Some people go for years without getting away, not us; we've taken some pretty epic trips, even with little babies/kids. All-inclusive resorts, Disney, Jamaica, DC, NOLA, Vegas, Canada, on planes, trains, automobiles, I could go on and on. We all love to travel and I am unabashedly awesome at finding the best deals, but these past 2 vacations needed to be REALLY good deals. Topic 1 is the Road Trip. I'm here to tell you that it is way easier (and cheaper) than it seems. I've decided to use the elementary school writing style for this blog.
WHY ROAD TRIP - Currently, it is cheaper than flying. We absolutely love watching the world go by as we talk about all sorts of random stuff and listen to every song on our ipod. I like vacation in general, but roadtrips are just the best. We see things never seen from a plane and the relationship and stories that your family has will bond you forever. Hopefully the trip isn't Hollywood remake worthy but memorable all the same.
WHERE - The first step is to plan the major sites/events. Pick the places you must see (Wall Drug, Badlands, Black Hills, Yellowstone, Tetons) or your end goal (Orlando). Using google maps and a US map (ours hangs in the playroom and has our roadtrips marked with a sharpie and our visits marked with a pushpin), plan where you will stop and start compiling a list of what you want to do when you get there. It doesn't need to be perfect, it is just a starting point. You can always remove things and add other things.
WHEN - Plan plenty of time to get from place to place, and figure out your family breaking point. Ours is easy because I break first. The other 3 could drive for 19 hours but I start going nuts around 13. I can do more but only in a pinch. Usually a good size day on a road-trip is 9 hours. Plan to get to your stop, check out the town, eat some dinner, swim, if you string too many 14 hour days together, everyone will be a mess.
WHAT YOU NEED (okay, need is a strong word, but it sure is helpful if you can find it in the travel budget)-
- Smart Phone - Seriously, I know we used to do it, but I don't know how we road-tripped without them. We have aps to find the cheapest gas, aps to find the best restaurant, the ability to check websites for hours and locations of sites. And we can update FB and Twitter with progress :0)
- GPS - For those of you reading this in Suburbia, this might come as a shock, but lots of places do not have cell service. I do not mean that the 3g is weak or that they only have 1 bar. I mean, you look at your phone and for the entire state of Montana, the top corner reads, "No Service". At which point a GPS with LFM (Lifetime Free Maps) is a must. You need to know what restaurants are coming up, where the hell you are going, and you can't bank on the phone. We like Garmin.
- ATLAS - The GPS has replaced the need to buy local maps or get them from AAA but you must still bring an atlas or a larger map. Sometimes you need to see what is off the path you are on or what site would only be a small 4 hour detour.
- SNACKS - The way to save the most money on the trip is to have snacks in the car. I want them to be healthy (ish) and not messy. On the bigger trips this means a 5 gallon beverage container, filled with lemonade; we buy bags of ice and dump in powder now and again. As a plus it mixes well with vodka. I also buy lots of different granola bars. They aren't messy, they don't smash, they have protein, and not too much sugar. This helps lower the cost (and the salt intake) of picking up something to eat between meals. One time we did not see an exit for 7 hours. I am not kidding. NOTHING for 7 hours. We lived on those granola bars.
- A plastic tray for each kid. I found one that fits in the seat back. They each have their own color. It is great to eat, color, play games, write in their travel journal (which never happens).
- AAA - I am adding this after our last Odyssey; Have a towing service on standby - and it is best if they can tow 100 miles for free. Hopefully it doesn't happen, but if it does, you will be happy for the $55 a year that you have spent.
- Copilot - On our Odyssey,
the person not driving actually does more work than the person who is just sitting there with the cruise control on.I read books aloud, I play DJ on the songlist, I start the road games, guessing games, I plan while going through YELP to find what everyone wants to do, I look up the history of our next stop so that we can talk about it before we get there. I obviously handle Nigel (the GPS). Basically, I pretend to be Julie from the Love Boat. There are quiet times, but being co-pilot isn't just playing on my phone.
- Electronics Rule!
- Our rule is that they can play electronics while we are driving but never at the sites or restaurants. Once the car stops moving, all electronic devices are put away until later.
- Also institute a headphone policy when the are young. I personally think it is crazy when parents have to listen to the movie soundtrack rather than their own music on car-rides. It would seriously push me over the edge. I think kids are over entertained anyway, but when the kids are watching a movie or playing games, it should be the time that you and your DH can talk just the two of you. You shouldn't need to shout over a movie or listen to their video game sound effects.
- As a side note to that, we have a charging station in the car. We run an electrical cord under all of the stuff from the back outlet with a car charger adapter. The whole system works great and the front charger is still available for our stuff.
- Books - if you can't read aloud in the car, find a book on cd. Even if the kids still play electronics while the book is going, I've found they love to hear the story. It makes the hours fly by. I actually liked reading aloud more than the CD, except that I would miss some of the scenery. During the pretty parts of the trip, I would stop.
- DVDs - if your kids are still little, movies are fine. That said, I use them very rarely and only when there is nothing to look at. Redbox is a god-send. You can find the nearest location on your phone, rent a movie, and drop it off at another redbox when they are done.
- Music - load up the ipods. Keep in mind how long your drive is and make sure you have enough music to cover the trip (you will repeat but the goal should be not to hear the same songs over and over- as much as your kids will want to). Have a large variety. This is a great opportunity for kids to learn to appreciate music beyond pop. We have guessing games on the artist, and even my slightly oblivious DD will say, "Mom, that one is too easy, everyone knows that is__________ (James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, the Beatles, Neil Diamond, The Band, BNL, Enya).
- Limit the stuff. I'm speaking from experience here, there is no reason to entertain your kids to death. Find each person a bag that can hang on the back of a seat (under the headrest). Each child can put stuff in that bag to play with. Some parents wrap toys and make them a surprise. Seems like over-kill to me and it doesn't teach kids how to pack well. Try to make it easy and help them find things that they would really like to play with:
- Calico Critters or other cute little animals / A favorite stuffed animal or doll
- Coloring or Postcards or Travel Journal
- Camera (I think this is a must, each kid has a cheap camera. I love seeing the trip through their eyes)
- Electronics (a DS, ipod, HEADPHONES)
- Travel games (try not to have little pieces or Legos)
- Books - if they have an ipod, I recommend downloading books. My daughter will read anything on her ipod and it doesn't take up precious space and risk being lost or wrecked.
- Sporty - Usually we just bring a hacky sack and a frisbee. I know that is hippy-ish of us, but they are small and easy to pack. If a soccer or football fits, we will sometimes bring it, but usually not.
- Sunglasses and hat
- Small blanket and small pillow (my DD brings her pillow pet)
Let me clarify that our roadtrips are not flawless. Last year we had record tears, we weren't even 50 miles from the house and one of the kids (I'm not going to say who but I'm sure you can guess) "hated us all and wanted to go home". 2 years ago I was exhausted and drank too much coffee to stay awake and ended up with the most painful kidney infection. The year before that, we hit some unexpected traffic and ended up not getting to the hotel until midnight (was supposed to be 6pm). We were all a mess and starving. At some point during every trip, the kids are hysterically laughing for hours and eventually I yell, "Seriously you guys, stop laughing or I'm going to have to take away whatever is so funny!" That said, I've been road-tripping since I was born (and so has my DH). We love it and every time something goes terribly wrong, we all turn to each other and say,
"I can't wait to tell this story when we get home!"
BTW - I know this one is too long. I'll try to do a better job editing in the future.