How I Became the Daddy-Daughter Road Trip Master

By Jamie Garrett

Executing the proper daddy-daughter road trip requires skill and finesse.  I genuinely enjoy being around my two daughters and love going places with them. It doesn’t matter where we go, even if it’s the playground or the mall. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy time with my wife, but there is something special about daddy-daughter time. Whenever my wife goes away, the three of us mostly stay home and eat foods she doesn’t eat and do things she doesn’t enjoy.

Last August, when my wonderful wife planned to be away for a few days, I thought that instead of hanging around the house eating ice cream and nachos, we could visit my parents in Georgia. And since the kids were still out of school for summer break, I thought, “What the heck? Let’s do it!” Since my parents live in Georgia, about eight hours from our home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we only see them once or twice a year. When we visit them, we usually stay for a few days. However, on this occasion, we only had three days total. The plan was to:

  • Take my wife to the airport Thursday for her early morning flight.
  • Leave Chapel Hill mid-morning and drive eight hours to Georgia.
  • Stay Thursday night and Friday night.
  • Leave Saturday morning and drive back home, arriving Saturday afternoon or early evening.

My goals were simple—get there and back without accident or incident, make good memories, and have fun in the process.  Goals that can only be achieved by a master of the daddy-daughter road trip.

Who is this “Grumpy Dad”?

via GIPHY

In general, I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. But on road trips (especially alone with two kids), my alter-ego, “grumpy dad,” sometimes rears his ugly head.

When he appears I ask myself, “Where’s the young, fun-loving me that loved the open road in his early twenties? Where’s the guy that once drove from Georgia to Maine and back in a weekend with two buddies, just because?” On road trips, that care-free younger me seems to be in the rearview mirror. Yet on this particular daddy-daughter road trip, grumpy dad wasn’t welcome.

Being a dad alone on a road trip with kids, I can’t give them my full attention. I do talk to them and play games (like spotting license plates), but when I’m driving and they’re bored, I’m not much help. I expect them to mostly occupy themselves. But inevitably, boredom sets in bringing restlessness which breeds craziness which provokes grumpy dad.

To stave off some of the boredom and prevent grumpy dad from showing up, I made sure each daughter had her iPod Touch, books, and other activities. Then, for potential moments of boredom, I bought treats.

My older daughter got a pack of Slim Jims minis with the understanding that she could eat half of them on the way there and half on the way back. My younger daughter got two bags of Welch’s Fruit ‘n Yogurt Snacks (blueberry and strawberry, one for each day of driving). For me, I bought a big bag of David’s Sunflower Seeds, which aren’t really a treat, but they do keep me occupied.

Although grumpy dad showed up once or twice on this trip, these treats helped prevent some moments of boredom, keeping the trip as fun and enjoyable as possible.

The Challenge of Bathroom Breaks

I don’t consider myself a stereotypical dad, but when I drive, I frequently embody the stereotype. I’m focused on the destination, but my kids always want to stop. What, you may ask, is the most common reason for stopping? Bathroom breaks.

As a dad traveling with two young girls, one of the biggest headaches is bathroom breaks. Personally, I can go hours and hours without a bathroom break. Not my kids.

Thankfully my girls are beyond bathroom emergencies. When they were in the preschool-to-kindergartner range, I need to go meant we needed a bathroom (or a bush) five minutes ago. My girls are now 11 and nine and those potty crises are behind us (hooray for bladder control!). Now they usually need potty breaks every hour of hour and a half.

Learning from past travel experiences, every hour or so I check to see if anyone needs a potty break. If not, we keep driving. When we do stop EVERYONE tries to go. Why? A universal law states that when a family takes a bathroom break, but not everyone tries, within 15 to 20 minutes of driving, one family member (the one who didn’t try) says, “Can we stop?”

When my wife is with us, she takes the girls into the restroom. But on a daddy-daughter road trip, I can’t do this, making bathroom breaks slightly stressful. My kids are old enough to go into public restrooms by themselves, but truck stops, rest stops, and fast food places are filled with sketchy strangers. Understandably, I’m a little paranoid. On trips like this without my wife, the conversation at pretty much every bathroom stop goes like this.

“I have to go the bathroom too. You girls go in together and come out together. Okay?”

