Our First Road Trip or Five Tips on Traveling with Three Kids!

I think Clark Griswold may have rubbed off on me.

Instead of “Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!” it was “Look kids! Another farm plain!”

There were chants of “I’m bored!” or “Are we there yet?” but in the end I felt like Clark on his Quest for Fun! Because darnit I grew up on family vacations! They were some of my fondest memories. 

Every summer we’d pack up the Family Truckster and head towards the Grand Canyon, the Redwood National Park, Zion National Park or any other park that was filled with rocks and canyons.

It seems like family vacations have become a thing of the past. Most of the kids in the Youth Group I lead haven’t been out of the state. When you mention taking three kids on a road trip for more than an hour people will usually grimace and cringe, like they’ve eaten a bad hot dog, and then make sure you’re serious about this adventure you’re about to embark on.

My parents took three boys in tow, and they seemed to come out of it somewhat sane. Why would I think that we wouldn’t be able to?

Our first journey together was to Spokane. A quick 5-hour jont across the Cascade mountain range. Why Spokane? It was something to do. Somewhere Lis had never been and I didn’t remember being.

We’ve been blessed to have great travelers – for the most part. We’ve traveled to and from Brazil more than a few times. Lis took all three of them, by herself, to Brazil last year and they were great, so the trip over the mountains went smooth. We stopped for a pee break at the top of the mountain pass (see photo below: Don’t let Lukas’s body language fool you, it wasn’t that cold!) then promised them a lunch break at a park at the bottom of the hill. 

Stevens Pass

Tip No. 1 on Traveling with Three Kids: If you’re potty-training, plan on a lot of pulling over and false alarms!

Levi, our 2-year-old, is in the midst of potty-training. Oh, and he was a champ. He held it for eight hours, refusing to pee in the bushes more than once, refusing to pee on the tire, refusing to use the toilet at the park, refusing to pee at all!

Oh, you’re stumped on, “Held it for eight hours?! I thought you said the trip was five hours?!”

Tip No. 2 on Traveling with Three Kids: Don’t miss the turn when you’re looking for a nice park to eat lunch at!

This was definitely a Clark Griswold moment. Look kids a river! I don’t know what happened! We were headed in the right direction! We found us a nice park to eat lunch (see below)! Then we kept going and going and going … 


It didn’t seem right. I’m usually good with my directional sense, and actually my directional sense was working. It felt like we were headed too north and not a bit of east. I tried to check my GPS but there was no service. I tried to find someone to ask, but there was nobody in sight. We just kept driving and driving hoping we’d find a sign that says, “Fool! You were supposed to turn right about an hour and a half ago!”

Awkward Faces

Lis was able to contact my dad – in Georgia – via text and he assured us that yes, we were going the wrong way.

This blew our entire afternoon of visiting the carousel at the Riverpark in Spokane. We crossed more and more plains, stopped for one or two pee breaks … including this photo that I titled, “Where were we supposed to turn?”

It was frustrating and by then the kids were getting more restless. We played the Alphabet Sign game (find a word that starts with the letter A…got it!…now B!), which works unless you’re surrounded by dirt and rolling prairies. Then the only letter you find is M for “Mile You’re-SO-Lost”. So Lia told us a plethora of “Knock-Knock” and chicken crossing jokes that were amusing, but usually ended with “to get to the other side” or the word fart in it. She’s 4 and not very ladylike, it’s a work in progress.

Where were we supposed to turn?
Where were we supposed to turn?

We finally arrived in Spokane and our hotel at around 6:30pm, three hours behind our estimated arrival time.

The kids were so enamored with the hotel room. I gave them the OK to jump on the beds (and sometimes from one to the other, when Mom wasn’t watching), because after all, this is what we did when we were kids. Levi was so excited to see a porcelein toilet that he relieved himself (in said-toilet) and 45 minutes later we were back in the car and headed to the carousel ride I promised Lia.

Except that the carousel closed at six. I had a small inclination to pull a Clark Griswold reaching Wally World. But it said it would reopen at 11am so we walked, played and took in the sites before catching a bite to eat at the lovely Jack in the Box across the street from our hotel. Which brings me to tip No. 3.

Tip No. 3 for Traveling with Three Kids: An 8-hour ride in the car, coupled with a late bedtime will make grumpy EVERYONE!

Oh and make sure you bring your systematic daughter’s pillow from home. “This doesn’t have a cover on it! I want my Tinkerbell cover! This isn’t that fluffy!”

Little man was tired, so he was cranky. Lia didn’t know whether she wanted to sleep on the bed or her blow-up mattress bed. Lukas couldn’t get comfortable. Mom was growing frustrated with little man. Dad was growing more and more frustrated with little man and daughter! Lukas was bored. Dad flipped out and was ready to throw everyone back in the car and head home. Not fun!

