Family road trip? Don't forget the towels

Family road trip? Don't forget the towels

Check out some other road-trip horror stories, and tell us your own, here.


We just completed an epic road trip.

Fifteen-hundred miles, more or less, to Washington, D.C., and back. The itinerary included one Capitol, six museums, five monuments, two college stadiums (sports writer on board) and one baseball game.

And the standard road-trip disaster.

Things started out fairly well, by our standards. We had planned to leave at 4 p.m. on Blog Photoa Saturday and drive to Columbus, Ohio, the first night, then arrive in D.C. on Sunday afternoon. No sweat.

I wasn’t counting on the half-hour phone call with Verizon to try, for the third time, to remove some charges made by the person who stole my son’s phone (his second, the first one having died after a turn through our washer).

But we got out of town at 6 p.m., still plenty of time to make it to Columbus by midnight. Until things came to a screeching halt just outside Dayton at 10:30 p.m. As in, cars stopped dead on the highway.

We were in a construction zone, and it was clear something had happened. We just didn’t know what.

After 20 minutes of trying to find a traffic update on a Columbus radio station, I texted a friend who I knew would still be up and online. Always ready to help, she dutifully searched the Ohio transportation website and found there had been an accident about 5 miles ahead, and only one lane was open. Sort of.

Her text updates were a lifeline. There’s nothing more frustrating that sitting in a traffic jam with a bunch of strangers who also don’t know what’s going on.

But frustration continued to build in the car. Actually, just mine. Everyone else fell asleep.

“Weird. Westbound lane now full speed. You still crawling,” she texted at 11:26 p.m.

Yes, I know.

Finally, at 11:55, everything loosened up. I texted, “We’re free.”

We limped into our hotel at 2 a.m. Eastern time.

The rest of the trip went well, other than the D.C. hotel room with the Weird Vent Noise. Whenever the air conditioner wasn’t running, it sounded like someone was plucking a bass in the air vent. And not in any particular pattern.

Sleep was a challenge. The maintenance staff was mystified, the front desk unsympathetic. We did get 5,000 extra Marriott points out of it, though.

Our 2002 minivan also made it home through the West Virginia mountains, under some protest.

It wasn’t until the very next weekend that we had another road-trip disaster, on a trip to lovely Greenville, Ill., for a baseball tournament.

Short version: We stopped at a Steak ’n Shake, I handed the tray of milkshakes to my son, who handed them off to our 10-year-old, who spilled one, leaned over to catch it, spilled the other one, yada, yada, yada ... I was literally scooping handfuls of ice cream into the parking lot. Many napkins later, we got back on the road, with one sticky seat.

This brought to mind perhaps our messiest road trip ever, when my son was 4 and daughter almost 1. We drove to North Carolina for a beach trip and on the way stopped at a hotel in West Virginia with a suspiciously warm pool. It was like a bathtub. With lots of germy children in it.

My daughter was already sick, and after a couple of days, my son came down with the worst virus of his life. It involved everything you can imagine: fever, sore throat, nausea, swollen tonsils, earache, other digestive issues (if you know what I mean).

I was worried he had strep, so we took him to the island doctor (never a good idea). Besides using a long metal probe to dig wax out of his ears (screaming noise here), the nurse took one look in his mouth and said, in her Marge Simpson voice, “Oh my God, have you looked at his throat?” Nice.

No strep, but suffice to say we spent a lot of time mopping up messes there and on the way home.

This appears to be a theme. Based on our friends’ experiences, road-trip disasters usually involve some sort of stomach issue or sticky substance. Or both.

Their stories, which you will find online, include no less than four vomiting incidents, two on a plane. Here’s a sample, from Janet Leroy of Urbana:

“Son was 3, majorly throws up, husband carried him, while still in car seat, into upscale hotel, where a lovely wedding reception is taking place. Waiters rushed to help, i.e., get us out of the lobby. Helped clean Ben, the seat, and us. We drove home with the son wrapped in 2 large, cloth napkins, car seat stored in trunk, me holding onto son praying we didn’t get into an accident.”

My mother-in-law once advised me to keep a towel in the car, because you never know. I’m thinking a bucket, carpet cleaner and change of clothes might be good.

Safe travels, parents.


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families for the News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at (217) 351-5226, or

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):People, Travel

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