Spoiler alert: You don’t.
Sure, you’re still alive. Technically. But you come back changed. Different. Hardened. You are not the same person who optimistically climbed into that tiny Hyundai Accent with your husband and two kids and elderly dog, all bright-eyed with dreams of adventure and bonding and Instagram-worthy shots of the highway.
You are now a survivor. You have been to hell and back. And let me tell you, Dante had it easy. He never had to help a toddler with diarrhea in a dirty rest stop bathroom. I can still hear the screams. “DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING…NO. STOP. WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? DID YOU JUST STICK YOUR HAND IN THE TOILET? NOOOOOOOO…”
And the torture isn’t just limited to the road. In fact, it begins long before the traditional road trip opening ceremony of stomping from room to room looking for the lost car keys. (Because why would the car keys be where you left them? That would be silly. Then you would actually leave on time.).
No, see, for every road trip there is a person who is designated as the Carrier of the Mental Load for the group. This is the unfortunate soul who is responsible for remembering everything that everyone could possibly need for every single possible eventuality. Clothes for every weather scenario. Favorite toys and blankets. Second favorite toys and blankets in case the first ones get lost. Swimsuits for the hotel pool. Sippy cups. Extra wipes. Extra diapers. Tissues. The night-night book. Dramamine because last time the back seat looked like a scene from “The Exorcist.” Two coats, per person, because it is likely to be 70 degrees one day and a blizzard the next. AND DON’T FORGET THE CHARGERS. ALL THE CHARGERS. DID YOU PACK YOUR CHARGER? WELL, CHECK AGAIN. WE ARE NOT BUYING ONE FROM A GAS STATION. YOU HEAR ME?
Even the dog gets his own bag. Dog food. Dog treats. Rawhide bones. A bottle of water and an empty bowl. His favorite toy, Lobstah Killah. His second favorite toy, Mr. Disemboweled Stuffed Squirrel. His arthritis medication that you can never get him to take but bring with you so that you can more confidently lie to the vet at his next visit.
Do NOT mistake this as a position of honor. It is not. It is the quickest way to destroy your brain without the help of illegal drugs.
But take heart. If this position falls to you, just know that someone else (hint: your significant other) will be designated as the Master of Luggage Tetris. This is the person who has to take the various shapes and lumps that all your Very Vital Vacation items have been stuffed into and fit them into a tiny car trunk. This is also not a position of honor, which is why cursing is allowed.
(Please note that the same person can’t do both jobs without permanent brain damage. Don’t be a hero and take it all on yourself.).
Once you are finally in the car, the typical rules that regulate our lives no longer apply. For example, you can never have enough snacks. Let me repeat that. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH SNACKS. Buy ALL the snacks. It doesn’t matter if they don’t all get eaten. They won’t. You will waste so much money on these snacks that never get eaten. Hundreds of dollars. Thousands, possibly. But it doesn’t matter. You would pay double, TRIPLE, that amount for any object that can stop multiple children who all decide to have meltdowns at the exact same moment. They will eat three Doritos out of that family-sized bag and then dump the rest on the floor and you will still spend the rest of your life thanking the God of Doritos for his divine intervention. You will get to a point where you are hurling SnoBalls like grenades into the backseat just for one moment of peace. You’ll let them snort straight sugar through a straw on the back of their Dr. Seuss book. And at every stop you will buy more snacks. Because snacks are the dam holding back the raging river of your kids’ “BIG FEELINGS” that you do not want unleashed in that tiny tin can you call a vehicle.
Naturally, as a result of this, your car will eventually become one of the scarier episodes of “Hoarders.” Half empty coffee cups as far as the eye can see. Happy Meal cartons that are breeding like rabbits under the seats. Chips and half eaten snack cakes littering the floor ankle-deep. Let it go. Do not worry about it. If it gets too bad, just ditch the car in a river a few miles from your destination and call an Uber to take you the rest of the way.
Of course, snacks does not mean liquids. Do not, under any circumstance, give liquids to anyone in that car. If you do, no one will be on the same pee schedule.
Actually, scratch that. Even if you purposely dehydrate everyone, giving out one capful of bottled water every four hours like you are stranded on a desert island, you will still have to stop every 14 minutes. Yup, that’s right. They can’t even make it 15 minutes. The good news is that this gives you plenty of opportunity to buy an overpriced charger on your way out (that, it will turn out, doesn’t work with your phone).
Luckily, all of this will be forgotten when you reach your first destination, the hotel right off the Interstate. Because that’s when the real nightmare begins.
TO BE CONTINUED…