Road trip! My wife and I are taking our two kids on our first real road trip, from the mid-Atlantic to the Midwest. I’d like advice on routes, activities, and must-see stops along the way. Lots of details and specific questions after the jump.
Next month, our family of four (mom, dad, and two kids, ages 9 and 8) will be taking our first major road trip. Here are the rough parameters of the trip:
• We’re driving from Baltimore to Chicago, then from Chicago to Iowa City, then from Iowa City back to Baltimore.
• We'll leave on a Monday morning (as early as we need to) and are due in Iowa City that Thursday afternoon/evening. We’re due back in Baltimore the following Monday morning, but we’d like to return sometime Sunday afternoon/evening to decompress and start doing laundry. I expect to leave Iowa City late Saturday and drive well into the night, then drive most of Sunday to get back home. So, there won't be much time for sight-seeing on the return route.
• We’re good for activities and lodging while in Iowa, and have some ideas for Chicago, but suggestions for additional Chicago activities and things we should see while on the road would be welcomed.
• We’d like to spend our first evening on the road at a campsite, doing some tent camping. We’d like to stay in hotels the rest of the time we are on the road.
Here are the questions I have:
1. Which route(s) should we take?
• If we’re going to Chicago on the way west, it seems to make sense to take 70 to the PA Turnpike to 80. Would doing so allow us to find a campsite in, say, Ohio the first night?
• Speed is a priority on the return trip, but some variety would be nice, too; my thought was to take 80 to 74 to 70.
• Other relevant criteria for the return route would be access to a hotel (with late check-in) on Saturday night, presumably in Indiana or Ohio somewhere, if we take the more southerly return route, and any must-see locations on the way.
I’m amenable to taking 70 through Columbus and Indianapolis on the way west if we can still get to Chicago reasonably quickly by doing so, we can still camp Monday night, and there are more interesting things to see on that route than on the more northerly route.
2. Where should we camp Monday night? We’d like a place where we can spend a few restful hours Monday afternoon and evening, camp overnight in a tent, and hit the road early Tuesday morning. Bonus points for being cheap or free and for having fun things to do for kids (lake swimming, short hikes, etc.) and decent amenities (we’d STRONGLY prefer a place with a good shower and bathroom facilities).
3. Is it realistic to expect to make it to Chicago by late afternoon/early evening Tuesday, having camped Monday night en route? The kids are good in the car and, while this will be their first time driving quite this much, I’m hopeful that a reasonably full day in the car Monday and a full day Tuesday, punctuated by our camping break and maybe some sightseeing along the way, will work well.
4. I’ve seen other threads about Chicago and I do have a few ideas for what we might do while there (maybe a Cubs game, perhaps the Field Museum, possible visits with some friends), but I would welcome both inexpensive hotel suggestions and ideas for things to do. Other than an obligatory trip to the American Girl store, we’re fairly flexible, but I think we’ll probably want to focus on Chicago proper, less so the suburbs. We should have Tuesday evening through mid-day Thursday in Chicago.
5. Is there anything I’m missing? We’re pulling together some fun music and car games for the road. (I've seen this
helpful question.) We’ll have the car serviced and ready to go. We’ll try to mix in some simple meals from home and/or grocery stores so that we’re not eating out in restaurants all the time. Are there known speed traps or other traps for the unwary traveler? Particularly bad hotels or tourist traps we should avoid?
(Please note: I am a slow typist and I seldom have the chance to quickly follow up on my questions due to a busy schedule, so I’ve tried to be as thorough as I can in writing the question. If you have questions, please post in the thread or MeMail me, and I’ll try to answer them as quickly as I can.)
We’re excited about our trip! Thanks in advance for your suggestions.