Friday, June 17, 2016

Family Road Trip Survival Guide

Our most recent trip from Arizona through New Mexico and into the mountains of Colorado prompted my dear friend (who I will just call NW) and I to throw together this Road Trip Survival Guide. Before meeting us in Colorado, NW and her family of 8 took a huge trip from Arizona to Indiana and back again hitting up 10 states in the process. They are veteran road trippers (last year they went AZ to DC!) so I have taken notes from them, on this and many other areas of our parenting journey.  The result is this Family Road Trip Survival Guide. 

Plan Your Route
Spontaneity is great and all, but putting in a little extra time and energy to research the best route, complete with stops for food and fun can make or break a trip. Sometimes the best route is not the shortest route. A route that adds 30 minutes, but includes a great hotel for the night or an awesome hike can be a huge bonus. Interesting drives with elevation changes and changes in vegetation can also be great for the kid who just likes to look out the window. Hours of looking at the same landscape can make the driver a little bit crazy too.  Map your trip a few different ways and then look to see what works best. AAA will do a triptik for you online (click here) but if you want their free books and maps you have to be a member. You also need to order them weeks ahead of time. 

Stop Along the Way
Don’t be afraid to stop and let the kids run, hike, or play a while. Giving everyone a chance to get in a hour or so of play time or exercise with lift everyone’s spirits and reduce the overall grumpiness in the car.  Taking a decent stop will also break your driving up into two smaller trips rather than one big trip.  Give your kids and yourself the ‘goal’ of getting to the hike, not the end of the day stop.  Let them know you will drive for, say four hours, and then stop for a snack and a hike, or park with some equipment.

Where You Stay Matters
Where you stop to lay your head at night makes a difference.  We are huge fans of the Embassy Suites chain (book here).  They have two room suites and sleep 6 easily.  Each hotel has a manager reception in the evening complete with snacks and free adult beverages. After driving all day the last thing we want to do is make the kids sit in a restaurant. We want them to fill up on some healthy snacks and then head to the pool for a pre-bedtime swim.  We generally don’t buy dinner that night because after eating out for lunch and snacking all day in the car, we just need a little something in the tummies.  My man-child needs a little something more now that he is a teen, but that means only feeding one (not 6!).  When we have missed the reception (typically only goes to 7 or 7:30) we have ordered pizza and had it delivered to the hotel.  It is much cheaper than room-service and it is fun to eat poolside. 

The Embassy Suites can also contain all our family in beds and they have a free full-breakfast which is nice.  Dad can take the kids down to eat while I pack up (or vice-versa) and the children can fill their tummies before we hit the road.  We paid a little more for the room, but got dinner, drinks, and breakfast without a drive so it works for us. 

Books on Tape and Travel Apps
Find an app like Overdrive (click here) where you rent from the library and it is free.  You can link multiple libraries to the account. Audible (click here) is also great because it has a free initial trial period. You can down load a book and then turn it on when the kids start bickering on the second half of the day.  The story can lull the little ones to sleep and keep those bigger ones from complaining. Book ideas are at the end of this post. Just click on the title and it will bring you to the link.  My friend Phoebe also has a great app called PlateGames (click here).  Basically there are 4 different License Plate Bingo games you can download and play. 

Food Fun
Provide a little food fun for them along the way.  We are a mostly gluten-free family so we pack a mini-ice chest with salami and cheeses, fruit, beef jerky, and granola bars.  For our last trip I made blueberry muffins before we left and those were a big treat (although in hindsight they were a little too crumbly for the car!).

Reward System
A few years back when we had an Arizona-Oregon road trip during which we implemented a reward system called Daddy Dollars.  Each hour we give each child a Daddy Dollar. That Daddy Dollar is earned by good behavior. Hitting your sibling, complaining, whining, and asking “how much longer” are all behaviors that result in no Daddy Dollar for the hour.  Showing the virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, charity, love, hope, self-control, sense of wonder etc.) result in extra daddy dollars. For instance, if our kids are looking out the window and express amazement at the beautiful scenery, they get an extra Daddy Dollar. If they help their sibling reach something – extra daddy dollar.  Anything that encourages them to look away from the i-pad and engage positively with the world around them gets them a Daddy Dollar. We are super generous with the dollars!  The last leg of a trip we often do a bonus hour because it is a lot harder to be nice when you have been driving all day. At each stop we let them look in the store (kept in the back of the car) and purchase items. The store is filled with coloring books, magazines, travel games, and even credits for the app store. Additionally we will let the older ones purchase junk food at gas stations using Daddy Dollars. It is vacation after all.

Something Special
As it the trip weren’t enough… it can be fun to do a little something extra for the kids.  I ordered a little pillow stuffing (amazon delivered it the same day!!) and picked up some cheep fabric at the fabric outlet, and made little pillows and a blanket for the trip.  I did break two needles and messed up my brothers machine after I broke mine (sigh), but in the end the kids each had a perfect size travel pillow for the trip.  I encouraged them to each bring a small (like baby blanket size) blanket in the car as well because we can NEVER agree on the right temperature for the car.  The kids were super excited about their pillows and it helped them create a cozy little nest in their space. It also kept them from trying to bring all their bedding (which they always want to do) in the car. 

Enjoy the Journey
Try to focus on the journey and not just the destination.  This is a tough one for us because my husband generally hates road trips. Like many adults he wants to just GET THERE already but that mentality can make 8 hours in the car with kids really miserable. I drove most of the way for the first time and that helped immensely because he got to relax. We got the National Geographic Roadtrip for Kids book (buy here) and it was great. The kids can follow along and see where we are on the trip and what the local landmarks are. The maps on our phone don’t generally have landmarks indicated, but if you bring a old-fashioned paper map the kids can mark the way as you go.  It can be really helpful for them to see where you are and how far they have come.

With just a little intentionality (okay a lot) you can turn your family trip into something that more closely resembles a vacation - if you don't know the difference click here. For tips on traveling with other families click here - I tell all about our first trip with NW and her fabulous family. 

Happy travels to you all & thanks for stoping by!

Great Audible Books for Download

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