We just passed exit 204 somewhere between Greensboro, North Carolina, and Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s 10:39 p.m., and while the youngest one has managed to dutifully pass out in his car seat, the older two are up late watching a movie on the iPad.

This marks the end of Day Seven on our family’s road trip, wandering the east coast and saying hi to many of you. We are living out in the flesh the things I wrote about in the travel section of Blue Bike, a daily reminder of the stuff I’ve found true about traveling with kids.

(By the way, am I allowed to have a favorite section of my own book? I don’t know if that’s allowed. But if it is, I’d have to say it’s the travel section. Maybe it’s because I love to travel that much, and also because there are very few things in life about which I am adamant, and this is one of those things—that families need to experience travel together, big or small.)

Spending these long hours in the car and the many moonlit nights in hotels and friends’ guest rooms has resurfaced so many of the things I forget when we’re not on the road.

Here are a few of them.

1. It’s always bumpy in the beginning.

The first few days tend to be rough on any trip (or the first few hours of a weekend trip—it’s a percentage thing, somehow). Grownups are stressed, kids are tense, and everyone feels a little on edge as the family adapts to different surroundings and agendas. You’re out of sorts at first.

finn behind

But then, quite miraculously, it tends to just iron itself out. You get into your groove, and things are well. Happens to us almost every time.

2. Sleep deprivation makes everyone insane.

I just want to issue a ginormous SORRY to everyone we’ve hung out with the past few days because as of this writing, our kids are a bit ridiculously sleep-deprived. And so they do delightful things, like hit children they just met and yet have expressed affection towards.

A lack of sleep makes everyone punchy, including adults. We’ve learned that when tired hits, it’s time for all of us to slow it down a notch and restore our bodies. I’ve got my eyelids pinned back as I’m writing this.

3. Locals know best.

Lots of you have given us fantastic ideas about where to eat and what to check out. Thanks for that. Twitter is one of my favorite places to find good recommendations, followed by apps like Yelp. Not to mention good, old-fashioned asking-of-people-standing-next-to-you.

cafe du monde

4. Eating healthy is worth the effort and expense.

I’m not beneath the occasional fried offering, but overall, eating plenty of veggies and protein at every meal and drinking tons of water makes travel so much more comfortable, if you get my drift.

5. You need about half the clothes you think you need.

Kyle and I did laundry a few days ago, and both of us only washed about half our clothes, because the other half was still unworn. And yet we continued to wear the same clothes we just washed.

Why is this? I don’t know, but it seems to happen all the time—I only end up wearing the same few clothes on repeat. I’m a light packer to begin with, so this is funny to me.

6. Kids really, truly don’t need that many toys.

So including our few weeks at the end in Austin, this trip of ours will be about six weeks long (and it might extend to two solid months if we decide to just tack on the west coast meetups after returning to Oregon and just keep on truckin’). We’ve hit up a few used bookstores, the kids have paper and writing utensils, and we’ve bought a few smallish things at Cracker Barrel. There’s also a mini Magnadoodle floating around somewhere in the back, along with a few travel-sized games.

Otherwise, that’s it. The only time the lack of toys has been an issue is when they’re tired, and they just need to sleep anyway. Frequent stops at playgrounds and regular exposure to nature helps temper their need for playthings. (A good reminder for real life, too, and not just for travel.)

reed in snow

7. Real life is a solid education.

Our normal school routine has taken a serious backseat during this trip, and we’ll need to play some catch-up when we return to a semblance of regular life. But in the meantime, wandering the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, exploring the Audubon Aquarium, hitting up the D.C. and New York City sights, and running through woods and fields aren’t too shabby ways to learn.

And through it all, it seems like our kids’ reading, writing, and math aren’t suffering too much. Hmm.

8. Relationships over agendas.

Friends are to be found all over. We have had the best time staying with friends, and sure, we could probably make better time and see more stuff along the way—but then we’d miss out on some solid kindred spirit time. People have been the best part of our trip. Easily.

freeman and oxen kids

9. Slow is where it’s at.

Which yep, definitely means slow travel is so much more refreshing than frenetic, See All The Things travel. It might mean not seeing absolutely everything we could, but we’re seeing what we can through fresher, clearer eyes. We’re making time for real-life along the way, and making that part of the journey in a tandem experience of everydayness within the new. Slow is what makes relationships over agendas possible.

9 truths about traveling with kids

We’re letting travel change us as it should. It’s been good to get out of Dodge, stretch our legs a bit, and just wander. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”