As you read this, we are traveling on our yearly vacation to visit family. It is interesting how when you are growing up at home you can’t wait to get away, but when you get older you can’t wait to get home. For me, I am always ready to go on vacation and always ready to get back when it is over.
We have four children who are 8 and under. Some people seem to marvel at the fact that we drive 1600 miles one-way and still desire to do it again every year. We used to fly every year, but once the kids passed the “free lap child phase”, it just got too expensive to do it. As it turns out, the traveling is the easy part, it is the family that takes the patience. (just kidding, sort of)
Here are my tips for traveling with children. I speak only from experience.
Pack Sandwiches and Snacks – If you have ever traveled a distance, you know that rest stops have expensive, gross food. The entire length of the toll way has fast food at every rest stop. That will not make for a pleasant trip for anyone, not to mention that it gets real expensive. You can do quite well if you pack a cooler with sandwiches and some snacks. Then you can eat those for meals and have one bigger meal at a real restaurant for dinner. In order to do this well, you need to get over the fact that the kids are eating in the van. If you can’t let them do that, then stop and eat your packed lunches at a rest stop.
Don’t Buy Drinks At Travel Plazas – I know it is tempting to buy some sugary drink, but don’t do it. They charge $3 for a soda when you can bring some water bottles, juice boxes, or even bottles of tea or juice, for much less. We save a lot of money this way. The only thing I buy is a cup of coffee and I even feel bad about that.
Plan Gas Stops – As a general rule, I don’t buy gas on the toll road unless I have no choice. If you are able to get off the toll road at some point, it is almost always cheaper to buy gas there. Just Monday one are of the toll road has gas at $4.29, while off the road it is $3.79. Last year we found a station that was like 40 cents cheaper per gallon off the toll road.
Maintain Your Car – One way to really reduce headahces is to make sure your car is in good order before leaving. Last year we saw a mini-van fully engulfed in flames and the people running away from it. Cars break down at times, but anything we can do to avoid that will mean better travel times, less expense and well rested children. (by far the best reason)
Watch for Hotel Discounts- We have certain hotels we stay at because they offer free breakfast, Wi-Fi and AAA discounts. Many people forget that they even have AAA, or some other discount program. For us, as soon as we find a hotel that we like, we stick with it. I know for us, the pool is a huge deal. If it is too cold, my kids don’t enjoy it as much and we don’t enjoy it as much.
Pace Your Activities — Our kids want to watch every movie in the first 3 hours. We space them out and include other things. We might watch a movie, have them play a game, then listen to a story, have snack and then make a short stop. If we plan it right, we can make the stops happen before nap time and then put a movie on during nap time. That keeps the older kids quiet so that the young ones can sleep.
Bring Extra Clothes You Can Get At Easily – Even with planning, there are times when a child has to use the bathroom immediately. Of course it is never at a convenient time. Last year we had a child wet his pants while we drove through a city I was not familiar with. I had no option at that moment to stop. Don’t panic. Something will happen. The journey is half the fun and it sure does build memories.
Smile and Be Patient – The days will not go as planned. Kids will get sick, have to use the bathroom at an inconvenient time and incessantly ask if you are at your destination yet. Be ready with an attitude that will show them patience, not stress. Everyone will get along better if this is followed.
That is my list. What would you add? I know that if we just expect there to be delays, kids who get sick and unexpected bathroom stops, we will stay sane and arrive in one piece. What happens after your arrival is totally out of my hands.