1. You can drive a Toyota Matrix packed to the gills – windows totally obscured with swimsuits, sheets, food boxes – pretty safely, but it’s best to have a friend help you back out when there’s a poll in the vicinity.
2. When you go to a place that is so overrun with plastic and lights and sugar and gewgaws, find some nature. Even a bit will help you to quiet and reconnect.
3. No matter how well you packed, chances are that you’ll find yourself forced into a Super Walmart for the sweatshirt you can picture laying at home on your bed. While there think through the next 48 hours and try to foresee what else you’ll need so that you’ll only have to come to this particular petri dish once.
4. Staying in oddball motels with stained carpeting and plastic dolphins in the pool puts you in close quarters with people who make much more interesting food in their rooms and on the motel grills than those who stay in 4-star hotels. We’re talking full out BBQ, Asian noodle meals, and something that entailed a whole bottle of tequila.
5. If you are overwhelmed by a place because of the thumping rock music and the yelling and the rides, try to smile and say hi to someone every 20-yards or so. It helps them and you.
6. Chocolate cake makes most people feel much better. And if not that, then try warm milk.
7. Download a good book like The Lightening Thief if you don’t want to hear anyone ask, “Are we almost there?”
8. Sunsets over little rural lakes and nearby cornfields can be as heart wrenchingly beautiful as those over the ocean or the Rockies.
9. Watch your kids smile and laugh. Hear it. Feel it. It’s worth the mini spat they had at lunch and the tears the day before.
10. As with the Army, cross-country Greyhound bus rides, and community emergency shelters after a storm, close quarters force us to learn about ourselves and those around us. Try to appreciate the learning opportunity!
11. It’s actually worth driving out of your way a bit for the vegetarian restaurant. Your stomach and nerves will be the better for it.
12. Encourage your kids to sing “Summer Nights” from Grease at your own peril; it will get old.
13. Don’t pack that extra book – who are you fooling? And the 10 lbs. political comic book about life in the Gaza Strip – were you nuts?
14. Sitting in a hot tub on a cool evening listening to your son talk about Star Wars Legos is a really sweet way to spend an hour. Truly.
15. Don’t count the small stuff that you hadn’t foreseen – the trinkets and the laser tag, the extra swimsuit and the trip to Circus World, the popsicle that got thrown away because the flavor wasn’t “right.” You know it was well spent when you’re driving home and everyone in the backseat asks, “Can we come here again next summer?” (even if you’re already secretly planning the full-out kayaking, nature-filled, un-plastic vacation…they don’t need to know that – yet.)