“Okay, dad.”

“Remember, go in together. Come out together. Wait for each other. What did I say?”

(In unison) “Go in together. Come out together. Wait for each other.”

“Great. See you girls soon.”

During this eight-hour trip, we had probably four or five stops, including a longer one for lunch. Three to four of these stops were purely restroom breaks. At least twice on this trip, I walked out of the men’s room to find one of my girls loitering outside the women’s restroom or wandering around the rest stop. Then there was another conversation:

“I told you to wait for your sister.”

“But I was done. And she told me to leave her alone.”

“Yeah, but I told you to wait for her. Remember what I said?”

“Go in together. Come out together. Wait for each other.”

“So why didn’t you do that?”

(Shrugs shoulders. Walks off towards vending machines. Crickets chirp.)

“I’m Hungry”

Speaking of vending machines, another interesting aspect of traveling with kids on road trips is food. Being a thrifty, budget-conscious soul, we usually pack lunches and snacks from home. Sometimes, buying snacks or getting lunch at a restaurant is the only option. Yet most of the time, especially in the summer when the weather is nice, we picnic at a rest stop.

Wanting to be a good father, I feed my kids. As a result, I rarely refuse them food. Except on road trips. This is especially true for my younger daughter. She suffers from “road trip boredom,” an acute condition brought on by being in the car for more than 45 minutes.

Even if she ate a meal half an hour before, my younger offspring asks for something to eat. Sometimes, she is actually hungry, but usually, she’s bored. Not wanting to refuse my kids food, I don’t say ‘no’. Instead, I respond, “Later.” And of course, the reply is always, “How much later?”

At this point, if I don’t give her a concrete amount of time, like 30 minutes, she asks me every three-and-a-half minutes, “Is it later enough yet?”

However, like I said earlier, on this trip I cut them off at the pass, buying them treats that they could eat in moderation. Yet within an hour-and-a-half, my younger daughter had already blown through her bag of Fruit Snacks for the day, after which, she asked for lunch.

Family Road Trip Food 101

Check out this article for delicious road trip recipes including homemade fruit roll-ups, cranberry yogurt muffins (without the crumble), and no-bake protein bites.

Are We There Yet?

My younger offspring also has the endearing habit of constantly asking, “Are we there yet?” Another lesson I gleaned from traveling with kids is to give my girls a definitive time frame for eating, stopping and arriving.

Sometimes I feel like I should type out a complete daddy-daughter road trip itinerary along with detailed instructions on how to behave en route. I imagine handing each one an agenda, then never being consulted, questioned, or bothered during the entire trip. Then I realize what colossal a waste of time that would be. After all, why follow an itinerary when you can bug your father?

At the very beginning of this particular eight-hour trip, I clearly and succinctly asked my younger daughter to please not ask how much longer. Pointing out the time, I said, “We’ll get there around four o’clock. If you want to know when we’ll get there, look at the clock.”

As if on cue, less than an hour down the road, she asked, “How much longer?” Pointing to the clock, I reminded her that it would take about seven more hours. And even though she knew our arrival time (or at least she grasped the concept), she asked the dreaded question again several more times that day.

The Frenzy of Arrival

As the day stretched on and miles melted away, my parents’ house drew closer. Partially out of relief, but also from sheer fatigue, I mistakenly notified my girls that the trip was winding down. Why was this a mistake?

On road trips, my kids do this annoying thing—the closer we are to our destination, the crazier they become. No matter where we’re headed or how long the trip is, knowing they will soon get out of the car overwhelms their brains and they go bonkers.

Telling my kids that we only have thirty minutes left is tantamount to saying, “For the next half an hour, feel free to lose your minds.”

Like flipping a switch everything intensifies, be it joy or sorrow. Fights turn nuclear. Songs swell to Broadway proportions. Laughter takes on a manic edge like my kids have been transformed into Batman’s arch nemeses the Joker and Harley Quinn.

Trust me, I understand how they feel (and I’m a little jealous). Yet because I’m driving, I lack the luxury of losing my mind like they do. Thus, I have learned that unless they ask specifically if we are close, I hold my cards close to my chest, divulging only the details that are requested. When I surprise them by showing up at our destination, I save myself from enduring insane levels of craziness.

