Road Trip Wish List: A Mazda CX-9

This post is sponsored content from BlogHer and Mazda CX-9.

Last weekend when we drove from Los Angeles to Big Bear Mountain for our first ski/snowboarding adventure, I found myself wishing we had a much bigger car so the kids didn’t even have to sit next to each other. And looking at the specs of the Mazda CX-9, I realize that as we start planning more road trips in our near future, a car that fits our growing family might be the difference between vacation hell and vacation bliss.

The vehicle size is priority number one. We still drive a boxy compact crossover with bucket seats in the back, allowing for only two kids. There’s (barely) enough cargo room for regular life, but limited space for all the stuff we want to bring on out-of-town trips: bikes (x4), food, clothing, camping gear for the mountains, boogie boards (x4) for the beach and, of course, the kitchen sink. We need more room, or we’ll start looking like the Griswolds on the way to Wally World.

With the CX-9’s 7-passenger interior and fold-down seats, we could even put each boy in his own row so they can’t keep trying to maim each other because they’re bored on a long ride. Or we could even (gasp!) bring along a friend for each brother.

Being well prepared for a car trip makes for a more enjoyable getaway, but this time I was more focused on borrowing the correct gear for the kids’ first snowboard lesson than prepping for the three-hour drive. We navigated up the mountain by using my phone’s map and trying to follow another family in their car. We would have been much better off with a dashboard navigation system, such as the CX-9’s TomTom, to help us with the most efficient route to our destination. After all, there are several ways to get through LA traffic and up to the mountains, and at one point my husband and I both said, “Where ARE we?!”

(Answer: Victorville, CA. The last big city before the mountains. Who knew?)

TomTom would have answered that question before we even asked it. Plus, the pleasant voice guidance would be better than my confused, too-late directions as I helped my husband figure out which way to go (and vice versa).

We love to leave on road trips after dinner and arrive the night before all the fun starts. That way, the boys can sleep on the ride. We avoid the fighting and the whining and the eleventy millionth, “Are we there yet?” coming from the back seat. But those times when we must travel while they are awake, we load up a bag or two of activities to keep them busy. Now that at least one of them can read, books are a natural addition, and I try to get new titles from the library for our older son to enjoy. The 5-year-old is happy to play with his handheld gaming system or, in a pinch, my phone.

Once upon a time I used to load kids’ music and audiobooks onto my iPod or CDs to play in the car, but then my husband let the kids play in the front seat while he was washing it one day. You can probably guess the rest of this story. The boys put pennies into the CD player and in every power outlet in the vehicle, so none of those features work anymore. The Mazda CX-9 comes with a standard USB audio input port, which would help me rekindle the kids’ love of audiobooks. It also offers available HD Radio, Pandora Internet radio connectivity and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. And now that the boys are listening to better music (farewell, Old MacDonald!), we could all rock out to our tunes of choice. Of course, my kids dream of “having a TV in the car,” and if I were a cooler mom, we would have at least gotten a portable DVD player by now. But with the CX-9’s optional Rear-Seat Entertainment System, we could have them watch their favorite videos on a 9″ LCD screen.

The price of the Mazda CX-9 makes me want to go get a new car right now. Today. Hold my calls. We paid $20,000 for our boxy crossover in 2005 because we financed it. At the time, my husband and I had one baby and one large dog. Now we have two gangly boys and a commitment to paying cash for our next car. At around $30,000 MSRP, the CX-9 seems like a reasonable upgrade to match the upgraded size of our family, which to be honest is growing as the boys get bigger.

We managed to make it up “to the snow,” as we say in Los Angeles, with no visible injuries on either of the boys. They took ski and snowboarding lessons, went sledding, and made snowmen and had snowball fights for the first time. They had a blast, and my husband and I enjoyed watching them and staying dry on the sidelines. We headed back down to sea level with a car full of sweaty gear and tired humans, wishing our car had a dashboard camera to better capture the beautiful sunset.

Overall, it was a great road trip. With a bit more room and more entertainment options, both of which are offered by the Mazda CX-9, there would have been a lot less whining, threatening and bargaining. And the kids would have been much quieter, too.

Lower Your Expectations: Tips For Successful Family Road Trips Near or Far

People often put so much pressure on themselves to have a good time on vacation that they stress out too much to actually enjoy it. This has been all too true for me when taking road trips with my husband and kids. As the Chief Executive Trip Planner and Worrier for my family, I have learned the hard way that no matter how much I prepare, something always goes wrong when we travel together. It’s better to relax – have a plan, but relax and let the vacation happen. Otherwise I’ll miss it – even though I’m right there.

Here are a few hard-won tips to avoid stressing out on road trips:

Play to your family’s taste. My husband hates big crowds, and my older son hates most thrill rides, so amusement parks don’t work for our family. We found this out after dropping hundreds of dollars on one visit. Awesome! When you’re choosing where to go on your next road trip, consider a destination that has something for everyone. Our favorite is a beachside vacation rental: a long stretch of coastline, restaurants and shops nearby, a full kitchen where we can save money and prepare our own food, and comfy beds and showers to clean up and rest.

Prepare, but don’t be so hard on yourself. Make a packing list, but admit that you can’t fit everyone’s bikes, the camping gear, four changes of clothes, AND food into your 4-passenger hatchback. And if you forget something, get creative. At a quick stop in Pismo Beach, our 2-year-old had a blast playing in the sand and getting his clothes (and diaper) all wet..until the clouds blocked the sun and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees. A nearby souvenir shop sold us a cute hoodie that was a few sizes too big so that it fit him like a dress. Sure, people thought he was a girl for a few hours until we got back to our campsite, but he got to wear that souvenir hoodie for years. Two birds, one Pismo Beach sweatshirt.

Overestimate your drive time. Depending on your kids’ ages and how far you’re going, you might have to make more pit stops than you ever expected. This one has to pee, this one has to be separated from his siblings, this one is hungry, and oh what a surprise, Mom has to pee again. On really long drives you should let the children get out and run around. Like puppies. This is especially important on your return trip, when everyone is tired, probably dirty, and possibly sick of each other. A special treat for the ride home — like a meal at a normally forbidden fast food restaurant — will give the kids (and admit it, you too) something indulgent to anticipate.

Embrace the unexpected. On your way to your destination, pay attention to what’s around you. Use your electronic devices, but not to escape the journey. Use them to find the best roadside diner near the next exit. Or turn off the main highway and take the local roads so you can experience the towns you’re passing through. Being flexible with our plans has led to some delightful discoveries – a protected nature reserve along the Pacific coast in Guadalupe, a greasy spoon off Route 101 where the kids had the “best breakfast ever,” the poem in an iron fence at a public art park in Laguna Beach, a wonderland of watermelons in Bakersfield.

Lower the bar. This helps the most, especially when I’m about to lose my temper because everyone is bickering and I’m hungry and I just realized we forgot the bread for the PB&J sandwiches. Don’t plan the perfect vacation. Plan YOUR vacation. Put down your camera after you capture the perfect moment and experience it. Give the kids a break and don’t expect them to nap on schedule. Give yourself a break and have your glass of wine before you wash the dishes. Grit your teeth and allow everybody to be caked in dirt if they want to. Face it – on a road trip everything gets dirty. You can wash it all when you get home.

This post is part of BlogHer’s Family Fun on Four Wheels editorial series, made possible by Mazda CX-9.