I have a bucket list goal to visit all 50 state capitols–that is, the buildings, not just the cities. When we moved back to the US after living abroad for five years, I realized I’d visited more countries than US states, and after touring the Annapolis capitol building (led by an elderly German woman with a thick accent), I thought seeing all 50 would be a fun way to tip the scales.
At the beginning of the year, when Mike and I were thinking about 2018 goals, I noted that it had been a year or two since I’d checked any capitols off my list, and suggested we try to hit a couple this year. He enthusiastically agreed, saying he’d been thinking about going on our first road trip this year.
Thus, the scheming began. We have friends in Nashville to plan the road trip around. Frankfort and Columbus were the only two capitals as yet unvisited that would fit into a feasible route. We decided to drive first to Columbus, then on to Nashville, and back home through Frankfort. Mike even found out that the Nats were playing in Cincinnati for the Reds’ season home opener, so we considered stopping for game to break up the leg back home.
We checked out books and printed activity sheets about the states we’d be traveling through–Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia–packed the kids’ most car-friendly toys (and purchased a few more), portioned healthy and at-least-not-unhealthy snacks, downloaded podcasts, and booked accomodations for the two nights we wouldn’t be staying with friends and friends-of-friends. We figured we were set. Boy did we have a lot to learn.
Lesson 1: My kids are the same kids in the car as they are in the house.
I was determined that this road trip would not turn into a marathon session of screen time or indulgence in junk food. Teddy loves flying across the country to visit his grandparents because he knows he’s in for five hours of games on his kindle and unlimited juice and cookies. Anything to keep kids quiet on a flight, amirite? But in the car, there would be no one for the kids to annoy but us, so I wanted to limit the screen time (not forbid it entirely; I’m not crazy) and provide the kids with fun educational activities, and keep to our usual healthy and healthy-ish snack habits. What didn’t occur to me was that the kids would rather do nothing and eat nothing than submit to the options available. After about 30 hours in the car, approximately 3 pages of the dozens Mike had printed out were completed. A few months previous, I’d subscribed to Highlights magazine, thinking Teddy would enjoy the activities and short stories. He never showed interest, so I packed all the issues we’d received, thinking, surely, without screen time as an option, he’ll flip through them and finally realize how entertaining they are. At the end of the week, they remained unopened. And the baby carrots I’d packed? Well, I enjoyed them. What the kids did enjoy were the Circle Round podcasts (folktales narrated by actors) I’d downloaded and the Hamilton soundtrack. So in the unlikely event we ever do this again, I’ll bring more audio options. No idea what my plan for snacks will be.
Lesson 2: With young kids, it’s important to build in time for multiple stops.
The first day, we were driving all the way to Dayton, Ohio, to stay with friends-of-friends. We hoped to arrive in time for dinner so we could have a decent evening with them before bedtime. However, that meant a lot of rushing along the way, no time to stop except for lunch (Mike had found a fun eatery and I couldn’t even properly enjoy it because service took longer than we’d planned for), and a lot of anxiety when there were multiple calls from the back seat for potty stops. We did end up getting there in good time, but at the expense of actually enjoying that first leg. In hindsight, this particular road trip–with destinations so far apart–would probably have been better suited for when the kids were a few years older.
Lesson 3: Trips rarely go exactly as planned.
Mike and I have traveled a lot. We should know by now that no matter how carefully you figure out the details of a trip, you’ll have to adapt along the way as factors outside your control take the wheel. We thought we’d figured out everything we needed to. We had accommodations, tickets to the game and plans to visit two capitol buildings. Pretty straightforward. Until the game was postponed due to forecast inclement weather and we learned too late that the Frankfort capitol was closed by noon on Good Friday, when we’d intended to tour it that afternoon. Together, these developments totally derailed the second half of our trip. However, Mike and I are both great at making lemonade out of lemons. We salvaged our second three days by extending our stay with our friends in Nashville (we experienced amazing hospitality on this trip!) and touring Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which the whole family thought was fascinating. In fact, the drive home across Kentucky–not the original plan–introduced us to all that Kentucky has to offer: the bourbon trail! The Castle Hotel at Versailles! The Dinosaur Park! The zoo! Mammoth Cave (we did only the half-mile self-guided tour; so much more is available)! We decided this was a state we’d want to return to and explore more. Besides, we still have a capitol to tour.
At the end of the day, I’m glad we went. It was a great family experience, we saw friends, and we learned a lot. Mike and I love to see new places and meet new people, and we hope to instill in our kids the desire to do the same, and this was one step in that direction. That said, while we’re adding Kentucky to our list of places to visit as a family, next time, we’ll probably fly there.