Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our Family Road Trip Tips

Yesterday's post concluded our stops on our trip. We left one Thursday evening after Clint arrived home from work and returned that Sunday afternoon. It was a very full few days, and we had so much fun! There are many things we did to make the trip easier. Brandon and Amanda had to attend classes, so we only had five children ages 12 down to 3. I have put down some of the things I do to make trips easier and less costly for our family here in case they can bless someone else.

Our family drinks water most of the time. It is very rare for us to have a soda. Not only are sodas bad for you, but they also seem to necessitate more frequent bathroom stops. We use the very large insulated mugs to hold water and ice for the day for everyone except Emily and Hannah. It is much like having your own thermos. Emily and Hannah have smaller insulated cups that they can handle easier. It cuts down on washing and ice usage in our household. We took these on our trip, so cold water was available at all times. One bag of ice filled all of them with a little left over for the cooler. A gallon jug of water refilled them as needed.

For most meals, we stopped at a grocery store and picked up sandwich fixings or a rotisserie chicken, fruit, healthy crackers, and a small treat like cookies. Not only was it a healthier choice over fast food restaurants, but it was easier on the wallet. I made use of coupons and in store specials and saved $16 in one stop on $30 worth of food.

We ate breakfast at the hotels. We ate protein (eggs, ham, sausage, bacon) and complex carbohydrates (fruit, whole grain toast) choosing to skip the simple carbs (waffles, muffins, danishes) because we knew those would make us hungry again sooner and were full of empty calories. Once, per permisson from the desk clerk of the hotel, we let them hold onto a danish for after lunch.

I kept on board the suburban a first aid kit. I packed it from items we already had on hand at home into a large zipper freezer bag. This packs flat and is easy to tuck into a duffel bag or under my seat.

I also pack a large freezer bag with napkins, plastic cutlery, condiments, and spices to make "moving meals" easier. I also keep hand sanitizer on board.

Plastic cups are the easiest way I have found to serve some foods inside of a moving vehicle. I often fill a cup up with whole grain cereal for breakfast on the go, as a side item, or a snack. When possible, I layer their meal in the cup: steamed broccoli in the bottom, chicken breast in the middle, and half a wheat roll on top.

We planned ahead for stops at places the children could get out and burn off energy. If we happened upon a place, like an open field beside a fast food place, we let them run for 15-20 minutes. Making sure they had fun, I kept them moving fast and hard the entire time because I knew they'd be cooped up for another stretch of time. We'd chase Clint, or hop in a line, or let them run in circles. I do this away from areas people are congregating, but we usually have someone walk over to talk to us or the children.

We do not time our driving time, and our schedule is kept flexible. We go for a no stress, fun for everyone adventure. If your goal is reaching a destination in a certain time limit, you are racing a clock. If your goal is to provide a relaxed and enjoyable experience for every single member of your family, you are on a family vacation. What good is it to get to a destination in record time, if everyone is miserable, uncomfortable, and grumpy? The ride is the best time to bond with your family on the trip because you are all in one place without many distractions, so you can really talk and enjoy one another if you choose to do so.

Even when we go away for two weeks, I only pack 3 days worth of clothing for most of us. That make four total outfits per person because they are wearing one. I add an extra shirt for each of us just in case. I make sure everyone also haves a jacket or long sleeved shirt when there might be a chill in the evenings. For the younger children I packed two extra shirts and an extra pair of pants. This cuts down on space needed for luggage. We threw all of our dirty clothes into one washing machine twice and came home with clean clothes.

I packed pint sized canning jars with laundry detergent and fabric softener. This took up little space, but also cut costs...especially since I make my own laundry detergent and fabric softener.

We made sure every one's needs were met. A trip is about making memories, bonding, exploring, and getting some down time from the hectic pace of life. Within reason, if someone is not enjoying themselves, we try to remedy it. However, we do not cater to our children's whims or bad behavior. We do not tolerate whining or bad attitudes...

As a general rule: If there is a bad attitude, I think first on the child's physical needs. Have they had a proper diet and meals on time? Did they sleep well last night? Have they had too much excitement? If it isn't physical, I address the emotional and spiritual issues. What has made you upset? Why? What is a godly response to this situation? How can I restore peace? With warring siblings, we seek to establish mutual understanding, forgiveness and peace.

When someone does get out of line, for whatever reason, we do our best to respond patiently with love. Self-control means we keep in control of ourselves...our attitudes, our voices, our thoughts, our words, and our body language. To lose control compounds the problem. We end up having two misbehaving people to deal with: them and ourselves! You know it's bad when Mom needs to put herself in time out!!

We planned ahead for bathroom breaks. If everyone knows when you start that you are going to stop in one hour, they are more willing to wait patiently. I explain time to my younger children in TV show increments. "Do you remember how long it takes for Daddy to get home once I tell you he has left work? Well, it will take twice as long as that to finish driving tonight." or "It will take the same amount of time it takes for you to watch three (favorite half hour cartoon)." If they can relate it to something they CAN do, they know they can do it.

I pack books, small hand held games, small dolls, sandwich bags of Lego pieces, notepads and pencils, small coloring books and crayons, etc. I sometimes combine sets (like a doll with brush and clothing) in zippered pencil bags I picked up on sale during back to school sales. These make the perfect size for stowing on board a vehicle and for opening for use in car seats or laps.

Parents have needs too. We made sure we took time for ourselves and each other each day as best we could. We put the children in their beds and talked quietly. We laid down on the grass together while we watched them play. We held hands and walked alone while watching them run together up a trail. We rubbed each other's backs in the evenings. I massaged Clint's neck with my left hand on the drive. We took turns soaking in the tub. Little things add up to a nice experience.

Clint and I kept an eye out for travel brochures and hotel coupon guides books. This allowed us to know which hotel chains were in the area and compare rates and amenities without using a computer.

Clint negotiated with the hotel desk clerks. He was able to book two large adjoining suites for two nights at a very nice hotel much cheaper than he could get one room for two nights at another hotel. We expected the price at the nicer hotel to be much higher than the first one we checked. Due to the nature of an event in town, they knew the larger rooms would probably be unused, but the smaller rooms were booked up at nearly every hotel for miles. So, they offered us a deal to take the larger rooms together so they could put us in there and save their smaller rooms for the people they KNEW were coming into town. You never know what circumstances will affect what kind of deal you can get until you ask! I believe it also helped to mention we checked prices with their competitor across the street before we went to them.