End of the Road

Finally, after a seemingly never-ending eight (plus) hours, we reached my parents’ house. Fewer feelings are sweeter than putting my car into Park, opening the door, and stepping out into the fresh air, knowing I’m done driving.

Wrung out and ready for a nap, I peeled myself out of the driver’s seat and greeted my parents with the most cheerful grin that I could muster after eight hours behind the wheel. My girls love seeing their grandparents and they immediately ran to them, giving hugs and kisses, running inside to see what treats and goodies my mom had made for them.

It is always great to see my parents, yet the arrival was bittersweet. Walking into their house, I realized that in less than 48 hours, I would have to say goodbye, walk back out, and do the whole trip in reverse.  Still, it was rewarding to know that I accomplished my mission.  Despite the confusion of gender conflicting bathroom breaks and grumpy dad takeovers, I had mastered the daddy-daughter road trip.

Jamie Garrett

Jamie Garrett

Freelance Writer

Jamie has been writing professionally for five years. He has lived in China, France and Morocco. He has also traveled to 47 of the 50 US states and has visited over 25 countries. Jamie loves going to new places and revisiting favorite ones. When at home, he loves being with his wife and two daughters, reading, watching movies and watching soccer.  You can view more of his work here.

15 Comments

  1. This is great and I laughed several times. First of all I have to preface with that I have no kids nor am I married, however, I do have my girlfriend Darcee. For me she is very similar to your daughters in that she gets bored, has to pee every 5 miles, and gets very, VERY hangry!
    So i love how you found ways to combat all of these major issues in dealing with your daughters and my Darcee. I especially love the mini slim jims and other miscellaneous snacks you brought. I often feel that gas station snacks often contribute to issues as they tend to be salty or high sugar and thus leading to bathroom issues or insane sugar angry crashes.
    Sorry you have to deal with the bathrooms and the girls…I hate them even as a guy!

    1. Jamie is hilarious! We love his sense of humor in all of his articles. I need to get him set up here to make comments, so he can respond to you personally. Thanks for posting.

  2. LOL…I can so see myself as a kid on a road trip. This was tremendously entertaining. I can’t wait to show this to my husband so he can see what he has to look forward to.

    1. We know how important it is to include a dad’s perspective on these things. I hope your husband gets a kick out of this article.

  3. I love this post. I feel like many parents struggle with some of these things when it comes to their children. I personally love road trips with my son, but it takes a lot of patience.

  4. I love this post! Your daughters seem so cute. And let me tell you, father – daughter relationships are THE BEST! I am 32 yo already and I am still smitten about my relationship with my father 🙂 I hope you get to have as many road trips with your daughters (let your wife in on the fun, though! :)) and I advice you to take advantage of any single minutes with them (at least, that’s my father’s regular complaint – he doesn’t have enough time with me!) Safe travels!

  5. “Are we there yet?,” “How much longer?,” and “I’m hungry!” must be the anthem of all kids! I remember my sisters and I constantly using those phrases when we were on road trips with our parents as kids. Interesting about the “frenzy of arrival” psychology. Must be a human-nature thing to go stir crazy when the end is in sight! 🙂 But anyway, well done to you for making it through, and glad to hear that “grumpy dad” was kept at bay for most of it!

    1. There is another term for the “frenzy of arrival” that all the cowboys used when I was growing up. They call it “barn sour.” It’s a ranching term for a horse’s change in behavior once they know the barn (and subsequent food, saddle removal, and rest) is in sight! It is a real thing with humans too!

  6. Although I’m not a dad myself I actually really liked reading this post. I can only imagine the challenges that come being on the road with kids – I laughed at the grumpy dad part – I can totally see myself having that alter-ego when I have kids and be asking the same question as you “where is that fun-loving guy gone” – I’m going to pass this post onto a few friends who travel with their children, I’m sure they will be able to relate to this post – But in saying glad you were able to acomplish your mission and I’m sure one day your kids will remember this road trip with great fondness – maybe even when they have their own kids they will take theirs on road trips 😀

  7. Love your style of writing. I was there with you on that trip. You are great describing details. Especially, made me think about my Dad and those great road trips from the past that I will always miss. Thanks for sharing.

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