Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mommmmmm? How much looooonger?

With spring finally here (although it snowed here yesterday), guess what season lurks just around the corner?

That’s right…road trip season! Family vacation season! Listen-to-your-kids-pick-fights-with-one-another-for-hours-on-end season! Ahhhh. Can’t you just smell the leftover fast food in the heated car? Hear the eighth hour of Sponge Bob Square Pants issuing from the portable DVD player? See those red and blue lights of a state trooper flashing merrily behind you? (That last one might only apply to me.)

But I just computed a sobering statistic.

In the past year, I’ve logged over 5,295 car miles with my kids.

In one year. And I’m not counting the every day stuff. This is only taking into account trips at least three hours long or longer.

That’s a lot of time in our car. And I bet you’ve logged about as many, if not more. (Hint: use Google maps if you want to tally it up fast.) But even after all those training hours, are you an expert at kid-friendly car travel? I know I‘m not.

I have learned a few things though. For instance:

~The cleanest, least-crowded Chuck E. Cheese from Seattle to L.A. is the new little one tucked in beside a sporting goods store in Redding, CA. (The dirtiest, rowdiest one is in Salem, Oregon.)

~The rest stop on I-5 just past Corning is an isolated, bordering-on-scary place to be alone with kids at 7 am.

~There’s a McDonald’s in The Dalles, Oregon (on I-84) with X-Box consoles installed in their PlaySpace. In Nate’s words: Now that’s awesome.

~Never, ever, under any circumstances barring sure starvation, stop at the In-and-Out Burger outside Cordelia, CA. (It’s a major truck stop and you’ll be waiting 45 minutes for table.)

Last summer, my mom and I were driving from L.A. to Medford with Nate, Cal, and Toby when we hit our max of car-ride endurance somewhere around Stockton. It was only about 2 pm, we didn’t want a meal, but were desperate to find something (anything!) fun and preferably cheap for the kids to do for the span of perhaps an hour.

It should have been easy to find something suitable, right? We had a map, after all. We had a nav system. I clicked on area ‘attractions’, and came up with nothing more than a boat launch at a local lake and a few video arcades. I tried ‘restaurants’ (was it possible there was a Chuck E. Cheese I didn’t know about?). I tried ’parks’, and it came up with several options, but when we eased off the freeway to try the closest offering, the surrounding neighborhood was so…questionable…we wouldn’t let the boys out of the car. (You can imagine how well that went over with three cooped up kids within sight of a jungle gym.) I grew desperate enough to call someplace my nav system called ‘The Kid Zone’ only to find out that it’s a private daycare, not an indoor playground.

And so it went, until we found ourselves at a sticky Burger King PlaySpace, eating fries we didn’t want.

And I thought to myself, this is ridiculous. Stockton is city of 280,000. Somewhere in these sprawling suburbs is someone (many someones probably), who could direct us to a great local park.

And yet there I sat at Burger King, with the vinyl bench seat sticking to my legs.

There had to be a better way.

And I think there might be. At least I hope so. Introducing….drum roll please…Pitstops For Kids!

Pitstops for Kids ( is a brand-spanking-new website I created just this week for family travel. The concept is simple: real parent reviews of places to stop along major freeways and in major airports. It’s not about the destinations; you can find scores of great websites that give you information on resorts and trip planning. But first, we all have to get there, right? And preferably in one piece without having rung the neck of our spouse or vowed to ‘never do this again.’

So I hope you’ll go check out the new site, poke around, and consider submitting a review of your own. You’ll see that it’s still in its infancy, and in need of many reviews. So far, the site is open to submissions along any major freeway or highway in the U.S. or Canada (and any airport). Just click on the Submissions tab and you’ll see what to do.

There may be other things at from time to time, like travel product reviews and eventually some giveaways, and I’ll be collaborating with some other travel sites to bring longer articles and reviews to the table, but in general, it’ll be a user-centric site for your reviews, feedback, and comments. If you like what you see, or think it could be of use to someone you know, please share the link! The more people who contribute, the better it’ll be.

And in the meantime, we have a long road trip through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and southern California planned this July. You can bet I’ll be on the lookout for great pitstops.

Can anyone say, “Tax write-off?“

I jest, but I will leave you with this image:

Sleeping kids. A quiet car. Can’t be beat.

Nate and Calvin, ages 4 and 2.

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