But alas, we all ended up falling asleep and were ready for Day 2!

My wife has a problem!
My wife has a problem!

This would be the bed that Lis made on Saturday morning. Looks nicer than when we walked into the room. She has issues. Things have to look neat or her day is thrown off. This is why she does the dishes while some of us are still eating. Oh well. I love her for it?

We took a recruiting visit to Gonzaga. Beautiful campus! We decided Lukas would play basketball, Levi was going to play soccer and/or baseball and Lia, with her gift of gab and question probing, was headed to the School of Law.

Law School
Lia and her future school!

Why Gonzaga? I have liked their basketball squad since ’98 so why not?

Home of the Bulldogs!


We spent the mid-afternoon riding the much promised carousel, though Levi wasn’t having it – and either was Lukas.


Walking around the falls …
IMAG0625 IMAG0569

Before visiting Liberty Lake for Lukas’s first trip to Subway, a trip to the park and some Geocaching!


Round II of bedtime wasn’t as bad, though this time Lia wanted a nightlight, and she wondered if she had any other PJ options, or if she has to sport the same ones she wore last night. Argh!

Sunday we headed home, spending the morning by visiting a church nearby and then heading towards the Grand Coulee Dam.

We stumbled across a dam when we were lost and I wanted to post a picture that said, “Grand Coulee Dam We’re Lost!” (see what I did there) but since we were in the middle of Timbuktu, or it could’ve been Bridgeport, and there was no service I couldn’t post it.

Grand Coulee Dam We’re Lost!

Here’s my two days later picture! Not sure why Lia has the same pose in both pictures, as if I cut and pasted her into each one.

Again, doing my Griswold impersonation, I didn’t want to make the straight trek home but wanted to sight see. Since in the middle of nowhere this giant dam, the Grand Coulee Dam, is the only thing to see, so that’s what we saw. See?


We walked down to the park, took some family photos (by now you know how we do) and headed back on our way.


Oh yah, but not before Levi, the closest thing we’ve had to a dog, saw the water, decided he was going to strip off his clothes, attempt to scale a small chain link fence and head for the lake (or is it a river there?). We stopped him from scaling the fence and swimming, and slowed him down from stripping.


The drive home was a little more relaxed as the kids wore themselves out. Lia took time to play with her dolls (her inner-thoughts play out in the voices of her dolls, “Dad got upset … Mom said we can’t have ice cream now … ” interesting), tell 4-year-old jokes and ask us, “Why do I talk so loud?” You’re a Johnson … it’s OK.

No, you can't take off your pants!
No, you can’t take off your pants!

Levi napped, woke up and gave us a false alarm about having to go pee then napped so more.

And Lukas was queasy the entire time. Which brings me to my next travel tip.

Tip No. 4 for Traveling with Three Kids: If you have one that gets motion sickness, be prepared to immediately pull over for they will puke!


Lis kept telling me that he’s OK. I didn’t think he was OK. After all, I had the same car sickness issues that he has. For the most part he was OK until we ascended up the mountain and started to come back down then Levi said “XIXI!” (Portuguese for GOTTA PEE NOW!) and Lukas said “AUGH!” (Sensitive Stomach for GOTTA VOMIT NOW!). We pulled over and Levi did his thing. We all clapped as he was 2-for-2 on peeing outside, and over the entire 3-day weekend had only one incident and that was not his fault. He told us he had to go but a park in Liberty Lake had its bathroom doors locked so there was no waiting.

Meanwhile as we’re cheering on Levi I’m telling Lukas to stop trying to make himself throw up. He said he wasn’t. “Yes you are! You’re pushing your stomach and … “


If throw up makes you queasy then turn your head. I know I’m a bad father, but 15 years from now we’ll laugh at this! We all did after it was over. He’s a professional by now.

With that taken care of the rest of the way was smooth sailing, the kids were excited to be in their own beds and …

Tip No. 5 for Traveling with Three Kids: Unless you have to, wait until the youngest is at least 4-years-old. You’ll feel more sane and have a little more fun!

3 thoughts on “Our First Road Trip or Five Tips on Traveling with Three Kids!

  1. Hilarious! Yes, I have fond memories of MANY road trips all over the western US when I was a kid. This summer we’re taking our farthest yet trip with the kids and spending a week in Bend, OR. Thanks for the tips! 🙂


  2. Love it! We have taken quite a few road trips and found the same to be true- nobody really does that anymore! Kinda crazy as I find it brings us all closer together. We also have a puker, Steven. One time we went camping in this area that was up a pretty big downhill, curvy road…that was a blast. Also that was the time we learned to seriously listen when he says he doesnt feel good.


  3. Thx. I have 5 kids who are all pukers Max,Lizzy,Ariel,Johnny, and Dillan. There is a lot of barfing in our car. May I suggest bringing barf bags on your trips? 🌋😜😆😀


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