A Family Trip to Washington, D.C., Part 4: How to Get to D.C.

In case you missed the first few posts in this series, we will be chronicling our family trip to Washington D.C. over the course of the next couple months. The first post in the series is here. You can find the rest under the travel menu on our main page. Last week’s post delved into our choice of a vacation rental house for our D.C. stay.

DC treasure map
If only it were as easy as it appears in cartoons

When we started planning for this trip, we intended to fly. It would be quicker and would consume less of my vacation time. We also figured it would be cheaper, even with five of us. However, being the constant analyzers we are, we wanted to look at the possibility of driving. After all, who wouldn’t love to spend 45+ hours round trip in a car with three kids ranging in age from five to twelve years old?

Looking at the map between our house and Washington D.C., we saw there was a lot of ground to cover, but also some fun things we could do along the way. Suddenly driving was something that we were at least willing to entertain. Slightly. We were still pretty sure flying would be easier and cheaper, but we had to look into both options. The more we investigated driving, the more fun things we found to do.

Unfortunately, driving would also mean several long days in the car with kids, one of which is extremely prone to carsickness and another who fights with it occasionally. Melissa also battles with motion sickness, and on certain days, I have problems with it too. Woohoo! The possibility of a week in a car with four sick people. What could be more exciting than that?

We watched airline and gas prices for a while just to see what they would do. Airfare never really moved in price, so we felt confident in looking a little more closely at driving. At least we knew airline tickets were not going to skyrocket (pun intended) when we were checking out the driving option more thoroughly. We started planning a route across the country to see exactly how many miles it would be, so we could gauge the cost of gas. We also had to determine how many days it would take us so we knew how many hotels and meals we needed to account for.

Planning a road trip across the northern tier of the United States in late March/early April is not the easiest thing to do. Snow and/or ice storms have a tendency to pop up at random in the areas we would be driving in. We wanted to stay a little further south on our trip to D.C. so we knew we could arrive by our designated date. Then we could return on a slightly more northern route. If it took us an extra day to return home because of a storm, that was no big deal. We also didn’t want to drive on the same roads coming and going. We wanted to see as much scenery as possible.

After reviewing our possible routes, while keeping in mind entertaining things to do along the way, we determined it would be roughly 3000 miles round trip. We planned on at least 5 nights in a hotel, with corresponding meals. We also had to board our two dogs during the trip, so that cost needed to be included as well. With these estimates, we figured out that driving looked to be much cheaper than flying.

For a sample of the spreadsheet we used to track all this information, click here. The sheet includes estimated costs for meals, lodging, fuel, and boarding the dogs. Also included are the mileage and time in the car, so we would know how long to prepare the kids to be captive. We also had some notes about fun things to do along the way.

DC Schedule snapshot
A sample of our spreadsheet, with our best guess prices

With this news, we dug into more of the details of a road trip of this length. We researched methods to keep everyone from going insane or fighting constantly. We looked into the best methods for combating carsickness and driver fatigue. We also wanted to plan breaks along the route each day to let the kids (and adults) get out, run around, and stretch a bit. Since we don’t have a limo and chauffeur, running and stretching in the vehicle is limited. We wanted to make sure not to spend too much time in the car each day, but we wanted to cover ground and keep progressing toward our final destination.

We found a few good ideas in our search, and came up with a few on our own. One of the most useful ones we found to help our youngest daughter was travel tickets. Read Melissa’s post about them here. The tickets really helped our daughter with knowing how much time she had in the car, and kept the rest of us from going crazy listening to “are we there yet?” Beyond those tickets, it was mostly careful planning for stops and activities along the way. I spent a considerable amount of time researching cities and attractions that would keep everyone interested.

My goal for traveling was to drive between 6 and 7 hours a day, and have at least one longer stop in the middle. Obviously, there were small bathroom, food, and stretch breaks during each leg of the trip, but I wanted to have one activity that got the family out for at least an hour, if not longer. I also worked to find things to do that were relatively inexpensive, or free. I tried to utilize memberships we have, and community events whenever possible.

Creation Museum Dinosaur
An animatronic dinosaur from the Creation Museum

Melissa and I discussed spending an entire day on the way to D.C. at the Creation Museum outside Cincinnati. It would mean an additional day in a hotel, but we felt the experience and knowledge gained would be well worth it. To be able to get a creation science experience and perspective before wandering into the evolutionary-based Smithsonian museums meant a lot to our family. We also discussed a surprise day at a waterpark on the return trip. We knew the kids would be ready to get home, but would really enjoy a day to burn off steam and have fun in the water. The decision to keep it a surprise until a few days before we left only made the excitement greater for the kids.

With these two additional stops, we were now at seven nights in hotels and eight travel days of meals. Even with these costs, coupled with the cost of fuel and dog boarding, the cost to drive was almost equal to the price of flying. After looking at all the road trip experiences we would have, and the extra time we could spend with our girls, we decided that we would drive. Road trip!

How about you? Do you enjoy road trips with your kids? Any hints and ideas to pass the time? Share them with us!