My parents just got back from vacation, and it reminded me of the family vacations we took when I was a kid. I have some really fond memories of long road trips listening to Bryan Adams on a Walkman and hoping the hotel we were staying in had a pool.  I also learned some very valuable lessons along the way. Of course, the most important one was “Always pack snacks” followed closely by “Try to wait until you’ve left your street before diving into the snacks.” The rest are below in no particular order.

1. If your dad tries to convince you he’s learned about a “short cut” through the woods around ab Arkansas “diamond mine,” turn around immediately and come back the way you came. Especially if he embellishes the story by telling you that he learned about it from an old Native American friend. Try to remember that your dad doesn’t know any Native Americans who hail from Arkansas. What happens if you don’t follow this advice is you end up wandering around said woods for hours lugging a giant geode rock for half of your journey and thinking that you may or may not see civilization again. However, that won’t be the worst of your problems. The worst of your problems sitting on a bench back at the “diamond mines” (used here to mean a plowed plot of land that may or may not have had diamond chips sprinkled throughout) who has finished her book, is locked out of the car and is convinced that her only child and husband have gone missing. This woman was your father’s wife when you headed into the woods, but there’s a definite possibility that she won’t be when you emerge. She may still love you, but no guarantees.

"Wish you were here!"

2. Postcards are a great way to say “Hey! We thought about you toiling away at your monotonous life while we were enjoying the amazing events/sights/thing pictured on the front of this card! Wish you were here (even though we didn’t invite you)!” They are also statistically guaranteed to arrive in the recipient’s mailbox five to ten days after the sender has returned from aforementioned amazing event/sight/thing. My mother found a way to rectify this situation. The night before she and my dad were heading out for a trip to Montana (without me) I went to tell them good night. As I leaned down to give my mom a hug, I noticed, beside her bed,  a stack of postcards. All procured on previous trips to Montana, already stamped and reading “Dear Christy, We are having a great time! It’s cold, but we wish you were here! Love, Mom and Dad.” I mean, it’s actually pretty ingenious if you think about it. Chances were good that Montana was cold, and all she had to do was drop the postcard in the mailbox as soon as they crossed the Montana border (That’s key. You can’t mail the cards early).

3.  You always want to make sure you have a sufficient amount of reading material. Especially if your trip involves long stretches of driving with signs like “Last stop for 100 miles” and “Last chance to get Gas possibly ever.” It’s also important to always keep your book on your person. Carry that thing with you at ALL TIMES. You never know when someone (like Steve) might accidentally lock the keys to the rental car in the trunk in nowhere, Wyoming while the only locksmith in town is having breakfast down at the diner. Then you’ll be forced to sit in a hotel room with bad TV reception glaring at Steve, who was smart enough to grab her book before she locked the keys in the car. I’m not saying that I was “Steve” in this situation, but I can tell you Steve was glad she had a book to take her mind off all the evil eyes she was getting from her friend and family.

What Steve Read While the Keys Were Locked in the Car

4. Camping is never as fun as you think it’s going to be.

5. If you’re going to buy a giant cookie monster pinata, do it at the end of the day. Otherwise you’ll be lugging that guy all over San Antonio.

6. If you’re travelling with Bob Crimmins, make sure you allot extra time at Epcot for the Japan section where they break open the oysters to see if there’s a pearl inside. The man never met a grab bag he didn’t like (this is how we ended up at the Diamond Mine in the first place).

7. If you end up walking through the gardens at Kensington Palace and they seem kind of deserted, don’t be surprised if a slightly angry woman in grey hustles up to you once you’re out the other side and tells you to leave immediately. You have crashed a royal function. (This did actually happen to my grandmother and I and speaks more to the state of British Secret Service at the time than it does to our stealth capabilities).

Hopefully these suggestions will make your vacation a little more relaxed and fun. Of course, standard rules still apply: don’t approach bears or bison, take mountain curves slow and, for the love of God, don’t crinkle a chip bag or candy wrapper if Liz Crimmins is in the car. Otherwise, happy travels!