We are going on vacation! I figured since we are getting ready to go on our vacation soon I would share some things I have found to make life easier for my family and I when we make the leap to go on a family vacation.
When planning a family vacation there are several factors that come in to play. No matter how long we plan to be gone I have found that each time I plan one I seem to get a little better at it. Not that I am tooting my own horn or anything, but…..after a few of them we learned by what did and didn’t work on the previous trips.
1. Deciding where to go. – Whether you plan a year in advance to save up, or you decide on a spur of the moment long weekend away. We don’t let our kids help at this stage. They are 15 and almost 12 and honestly they couldn’t agree on a destination if their lives depended on it, and we would never go anywhere. So don’t tell them till you have a plan in place. We learned this trick a long time ago and I know many parents who do the same thing. Honestly it just makes for a miserable time leading up to the actual vacation because you are tired of hearing them ask, “What are we going to do while we are there?”.
2. Separate hotel rooms – Our kids are older and we usually take our oldest daughter who is 21 with us, but having a place to unwind and be kid free in my opinion is the best way to ensure a less stressful time for all involved. Plus side of this is if the hubs and I are feeling particularly ‘romantic’, we don’t have to be super quiet with our ‘sexy time’!!
3. Make reservations ahead of time – We learned this last time we drove from Iowa to Boston. It is a loooong ride! By the time we reached Buffalo, NY we were tired and there was no freaking way we were going to be able to make it another 12 hours to get to our final destination. So as I drove, hubby searched the interwebs on his phone and found a hotel and booked something through one of those booking sites. We re-programmed the GPS so it could direct us to the hotel. We arrive at the hotel and I pull up under the canopy and the kids and I sit in the car and wait while hubs goes in to get us checked in. He is in there longer than usual and I am starting to worry. Just then he comes out and looks like he is kind of muttering to himself. He gets in the car and tells me what took so long. Apparently the booking site and this hotel’s computer didn’t see eye to eye, because there was no sign of a reservation when hubs went to check in. So he had to stand there while someone physically went to see if there was actually a room available. (Obviously mid-October is a busy time in Buffalo, NY, who knew?).
4. Save time and money and bring your own food – Stopping for ‘fast food‘, is not fast especially when those places are in a travel center or truck stop plaza. There are lots of people milling about and waiting in lines. Plus, who really knows what is in those chicken nuggets? Now before I go any further, I am not a health nut or against fast food. But, when we travel I have discovered that fast food makes us feel all logy and blah and we seem to have to make more bathroom stops, if you know what I mean. We take flour tortillas with us because bread gets squished. We bring lunch meat and cheese, baby carrots & ranch dip in single serve cups. (less mess and worth the extra money), peanut butter and jelly, granola bars, apple slices, rice krispy treats, fruit snacks, nuts, baked chips (less greasy), goldfish crackers and of course some assorted snack size chocolate bars. We bring bottled water and packets of kool-aid that the kids can just dump in and shake up when they don’t want just plain water. Our last trip we stopped for gas and a pee break and parked off to the side out-of-the-way and opened up the doors so everyone could stretch and we all ate our lunch. It didn’t take long to make up sandwiches out of the cooler and we were getting gas and everyone got to pee…so we killed 3 birds with 1 stone.
5. Be Flexible – Things come up, kids get cranky, weather changes. I have found that once we decide where we are going and depending on the reasons for going there; visit family, illness of a family member. I try to look online for things to see and do where we are headed so we have some options. If something needs a reservation or to buy tickets ahead of time then I will do that and we don’t try to do anything else that day. We leave several days unplanned and as the days unfold we take several things into account and then plan our day from there based on the list of places we have printed out.
6. Do not rely solely on GPS – Our last trip to visit my sister who is ill, made us all grateful for my over-planning. We use Google maps on our cell phones for directions. For the most part it works amazing. But there were times when cell service dropped out and we were ‘driving blind’ so to speak. So I always print the directions and put them in order according to our trip plans. I put them in my purse or in the glove-box so whoever happens to be navigating can access them easily and find where we are and guide us to our next exit.
7. Pack a small ‘in the car’ bag for each kid – When my kids were younger I would buy a bunch of things like coloring books, crayons, stickers etc…and keep it up front with me and when they got crabby or fidgety I could hand back something to them. It kept them occupied for a little while and stunted the ‘Are we there yet?’ syndrome. Now that my kids are older I instruct each of them to pack a bag with whatever will keep them occupied. They usually have a book or two, paper and pencils to write or doodle, cell phones with headphones (they can only use the camera or play a game app that was loaded before we left). I also give them a ‘snack stash’ with Goldfish crackers, rice krispy treats, granola bars, a few single serve gummy snack bags, gum, mints, and a few pieces of chocolate. This is to last all day. They choose when to snack and if they eat it all at one time, that is not my problem!
8. DVD Players – This I find helps so much. I know a lot of TV isn’t good for kids and generally my kids do not watch much. But, each trip we take I try to buy some DVD’s that they haven’t seen yet. Since our van has a DVD system in it the kids can put headphones on and watch a movie and hubs and I can listen to music up front. The portable DVD players were a life saver in our old vehicle since it didn’t have the entertainment system. They each watched what they wanted to or they could watch the same movie at the same time by just connecting players with one cord. Besides, we will be so busy doing things they will be tired to watch much TV while we are on vacation so saving our sanity on the ride to and from, I welcome the DVD player.
9. Pack the car the day before – Many a vacation I have had everything packed but sitting by the door to put in the car just as we leave. This last time we packed everything up into the van the day before. We put the kids travel backpacks on their seats, maps in the glove-box, and left room to put the cooler in so it was accessible and easy to plug-in. (If you do not have one of these amazing coolers they are a great investment. They plug into a wall socket and into the car lighter. But you can’t leave it plugged in if the car is going to be parked for a while. We learned this the hard way and had to have a tow truck come and jump our car once…oops! ) These coolers also can be used as extra fridge space especially for rooms with just a small fridge or none at all. This trip I plan to even make up the sandwich wraps ahead of time since it will be even easier to serve lunch while on the road.
10. Have fun and make memories!! I know that vacations with kids can be stressful with the fun-filled days and kids get cranky being out of their regular environment. We try to just take things as they come and remind ourselves that we chose to have this experience with our kids, to make memories that we will have for a lifetime!
11. Have a trusted friend or neighbor check up on your house and pets – We have cats, and while cats are pretty self-reliant, they do need some care and feeding especially if you are going to be gone more than a couple of nights. We have a great friend who comes everyday to our house to feeds the cats, scoops their boxes and brings in the mail and just makes sure all is well. She actually goes above and beyond and comes twice a day!! It makes for a much more relaxing vacation knowing that someone is keeping an eye on our home. Even if we didn’t have cats I still like knowing that our home is secure. I make sure to compensate her for doing this for us with a treat when we get home or leave her something for her to find when she arrives the first day.
I can’t wait to leave on our next adventure in a few short days!! I may even have more tips to add to this list especially since every trip we always seem to find something we can streamline and make easier and less stressful!