across the Northwest U.S. And this year’s road trip? Ninety days across the Midwest and upper East Coast to cover the last of the Lower 48 (Alaska is slated for next year).
So is the full-time blogger (Life With 4 Boys) and homeschool mom from Tallahassee, Fla., daring? Patient? Perhaps, even, insane?
“You would not be the first to call me slightly crazy,” Bunn says. “My own family members call me that all the time. I think you have to be a little bit crazy to do something like this.”
Of course she encounters typical road-trip problems: broken-down car, food poisoning for her on Mother’s Day, and sibling rivalries. But this time she also had her bankcard number stolen, she needed to get money wired to her New York destination, right around the time her car broke down a second time.
“It was a rough week,” she says. But she persists, she says, because “I want to enjoy as much as I can with the kids before they leave me.”
Now taking a break West Virginia, Bunn had time for an e-mail Q&A. The family will soon be heading north toward Washington D.C., wrapping up their epic tour in early August.
1. How did you come up with the idea for this road trip?
A few years ago I started looking more into travel blogging. I had already been blogging within the parenting/lifestyle niche, but the travel side intrigued me. Around the same time, I decided I wanted to start taking the boys to all 50 states. I love traveling, and even when I am not doing it, I am planning the next adventure. So I wanted to experience all of these new places with my boys while they were still young enough to enjoy it with me.
2. Do you plan and budget your road trip or just wing it? What tools/sites do you use to plan?
I plan to a certain degree. Since I am sometimes coordinating with visitors bureaus–to get media rates, which help cover about 80 percent of our trip, including activities and often hotel rooms–some stops are more coordinated than others. But at least I know where we are going to stop before we leave. Obviously, things like breakdowns, etc., can put a damper on plans, but we have it pretty well mapped out.
As far as budget goes, I pre-pay a campground or two each month for a few months before we leave so it isn’t costing too much at once. I also stick to our normal weekly food budget while we are on the road, and we cook most of our meals ourselves to save money. It definitely isn’t a typical type of vacation where you eat out all the time and go to every attraction you see.
For planning routes and destinations, I use Google Maps, state and national park sites and visitor’s bureau sites, in addition to conducting Internet research. But I am an old-fashioned, paper-and-pencil person when it comes to keeping track of our itinerary, keeping about eight rough drafts scattered around at home before we leave.
3. What’s been the most amazing thing you’ve seen so far on this road trip? Overall?
This year we focused on highlighting the Revolutionary and Civil Wars because that’s what we’ve been covering in homeschool. And of those sites, the most amazing place for me so far has been the Shiloh National Military Park in Shiloh, Tenn. To stand on that ground and be aware of the history that took place there–where nearly 24,000 soldiers died, more than all previous American wars combined–it just creates this overwhelming sense of awe. The area is so peaceful and quiet, it is hard to imagine anything bad ever happened there.
But overall, the most amazing place we have visited was Yellowstone National Park. Some other places have come close, but Yellowstone has it all: colorful hot springs, gushing geysers, wildlife at every turn and some of the most striking scenery you will ever see.
4. What’s your/your family’s philosophy on a road trip?
We all get sick of one another at times, there is bickering and fighting, often daily, but ultimately we love the time we get to spend together on road trips. Sometimes something as simple as snuggling in a tent together at the end of the day and watching a movie on my computer can be the most amazing experience. Our philosophy, though, is to roll with the punches and make the best out of every situation. The first thing you learn on a road trip this long is that things are going to go wrong. There are going to be torrential downpours, broken-down cars, fried computers and poor directions. You have to learn to go with the flow and just have fun.
Six tips for road trip success
by Kathleen Bunn
1. Leave the electronics at home.
I take a computer and phone for work purposes while we are on the road, but the boys are not allowed to have any electronics. By making them unplug, it opens a whole world of creative play opportunities. It forces them to look around and connect with not only the world around them but each other, too.
2. Track finances.
The bulk of the money we spend each year on our road trips is almost always in the first few weeks. It is easy to go into a trip like this in “vacation mode,” which is great if you are working with an unlimited budget. But if you’re like most families, you need to watch your finances. Set a weekly budget, pull that much money out at a time and try not to go over too often.
Another way I avoid overspending is allowing each boy they can have one item each trip. I give them a price point that they must stick to, about $10-15, and then they can’t ask for another item at any other gift shop. (Occasionally, I’ll buy them a little something extra. But they can only ask for one trinket in the 90-day time frame.)
3. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
This isn’t like being home where people can retreat to the privacy of their rooms, so tempers are going to flare, including yours. Kids are going to act out and push you as much as they can, so don’t beat yourself up WHEN you do. It helps me to remind the kids about rules and boundaries. And if I think I’m hitting my breaking point, I go take a shower and decompress.
4. Let kids learn in their own way.
When visiting an educational or historical attraction, I always point out a few of the most notable facts about where we are and then let the kids learn in their own way. For example, if one wants to keep a journal, great. But I don’t require it because when I tried that, it became a chore for all of us. I found instead that they learn more when I let them focus on the things that naturally attract them. They do have to make some type of report or presentation when we get home, however, but that can also be in a format that they choose.
5. Plan breaks.
Don’t try to go, go, go all of the time. You have to remember that a long-term road trip is not a regular weekend vacation. So if you don’t build in breaks, people are going to get cranky and no one is going to have fun. Make sure to take advantage of rest stops to let kids get the jitters out and calm down, and allow adults a driving break.
6. Taking a long-term road trip isn’t for everyone.
It is a rewarding and awesome experience, but it takes a lot of work and comes with stress before, during and after. If you are one parent traveling alone with your kids–my significant other, Matt, prefers to stay home to “hold down the fort” while we’re away–be sure you have done it before. Take practice trips that are shorter, and see how the budgeting and structure work for you. Then you can plan from there. And even if you can’t take an extended road trip like we do, don’t underestimate how much shorter road trips can mean in terms of spending time getting to know one other on the road.