“How Do You Do It?” Travel Edition

For a family of seven, we travel quite a bit. We really do not let our size get in the way of adventure. Life is just too short not to explore the world around us and visit those we love.

I’d be lying if I said travel was easy with kids. It’s not. And some things really cannot be avoided.

One instance is the numerous bathroom stops. Do we really need to choose between dehydration and 40 million stops in 8 hours? It’s an age old conundrum that does not really have a happy or sanitary conclusion.

But we do make a few trips a year and have learned some helpful things along the way that keep us safe and sane.

Pack Snacks.

Just do it. I usually get a few things that we don’t normally eat. Trail mix, almonds, crackers, sausage and cheese, carrots, apples are all good hand held options. I shy away from dipping things because it always ends in a huge mess I have to clean up later. Don’t give little children things that you’d be grossed out to find in your vehicle when you clean it two weeks later.

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Ethan raiding the snacks… we haven’t even left yet, Buddy!

Snacks are great because they can break up fights instantly. They are kinda magical in that way. Besides that, you can use them to stretch out times between meals. And if you are driving through a boring place, snacks can give you an extra boost so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Snacks are really like an extra life of Mario Brothers. You need them in your travel life.

Know Yourself.

What can you handle for driving and still be safe? Marathons may not work for you. That’s okay. We cannot do 24 hours of straight driving AND be safe at it, so we stop at a hotel if our destination is too far for us. Others can drive all night and be a champ. Limitations are up to the individual.

Keep in mind though, one of the reasons we choose not to drive through the night is this: That sleep you miss will make itself up one way or another on your vacation. We would rather be well-rested so we can spend the waking hours of the day making memories – not fighting sleep or being cranky for the duration. We would rather take our time and pace ourselves than waste a day making up for the sleep we missed.

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Another thing you need to know about yourself is what kind of conditions you can handle. I live in the frosty North, but I know that if the snow is piling up or conditions are blizzard-like, I don’t want to be on the highway. Especially in states with inferior or minimal plowing equipment. My husband can drive through a lot with confidence… so more power to him! Just remember, you want you and your family to be safe. Lack of confidence or know-how is a danger on the roadways. There is no shame in saying, “I’d rather wait until the weather lets up…”

Entertainment

I am not ashamed to say that we have a DVD player in the van. We bring along a variety of cheap, clean movies to keep the kids happy for the duration of the trip. But we do not play DVDs the whole trip.

No, we force our kids to look out the windows. Sometimes we torture them with music. The ABC game is a great go-to. They can bring books, coloring, school work… the choices are endless.

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Happy travelers… for now…

We really save DVDs as a nighttime thing or a naptime thing. When they are quiet, the baby can sleep. We really try not to make them our go-to on the road. They are just there when we need them.

Hotels

The key to our traveling success is overnight accommodations. We plan for them. We save for them. We depend on them. As you well know, we usually just book a room on our phones while we are on the road. That can be risky, but it usually works for us.

The Tennessee Welcome Stop... also known as our home away from home. ; )
The Tennessee Welcome Stop… also known as our home away from home. ; )

Now, there are a few things we consider when we book a room. We are choosy for a few reasons:

-We want a clean place. Nothing is worse than being sick on a trip.

-We want beds. A double queen room will not do for us.

-We want breakfast. For free.

-We want affordable.

This limits us. We keep in mind our motto, “Life is expensive.” Then we use our tools to get the best room at the best price.

1. Trip Advisor: This is where I start. We type in a location and get up-to-date user reviews for any hotel we are interested in. It is really a travel encyclopedia for us. Is it clean? Is the breakfast good? Is the area around the hotel okay? We find out here.

2. Six Suitcase Travel: If you are a bigger family, Six Suitcase will be a handy guide to hotels with space to sleep at least six, if not more. They also dedicate their site to tips and tricks of traveling with a large family.

3. Hotel websites: I’m not talking Travelocity or Expedia. I’m talking specific hotel websites. I find online prices from Trip Advisor and then will often go to the actual hotel site to see if they have a cheaper rate in tandem with our AAA membership. Last resort, I’ll call the hotel itself to see what their lowest price is. You’d be surprised how you can save working with the hotel direct.

4. AAA: Sometimes you save a lot, sometimes it just covers those pesky room taxes. It is worth it in the long run. Remember though, travel websites (Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline) usually do not take travel memberships into consideration when giving you a lowest price.

I know this seems like a run-around, but hotel searching will save you heartache in the long run. And if you travel the same route to Grandma’s house, you will eventually find some “go-to” places to stay.

Stretching Those Leggies!!

With kids, you need to let them out to run and use the bathroom, not unlike puppies. It is really better for everyone if you do. Sometimes, a McDonalds playland will work, but you really should buy something…. We like rest areas.

Rest areas can be risky, but usually they are well taken care of. Often times there will be a state trooper on site, which ups the safety factor. Some have playgrounds, but ALL have wide open space for the kids to run. Except in Chicago, when they are in the middle of the interstate.

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Stretching legs in North Carolina

The Welcome centers are usually really nice because each state wants to make a good first impression. Some are mini-museums. Don’t pass them by.

Perhaps making a stop at a museum, or store, or some attraction can help as well. It lets your whirling dervishes know that they are not being tortured. You are supposed to be having fun, right? Why not make the journey as fun as the destination?

Relax.

The mishaps and craziness make for great memories later on. Remember that. Don’t sit fretting over every expense and tab. It’s vacation. Enjoy the adventure with your family!

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