On average, we travel 25,000 miles each year in our minivan. That does not include daily travel to and from school and work. Most of this extreme mileage is to get our youngest son, Jack, to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville, SC every eight weeks for surgery to address a rare spinal condition called Progressive Infantile Scoliosis. It takes 20 hours to get there from Oklahoma. And 20 hours to get back home. A very long drive, even for a family used to being in the car a lot.
There are bonuses to having to travel so much for Jack’s care. For one, we can now go just about anywhere with no issues. The boys are so used to it, that hoping in the car for 2-3 days is normal. We’ve learned a great deal about travelling by car with babies and young kids in the last two years – activities they like, how often to take breaks, that DVD players and tablets are lifesaving, and that rest stops are still relevant and very much appreciated.
Most people might wonder why states bother funding and maintaining rest stops anymore when bathrooms and food are at almost every exit now, and when travel information is at their fingertips in the car. But for families who travel frequently, rest stops are vital. Here are a few reasons why we love and depend on them.
I don’t know about you, but whenever we stop for gas, we get out of the car to stretch and use the restroom. And that means wandering by countless aisles of candy, cookies, soda, and stuffed animals our kids HAVE to HAVE!! But at rest stops, we never have to worry about carrying a screaming child back to the car because we didn’t play the claw game or buy the adorable three-foot bear. We also eat healthier and cheaper when we’re not walking past 4,000 varieties of chocolate.
They Have Lots of Room to Roam
Our trips are long, and we have to stretch every three hours or so (sometimes more often). Rest areas are so awesome because they generally have large expanses of grass, woods, sidewalks and sometimes even trails and overlooks. We all get the exercise and stretching we need, assuming it’s not -10 degrees outside. Even then, we park in the last spot and have the long walk to the restrooms.
We Can Play Games
One way we stretch is by playing outdoor games. It might be hide and seek, a nature hunt, red light green light, or animal Olympics (one of our favs). This is much more fun for the kids than wondering the parking lot of a truck stop, and we feel better too. We might look silly pretending to be bears, frogs, gazelles and cheetahs, but it works.
We Can Eat Economically
We pack an entire cooler and several bags with meals, snacks, and drinks for our trips. While one of us takes the kids to the restroom and to play games and run around, the other makes snacks or meals. Then we can sit down at a picnic table or back in the car, all for the cost of what we would have eaten at home.
Most rest stops have signs, brochures, historical markers, visitor centers, and more for us to learn about the area and what we might want to visit when we have time. On a recent trip to Indiana, we stopped in Illinois and my oldest son walked up to the counter and asked if we could go visit where Abraham Lincoln was born while we were in the state. The kind lady smiled, and said, “Sure, but you’d have to go to Kentucky to see that.”
Unique Features We Love
Many rest areas have kept up with the times. We love to see that states have invested in them. Several states have even installed playgrounds at their stops (which by the way, is brilliant). Others have gorgeous trails and overlooks of the Appalachian Mountains. One that we visit often has a fireplace with rocking chairs that’s heaven in the winter. We often pick up free coloring books, bookmarks and other things for the kids, and occasionally even free coffee for us.
Rest Stops are Vital
The further west you go in the US, the fewer the rest stops. I’m not sure why this is, but we have grown to depend upon them as we travel from Oklahoma eastward. They make our trips affordable, fun, and attainable. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to stretch, eat or revive ourselves. How about you? Do you use rest stops? If you do, which are your favorites? Consider telling each state how much you love and depend on them on social media! They need to know!