• 29 September 2010
by Guest Blogger, Rebecca Mudrick
I'm a bit of a restless soul and love to travel. But with 4 monkeys in tow and a tight budget, travel for our family typically means hitting the road rather then flying. My monkeys may complain about road trips, but ask them how many states they've visited and they won't hesitate to tell you about the places we've been and the things we've seen. At ages 5, 8 & 10 my 3 oldest have already traveled through 44 states and I love that we can provide them with memorable experiences that don't break the bank.
Here are a few tips/tricks we've learned as we've logged many miles on the road:
- careful planning is essential for lengthy road trips. I try to plan a route that breaks up the driving with stops that are active and kid friendly. We may try to drive 4 - 6 hours in the morning, spend 4 - 5 hours in the afternoon hiking around a national park, eat dinner, and then log another 2 - 4 hours in the evening before we stop at a motel for the night. Substantial breaks from the car make the road trip feel like less of a drive and more like a vacation. Also, careful planning means that you can book your hotel in advance, which saves about $20/night than if you make a same-day reservation.
- reduce car clutter. We invested in a Thule car top carrier and only pack essentials in the back of our car. Keeping the car neat and clean keeps this Mommy in a much better mood as we drive, and keeping the boys organized means they are less likely to complain about having nothing to do. We keep healthy snacks and drinks in the back and move up only enough to tide us over until our next stop. Trash bags get emptied with every stop.
- unplug the kids. No one feels good when they zone out in front of a screen all day, and there are lots of road trip activities that will keep both kids and adults entertained and happy. We love listening to books on cd and have found quite a few that we can all enjoy (Roald Dahl books are definite favorites). I put together an activity bag for each monkey with a sketch book, map of our route, books, stickers, markers, mad libs, etc. For a special treat, I'll wrap a cheap toy/gift for each child to open every day we are on the road, which provides excitement and entertainment as they play with something new. And of course there are classic road trip games: I spy, 20 questions, the alphabet game, the license plate game, etc.
-reduce the nightly schlep and streamline the morning hustle. I hate dragging sleepy kids and loads of luggage into a motel late at night. To ease the nightly schlep, I pack a complete set of clothes for each member of our family into individual bags (usually a plastic shopping bag) and stuff those bags into a large duffel we keep in the trunk. Toiletries and pj's for mom and dad go into a separate bag. When we stop to sleep, I grab one set of clothes out of the duffel, the bag of toiletries, and leave the rest of our stuff in the car. The monkeys shower and sleep in their clothes for the next day, which means in the morning all we have to do is eat breakfast and jump back in the car and it's so. much. easier.
- if you're going to sit, do it in the car. I've learned (the hard way) that my kids don't behave well at a sit-down restaurant when they've been sitting in the car all day. So now we pack food to eat in the car or hit a drive thru (sometimes they're a necessary evil) so we can log miles while we eat, and stop where we can run around. This doesn't work as well for multi-day trips, when you simply can't avoid stopping to eat. In this case, we do our best to run the monkeys around outside while we wait for our food, etc.
- make unexpected stops. One of the best things about road trips are the surprises along the way: the rodeo in Arizona, field of flowers in Arkansas, train museum in Tennessee, corn field in Kansas, 5-legged cow in Kansas, etc. These stops often mean driving a bit later then planned, but they're authentic, crazy and fun.
- make love, not war. About 10 years ago my husband and I heard the best road trip tip ever: make love, not war. Huh? A woman called in to an NPR travel show to share how she and her husband would help their kids behave on road trips: if the kids were fighting, this couple would pull over and start kissing. Their kids would - as expected - gross out and agree to do anything just to make it stop. Does "anything" include getting along with each other? Definitely. My monkeys are just getting to the age where this might work, and I can't wait to test it out. ;)
Rebecca also blogs at Overexposed and Darling Art.