Their Job Is to Road Trip: The Seattle Couple Behind 'My Scenic Drives'
Fusing tech skills and wanderlust, Marla Master and Eric Theriault created a tool to help families hit the road
Like many newcomers to the Pacific Northwest, when Marla Master and Eric Theriault moved their family to Seattle in 2005, they fell in love with the region and began mapping out all the trips they wanted to take. There was one problem, though.
"We did quite a bit of online research to find places to visit, but most sites at the time highlighted just the very well-known drives and there were few maps," says Master. Plus, she recalls, "We also wanted to get off the highway and take the most scenic routes, discovering the unique towns along the way."
Most people would have made do with the resources available, but Master (a graphic designer) and Theriault (a software engineer) got busy. A few years later, they launched a website called MyScenicDrives.com. "You could say that the site was born when software nerd met wanderlust," Master jokes.
The site has flourished into a robust resource packed with itineraries for amazing drives all over North America, including 34 in Washington state. Free to use, it also includes custom features such as a Road Trip Planner, and has been written up in national and local publications.
How did they do it while raising two boys — now 16 and 14 — and and still maintaining their adventurous attitude toward travel? Master and Theriault shared their secrets with ParentMap.
1. What is the mission of My Scenic Drives?
The site’s mission is to make it easy for people to get outdoors, appreciate nature, enjoy recreational activities and explore places of historic and cultural interest. And it’s completely free to use.
2. How has it grown?
It began as a small side project (the site is self-funded) but soon, more and more people were discovering it. After we completed our first cross-country road trip in 2010, Eric felt another area lacking online was a solid road trip planner, so he began work on that. [Since that feature was launched], it's incredible how many trips have been planned, from a visit to Grandma's house, moving trips, bucket-list adventures, honeymoons, college road trips and countless epic cross-country adventures.
Plus, the Road Trip Planner works worldwide, so we're seeing drives on every continent. We also offer National Park forest passes and hotel bookings. The map lets you know where you are at the end of each day so it's easy to locate nearby hotels or campgrounds. We love playing a small part in people's journeys.
3. Has your family really done all those drives and written all that content?
We have done many of the drives, but not all of them. Sadly, we can’t be on the road all the time, so some of the drives are created through research and reviewed by locals. Except for a handful of drives, we have written all the content.
4. How are your boys involved in the site?
The boys’ job is to have a good attitude when we're on an adventure. They have been amazing travelers and are always up for hiking, exploring, learning about history, geography, geology, wildlife, etc. It's nice to be able to tie in what they've learned at school, such as visiting Lewis and Clark locations and getting insight into the enormity of the expedition.
5. What is the site’s coolest feature (or three)?
The Road Trip Planner is definitely one of the best features. It automatically divides your trip into manageable segments with a lot of flexibility to customize settings. It takes time zones into account, and makes it easy to find interesting places to see along the way. You can export the trip to a variety of GPS devices, or print out directions. It can also help you budget by estimating gas usage and keeping track of costs for activities or lodging.
The other cool feature is RoadPreview. With Google Earth installed on your computer, you can take a birds’ eye view of any of our scenic drives or any road trip you've planned.
6. What are two or three of your family’s favorite less-discovered drives in Wash. state and/or the greater Northwest?
We are obsessed with Mount St. Helens. Most people head to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which is amazing and definitely a must-see, but the other side near Spirit Lake is equally fascinating. Head south from Randle, and turn onto WA-99 towards Mount St. Helens. Hillsides are strewn with logs that look like a game of pick-up sticks, you can literally observe the forest regeneration, and then marvel at the grandeur of Spirit Lake. There is a small hike down to the lake — you can’t swim, but seeing the water covered by tens of thousands of logs still floating 36 years later is definitely a humbling experience.
An easy getaway (not so undiscovered) is the Cascade Valley Heritage Corridor, which travels to Snoqualmie Falls, Woodinville, and North Bend. It’s a great day trip, especially for multigenerational groups.
7. Is this a full-time job for you? How do you juggle it all?
Eric has a full-time day job and he spends nights and weekends working on myscenicdrives.com. The site’s design and code were completely developed and written by Eric. Marla is a graphic designer and works from home. Her involvement in the project has morphed over the years: first writing copy for the scenic drives, and now responsible for Forest Pass sales, social media marketing, and customer service.
We've managed to balance things by sticking to our “family first” motto. Steady progress has always been our attitude towards the site. It helps that our family adventures can also be work. On weekends we try to do at least one outing, whether it's a walk in Discovery Park or a hike at Rattlesnake Ledge or Snow Lake. The best part about Seattle is how accessible everything is. Not every trip has to have a far-off destination.
8. Parents of young kids are often terrified of doing long road trips. What are a few tips to help them?
- The most important thing — for our kids, at least — is food. Bring a lot of easy, minimally messy snacks, like cheese sticks, carrots, granola bars, fruit, and yes, some chocolate or other favorite treats!
- Try to create trips that all members of the family can enjoy.
- It's also important for kids to have space to run free after being cooped up in the car, so plan regular stops at parks, beaches, weird rock formations, forest trails, small streams, etc. Leaving a towel and extra clothes outside of the luggage makes for easy clean up if kids end up wet or muddy.
- When our boys were younger, we would try to cover the long stretches at naptime or after a big day of activity. Bring books, their favorite stuffed animals, a pillow and a small blanket.
- Non-electronic games are always fun: we love the always-entertaining alphabet game, and “hat/no hat,” where we guess whether the next driver we pass will be wearing a hat!
9. Now that you have teenage boys, how do you continue to lure them on family road trips?
Our kids have been pretty good about jumping in the car and heading out on an adventure. But now, heading on the road means time away friends, and the horror of no cellphone connectivity. And sometimes they just don't feel like going. The real key to success is to involve them in the planning process and give them opportunities to suggest places to see and things to do. It doesn't always work, but it at least warms them up to the idea. Once we're somewhere new, they're usually excited. We also try to stay in a hotel with a pool, which is a great end-of-the-day perk.
10. What’s on your travel bucket list for the next year or two?
We definitely want to spend more time in the Southwest at Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We got into traveling after moving to Seattle, and now realize that we haven't seen much of Canada, so a cross-country trip north of the 49th parallel is on the list.