Chicago families brave winter road trip: What could go wrong?

When my friends and I decided to set up a January road trip to Indianapolis, there were, of course, concerns: The weather could derail us, or with four families attending, any of us could fall prey to the winter germs that have been particularly brutal this year.

But I’ll admit it – I had recently taken the kids on a successful trek to the Wisconsin Dells and I was feeling a little bit cocky.

Road trips – I got this. Besides, it was a quick trip: down Friday, back Saturday. It involved only one night to minimize meltdowns, yet was long enough to have fun and catch up. Our plan was to attack the water park on Friday, then enjoy the Children’s Museum on Saturday until the kids were adequately tuckered out.

We popped our vitamin C, watched the forecast, and held our breath.

I felt my first brief panic as my phone buzzed late that Thursday afternoon, with three calls in a row from our hotel. The water park at our host hotel had just notified the front desk that they would be closed for the weekend for maintenance. Hmm. That was a biggie. After a few quick calls, we solidified plan B: The kids would swim in the still-functional hotel pool and we’d end the day with an in-room pizza party. Game on.

The forecast showed some snow, which for anyone who has driven on I-65 before knows, that means you’ll keep your face uncomfortably close to the windshield to maximize visibility, tightly clutch the wheel, and every time you come out of an underpass, the wind will knock you over at least half a lane. Fortunately as an IU alum, I’ve navigated the terrain many times. The “Frozen” soundtrack kept the kids happy while I stayed as far away from skittering trucks as possible. I even managed to bust out a little bit of work during a stop using restaurant wifi.

Like I said – I got this.

It was when we arrived in Indianapolis that everything unraveled.

I walked into the hotel. Strike that – I attempted to walk into the hotel. One of the “automatic” exterior doors wasn’t working (at all), so I nearly crashed before we’d even taken a step inside. When checking in, I learned that the water park had actually been closed for the previous three weeks, but the hotel hadn’t mentioned it to us until the day prior.


We settled into our rooms. I was a little curious about mold, given some strange spackling and weird rows of drill marks across my ceiling, but I shrugged and headed down the hall. Aimee had the Internet up and running. Her car, which she’d only had for several weeks, had been scraped by another vehicle in a parking lot, so she was enjoying a leisurely stroll through the insurance claim process.


The phone rang: D’Arcy. Her car ran out of gas outside of Indy, uncomfortably positioned by where two highways split.

Not good.

Aimee continued to work through her insurance issues, keeping my kids while I drove back out onto the highway to retrieve D’Arcy and her crew. Several illegal U-turns later, we were back at the hotel.

As attempts were made to determine why the hotel pool was locked since it supposedly had been open since 9am, I made a critical error: I read the hotel reviews. Because several friends had stayed there previously, we hadn’t bothered to do that ahead of time, and had no idea that our lodging had come upon tough times . . . like the fact that the water park had mainly been closed since August. Or that there were many complaints of roaches, dirty linens and bed bugs.

My daughter has been bitten by bed bugs once before and I am grateful we did not bring them home. I was not anxious to test my luck again. I went back to my room and pulled back the sheets, only to discover crusted blood. Not an old stain – it was crusted on the sheets. As I looked at the holes in the pillowcases, down at the sheets, and up at the strange ceiling, I knew that there was no way I would actually be able to fall asleep there.

By the time the kids were done with their ten-minute swim in the cold pool, I had decided to check out and go stay with our friend Kristen and her family across the street at a different hotel. From the immediacy of my refund when I notified the front desk, I’m guessing this wasn’t a rare occurrence.

In the meantime, D’Arcy’s husband zigzagged around Indy buying fuel and maneuvering his now-functioning vehicle over to the hotel. When Kristen’s family arrived for dinner, we were all ready for pizza.

With food, the mood lightened with giggles of seven happy kids and five relieved parents. The kids, oblivious to any hiccups throughout the day, were happy to play together and the adults were looking forward to a quiet night and museum fun on Saturday.

Kristen looked closer at one of her sons. They began making trips into the bathroom. Finally, Kristen sighed that they might need to head to a clinic because her son had an incredible knack for picking up pink eye.

It was shortly thereafter that we decided to call it a night.


And then there were three. Kristen, with her son’s illness confirmed, drove home first thing in the morning, having traveled all that way for a few slices of pizza.

When we met for breakfast, the mood was light, which is one of the many things I love about this group. We chuckled at how the trip had been perhaps a bit more eventful than we would have preferred, but everything was tempered with at leasts.

At least there was another hotel nearby.

At least Aimee’s car was drivable.

At least D’Arcy and Andrew were so close to the hotel when their car died.

At least Kristen’s son had something minor (that didn’t involve vomit.)

As we drank our coffee and ate, even the at leasts faded away, replaced by next time.

Next time we will stay at this hotel.

Next time we will stay for two nights for the museum and zoo.

We made it to the Children’s Museum without incident. Both the kids and parents had a blast, surrounded by amazing exhibits and demonstrations. Afterwards, everyone made it home safely – and no one else got pink eye. While I think I’ll take a little break before my next road trip, I’m already looking forward to next time.

“Smiling kids trump any road trip disasters.”

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