I started driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike in college. I remember riding it as a child and a teen, but it wasn't until I went off on my own and figured out that I could drive from one side of my state to the other that I began driving that vast expanse of road on my own. I drove it to visit my high-school-into-college boyfriend. I drove it to watch Dave Matthews Band at State College. I drove it to my first post-college job in New Jersey. I didn't know it then, but all of my college practice was setting me up for a lifetime of driving -- back and forth -- through tunnels and around s-curves with the joys of children along.
We now drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike, nearly end to end, four times per year to visit my daughter and her family. We've learned a thing or two about traveling with kids on these six-and-a-half to eight hour jaunts. Some of it is typical Family Road Trip stuff, and some of it is specific the joys of the Turnpike.
Make up games. Actually, we play a lot of our long-trip games on any trip in the car, whether to the grocery store or to the beach or anywhere in between. Most of these games involve spotting a vehicle or landmark and yelling it as loudly as possible. The list of games we play in this manner seems to keep growing, but as of right now the list includes: Slug Bug, PT Bruiser, Jeep!, Fancy Truck, Water Tower, Smoke Tower, and Green Beach House. Obviously, the latter is only played at the beach and is thereby super special. The Pennsylvania Turnpike also provides us with the super special game of Be Quiet in the Tunnels. For four blissful tunnel treks, no arguments, peeps, loud outbursts, or non-stop talking makes my ears fall off. Unless you see a Jeep!, obviously.
Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. Four times.
Not all toll booth workers think your kids are cute. On one trip, my older son was desperately trying to catch the attention of the woman who had just taken our money and was counting out change. When she didn't answer, my son asked me, "Why is that woman being rude, Mommy?" I cringed and looked up at the woman as she scowled down at me, all but throwing my change through my open window. I had to have a discussion with him that we don't call other people rude -- when they're in ear shot. Wait until Mommy has driven away and rolled up that window before you call a spade a spade, son!
Stop more often than you -- the adult -- need to, but don't stop too often. I am an excellent road-tripper. My kidney disorder basically means that my kidneys filter too slowly and thus, I never need a pit stop. I have to remind myself that little kids' bladders need emptied more than my dysfunctional system, and so I make sure to stop, stretch our legs, grab some coffee for myself, and a snack for the boys. I try to stop, briefly, every two hours, trying to make sure that if it's not a lunch stop, it's less than 15 minutes. I learned early on, however, that if they're sleeping at that two hour mark, you just keep going. Do not wake a sleeping child and force him to walk into a rest stop to use the facilities. It will go poorly, he will not go back to sleep when you get in the car, and you will hate yourself for the rest of your trip. I speak from experience.
Do. Not. Wake. Sleeping. Children.
No talking when the weather turns bad on the turnpike. Summer storms on the Turnpike are fierce. You can see it coming from miles away, but there's really nothing you can do to get around it; you just have to drive on through it. The boys have learned that you sit quietly, keep your hands to yourselves and, for goodness sake, don't argue. As the adult drivers, we've also learned that all of those people who pull off to wait alongside the road only make everything worse -- which only makes us want to cuss, but we can't because we have two quiet, attentively listening children. Yay?
Bring snacks and drinks. I know I said above that we buy the boys a snack and grab me a coffee. We do. I treat the boys to a fun cookie and allow myself a fun coffee on the road. However, we now pack our own lunches when we're traveling the Turnpike. You see, one time we stopped at lunch time and it ran us NEARLY FIFTY DOLLARS for two adult sandwiches, two grilled cheese kids sandwiches and four waters. I wish I was joking. My husband's eyes almost fell out of his head as I handed over our bank card. Then, on the same trip but on the way home, we got stuck at a rest stop that had absolutely crap to eat. No one wants to eat excessively greasy, processed foods with another six hours to drive. So I grabbed a bag of trail mix and we stuck it out until the Ohio border. To save money now, we make sure to pack lunches, lots of water, lots of snacks (see also: trail mix) so that we can save our money for the trip at hand. Because, boy howdy, who wants to spend fifty bucks on grilled cheese?
Yes, this is the infamous meal.
Take pictures as you travel. Honestly, my favorite part of writing this piece was flipping back through our travel albums and finding our On the Turnpike photos. I have lots of sleeping babies and some of crying babies and a lot of the side of my husband's face and one of my feet on the dashboard and skylines and windmills and mountains and even more tunnel shots. What gets me are the photos of the kids, enjoying themselves in the cars or at rest stops or under historical signs. They don't quite yet know to be absolutely bored on an eight hour trip. They think it's fun to stop and geocache super fast on a 15 minute rest stop. They think posing under a sign for their mommy is what normal kids do. And so I do it so that I remember that one trip during which my back went out and I fell down in the parking lot of yet another rest stop.
When were they this little? Sigh.
Oh, and my advice: Always stop at Sideling Hill. It's the best Pennsylvania Turnpike rest stop. Not only are the food selections great, but it's clean and has a family restroom. Winning.
Do you drive the PA Turnpike? Do you have any family memories -- good or bad?
This post is part of BlogHer’s Family Fun on Four Wheels editorial series, made possible by Mazda CX-9
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