The adage, it’s about the journey, not just the destination, comes to mind as I think back to our road-trip from North Carolina to Maine this past spring-break. We covered roughly 2500 miles across 13 cities in 10 states, seeing 32.5 of our close friends and family, including 11.5 little humans (the .5 because he/she is due in about 5 months).
This one goes down as one of the most relaxed family trips we have ever had. It might seem counter-intuitive with all that driving with kids, but the reason it all worked out is because we took it slow (total of 10 days). We are lucky to have the East coast dotted with friends and family. We took full advantage of this and stopped often to see as many of them as we could. Since most of them are parents too, it also meant that our kids were greeted with an unending supply of really cool toys in each of their homes.
Another benefit of driving was that we didn’t have to over think exactly what to pack like we do during air travel. We are light packers to begin with, but still, it helped to know that the entire back of the mini-van was fair territory; a perk which came in handy as we packed for all kinds of weather that we encountered throughout the trip.
Devang get’s the credit for planning the route which included plenty of scenic detours. We drove through so many charming towns where we’d seek out local coffee roasters and breweries. The ability to just stop anytime something caught our eye was probably the best part of our trip. We took full advantage of making as many stops as we wanted without being slaves to the clock.
Our kids surprised us the most by being amazing travellers. I had my fair share of concerns over the bickering and the “are we there yet?” which in our daily life starts pretty much as soon as we leave our drive way. But it all worked out much easier than expected. Here are some reasons that helped the cause:
- Before we left for our trip, I cleaned out the mini van completely and restocked it with activity books and toys that they aren’t used to having in the car. The novelty of it paid off.
- The longest time we spent in the car between cities was just over 4 hours (from Raleigh to DC, and then again from Boston to Staten Island). All other times, we were always a snack and a nap away from the next destination. For the extra long trips we rented a new release from Redbox. During the entire trip we watched 4 movies which isn’t a lot considering how much time we spent in the car.
- We didn’t keep a lot of junk food in the car either. I think this was key in ensuring that the kids didn’t need to pee frequently from munching on too many salty snacks and drinking too much water afterwards. Trail mix, Lara bars, and peanut butter crackers were it.
- We made up a lot of games which were basically some version of I Spy. They had to spy colors, words, or whatever else we thought up in the moment. They also made full use of their sketchbooks which quickly got filled up with their own maps and landmarks.
- Lastly, we got rid of the hard to stand kiddie CDs and movies from the van before we left. This wasn’t necessarily to help the kids, but to make sure that the parents stayed sane. ;)
Now for the order in which we traveled. Raleigh, NC to Washington D.C., to Voorhess, NJ to Warren, NJ to Newton, MA, to Portsmouth, NH to Bar Harbor, ME to Ellsworth, ME to Bangor ME, to Portland ME, to Boston, MA, to Staten Island, NY to Philadelphia, PA to Virginia Beach, VA, and finally back home to Raleigh, NC.
Washington, D.C. was our first stop and the one where we squeezed in the most amount of activities, including a baseball game. The key to this was staying at a really nice hotel in a prime spot, saving us headaches of getting to and from the places we wanted to visit. I wrote about it in my last post and you can read it again here. This is where we splurged on a nice hotel room which particularly helped Devang and me to fill up our energy reserves for the rest of the trip.
From DC, we made a pit stop in Voorhees, NJ to see my cousin Ro and her family. Usually we see them just once a year during Thanksgiving break, so this was extra special. Asha, Arjun, and Ajay LOVED playing with their cousins and checking out a whole basement full of toys. If anything, their only complain was that we didn’t stay longer. From Voorhees we drove to Warren, NJ to stay the night with Devang’s cousins Milu and Shawna. They have three kids and a house full of toys too, so needless to say, it was also a very successful and fun stopover.
Our next stop was in Newton, MA with our friends Raj and Amisha. We are college buddies and consistantly have moments when all four of us look at each other and then at the 6 kids and marvel at what we have accomplished. haha! Lucky for us, they were joining us in Maine and we couldn’t wait to spend some quality time with them. After a night in Newton, we set out for early the next day, with a brunch stop at the Friendly Toast in Portsmouth, NH.
We booked our cabin on Airbnb and at the time, honestly, I wasn’t sure if it would be anything special. The point was to find one place big enough for 4 adults and 6 kids, with plenty of common space for everyone to hang out when the kids were awake or asleep. But once we arrived at the cabin in Ellsworth we were stunned with how beautiful and peaceful it was. Off a dirt road with the closests grocery store about 25 minutes away, it truly was a getaway that we were hoping for. For the next three nights we would make day trips to Acadia National Park and nearby towns during the day time, and then relax at the cabin in the evenings. We could have stayed here for a week without leaving the premise and still not get bored.
Acadia National Park, our reason for driving all the way to Maine, was about a 30-minute car ride from the cabin. The town of Bar Harbor is right by the park’s entrance and so it made a great pit stop for meals and ice cream breaks. We were slightly disappointed overall with the park since a lot of it was still closed to the public due to icy conditions. Sand Beach, Thunder Rock, and Schooner Head and Egg Rock overlook, were basically the only parts we were able to explore. Still, it was all very majestic and breathtaking.
We also took a day trip to Bangor, Maine mostly because I couldn’t leave Maine without seeing Stephen King’s house. And because Bangor is tiny with not much to do, we made shopping at L.L.Bean part of the experience. ha! It was well worth it because apparently every strip-mall in Maine has an L.L.Bean outlet and we found some pretty sweet deals. We also walked around Bangor’s downtown to get a cup of local coffee and check out the free museum of art for the University of Maine. It was a dreary day overall, but I think we made the best of it.
While we didn’t get to experience Acadia National Park like we wanted, we were thrilled with the time we spent hanging out at the cabin. I finally understand why people get lake cabins now. It’s pretty darn amazing.
We bid goodbye to our lovely cabin after three nights and headed to Portland, Maine to spend a few hours walking around the lively downtown and eating some more lobster rolls. Portland is such an amazing city that two hours barely even scratches the surface of things to do. We really felt like we need to make a separate trip in the future just to see Portland.
From here our friends and us parted ways; they headed back home to Newton, while we headed into the suburbs of Portland to meet yet another friend. An old colleague of Devang, Mahendra, moved to Maine from North Carolina about two years ago. Much like his home here, his home in Maine is like entering a super fancy hotel, complete with hundreds of fresh flowers. We were not only lucky to get to see him but to also spend a night in his beautiful home. As soon as we entered, I told my kids “touch nothing”. But being the best uncle that he is, Mahendra instantly corrected me and said “touch everything”. The kids had so much fun building secret hideaways with the millions of pillows that he owns. It was a blast! Once the kids went to bed, we caught up over wine, beer, and cheese.
Oh boy, this post is getting long and I am only half way through our trip. Check back soon for the wrap-up of part deux of our drive from Maine back home to Raleigh, North Carolina. Au revoir!