Nov 25 2008

Holiday Travel Planning

I apologize for the infrequent posts in the past week.  I’ve been doing some travel planning and it takes a surprising amount of time.  If you’re interested in learning how a mom with a husband and four kids plans a two-week, 2700-mile road trip in the winter, read on.

  • When should we go? This will be our “summer” vacation, since we could never get away during the summer.  It’s going to work out that we visit my sister and her family in Ohio for Christmas, and my parents will be there at the same time.  By having the older two kids miss 1.5 days of school, we’ll have 15 travel days instead of 11.
  • Where should we go? Ohio was our original destination, but when we discovered we could add the extra days, we decided to take the extra time to go to Philadelphia since it’s “only” 8 hours from Columbus.  It’s a destination that might be better when the kids are older, but when opportunities appear, we jump on them.  There’s a lot left in this country for us to see in future years!
  • What sites will we see? I get a general idea in mind (Philadelphia and Gettysburg) and then start with the state and local visitors’ bureaus.  If they’ll mail packets of information, I send for that right away because I prefer paper guides and the kids love getting the mail.  I also ask hubby and the kids if they know of any sites at our destinations.  Hubby’s always wanted to go to Gettysburg, and I didn’t have the word “Philadelphia” out of my mouth before the boys yelled “Liberty Bell!”  I find as much as I can and start a list on paper or on the computer of all the possibilities we’d like to see.  Sites like Uptake also help to find interesting things to do.
  • Where will we stay? This is sometimes the hardest for us; not every hotel has rooms that will accommodate the six of us.  Sometimes our overnight stops get changed because I can’t find appropriate rooms.
  • Daily itineraries? When I make my possibilities lists, I write what, where, when it’s open, and cost.  Then I start to map things out.  Our Monday plan was tricky, because a lot of things aren’t open, but I managed to find enough things to fill our day.  Our museum memberships often help us to find free stops to break up the trip.
  • Keeping track? In the past, I’ve made elaborate Word documents with each day’s itineraries and backup activities.  This time, I’m trying to put it all in my Outlook calendar.  My hope is that I can import it to a Yahoo or Google calendar and be able to view and make changes on the road.  On this listing, I include contact info, website, costs, and driving and parking info, as well as hotel reservation information.
  • Mapping it out. I’m trying out Microsoft Streets and Trips to calculate times and distances, although it’s not giving me the printing options I’d prefer.  We’ll have the GPS, atlases, and state maps in the car, so the preliminary maps are purely informational.  I also create maps of our route for each of the kids, highlighting our roads, so they don’t always have to ask “what town is next?” or “how far is it?” along the way.
  • What’s left to do? Packing is going to be a big one.  Winter survival gear takes up a fair amount of room in the back of the van, and winter clothes take up more suitcase room than the shorts and t-shirts of summer.  I’m hoping to do laundry at least once along the way.  I also need to start thinking about snacks and activities for the kids that will keep them entertained yet not be messy in the car.

How do we do it once we’re on the road?

  • Hubby drives most of the time, while I’m the primary navigator.
  • Our longest driving days are about 8 hours.
  • Except for scheduled stops like museums or other sites, we don’t plan rest stops.  We often eat meals earlier than usual, and if the kids are asleep we definitely don’t wake them up!  It actually works best when the stagger their car-sleeping times; there are fewer arguments then.
  • I have two different snack methods:  the “mom doles things out every so often” method, and the “here’s your bag of snacks for the day; ration them appropriately” approach, which tends to result in less whining and more responsibility on the kids’ parts.
  • Early to bed, early to rise: at motels, we often go to bed when the kids do. It helps them to fall asleep if we’re not moving around in the room, and we’re usually tired out from our busy days.
  • Making it fun:  We play a lot of “I Spy” and alphabet games and have a wide variety of “kid music” on the MP3 player.  The boys will have new digital cameras to keep them busy; and investment in batteries may be worth a lot of peace.
  • Prepping the kids:  Since we’ll be visiting a lot of historic places, I made a big stop at the library today so we can get as much out of the trip as possible.  We talk a lot about appropriate behavior en route to our sites so the kids are reminded what is expected of them.

Will it be perfect? Not a chance!  My biggest fears are that we hit bad weather, someone gets sick, or we have large crowds along the way.  Having a peanut allergy in the family makes mealtimes a little more challenging.  And having four little kids in the car is often less than peaceful.

Still, I’m anticipating a fun trip, visiting family and friends, seeing new sites, and our ritual of asking the kids each day what their favorite things were.  The trip will be both too long and too short, and we’ll wish we could have stayed longer yet be glad to be home.

Are you traveling during the holidays this year?  How do you plan your trips get things to go smoothly?


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One comment so far

One Comment to “Holiday Travel Planning”

  1. Debbie Dubrow on 26 Nov 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Great tips! I love the ideas about how to dole out snacks.

    Debbie Dubrow’s last blog post..Passports With Purpose Update

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