The whole family felt like our last minute trip to Switzerland was even better than expected. So we’ve been analyzing what made it so good, and wondering if we can replicate the experience in the future. Here are some of our tips for last-minute road trips (most are just reminders to me personally : ), plus a report on favorite activities in Switzerland.

1) Embrace the Spontaneity.
I arrived home from my trip to New York City on a Saturday afternoon. While I had just had an adventure, I could see the rest of the family was itching for one too. My first instinct was to take a long, long nap. Then evaluate where we were laundry wise. Then run an errand or two for road trip snacks. And turn the whole thing — if we did it at all — into a carefully orchestrated event.

But I could easily predict that if I even took step one (the nap), I’d wake up with the realization that I was behind on work, that the house could use a good cleaning, etc., and this trip wouldn’t be happening.

So we just went for it. I said this to myself: This is not a life or death situation. No one is going to starve. If we’re not having a good time, we’ll come home. Thirty minutes later, we were packed and on the road.

2) Don’t overpack.
Because I wasn’t working with a plan, it was tempting to overpack. Since I didn’t know our itinerary, I wanted to throw in extra clothes and items for every possibility. But again, if I had let myself get bogged down in the packing, I would have become discouraged and cancelled. Some of the kids had clean laundry, others not so much. We packed underwear, socks, and a couple of changes of clothes. Everyone had a couple of summery outfits plus one long-sleeve shirt, one pair of pants, a jacket, one set of pajamas, and a swimsuit.

We knew we’d do some laundry once we arrived. We also knew we’d probably forget a few things (we did). But it was worth it, in order to pack quickly, get out of the house and get going.

3) Use Your Time on the Road to Find a Place to Stay.
Finding a place to stay is always the biggest challenge for our big family. When planning a trip in advance, we can spend hours on this sort of thing. There are so many possibilities! Searching out the coolest apartment on Airbnb or VRBO. Finding a hotel with all the perfect amenities. Trying out a famous campground. And finding the best option in our budget. It’s so hard to make a decision!

But this time, we used the pressure of having-nowhere-to-sleep-that-night(!) to make decisions quickly. We discussed the housing priority for this trip. Was it budget? Access to a swimming pool for the kids? The coolest neighborhood? And decided the #1 priority was reliable internet — because we planned to work on this trip.

During the drive, we booked a hotel for Paris that night — nothing glamorous, and not a super hip location (it was across the street from Montparnasse station). But it was new and clean and not too expensive. We also booked 3 nights in Bern at the same hotel chain. Done and done.

4) Use Your Resources.
We also used our road trip time to access our resources. We read up on Switzerland in the Rick Steves’ books (he’s our favorite source). And we read excellent suggestions from readers (thank you!). Rick Steves recommended a visit to relatively unknown Gimmelwald, and it was a huge highlight. Readers recommended a swim in the Aare River and that was my favorite thing of all. We didn’t have time to do everything that was recommended, but hey, now we have a great excuse to go back. : )

Once we arrived at the hotel, we also asked a million questions of the hotel staff. Where should we eat? Where’s the road to Interlaken? When is the breakfast buffet the least busy?

If you’re headed to Switzerland, these are the don’t miss things we’d recommend from our visit, as pictured in our photos:

– Exploring Old Town in Bern.

– Swimming in the River Aare. It runs through the city of Bern and is clean and blue. Gorgeous!

– Hiking in Gimmelwald. With a stop to buy milk and cheese from a local resident.

– Swimming in Burgseeli Lake (right outside of Interlaken) with platforms to jump from!

5) Stay Flexible.
We’ve had hiccups on every one of our trips, and this one was no exception. When we arrived in Paris, to a bit of a chilly evening, we realized Oscar and Betty’s jackets hadn’t made it into the car. We borrowed sweaters and spare scarves from siblings and made do. When we got to Bern we did a little shopping and picked up hoodies for each of them.

6) Keep it short.
For us, part of leaving in a hurry meant leaving things undone. Food in the fridge that should have been cleaned out. Wastebaskets that should have been emptied before a trip. But knowing we would be home in a few days was calming. The mess would wait for us. The mail wouldn’t be stacked too high when we arrived home. The plants wouldn’t dry out during such a short trip.

Even short trips can be epic!

Overall, it was a fantastic experience, and definitely made me feel more open-minded about last-minute adventures. On the drive home, we couldn’t help but daydream about all the locations that are within a 9-10 hour drive from our house. Denmark, Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, England, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and other parts of France… makes me itch to see every inch of every where.

I’ll bet there are lots of adventures within 10 hours of your house too!

How about you? Have you ever taken a truly last-minute trip? Drove away not knowing where you’d stay that night? Was it scary or exhilarating or both?

P.S. — Want to see more pics? I uploaded a bunch to flickr (and added notes too!).