Dec 10 2009
Are you heading over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for Christmas? Or perhaps taking advantage of the school vacation to take a family vacation? While you’re making your holiday road-trip plans, keep these tips in mind. They helped us survive (and enjoy) a 17-day, 3700-mile trip with four young kids last Christmas.
- Prepare a detailed itinerary . . . but be prepared to change it.
Know how far you have to go, and how long it will take to drive there. Make hotel reservations and plan your fun stops and destinations. But work in the flexibility to change plans if necessary. Look for liberal hotel cancellation policies. Write down the hours (and holiday closures) of attractions you plan to visit, in case you don’t get there on the day you had planned. We ended up leaving two days early to outrun a blizzard, and then being sick in a hotel room for a day. We still got to see most of WHAT we intended, but not always WHEN we had anticipated.
- Plan lots to do . . . but don’t plan to do it all.
Jot down every thing that you might possibly want to do along your route, and perhaps an alternate route as well. Then, when a highly-anticipated museum only holds the kids’ interest for 16 minutes, you can easily move on to something else you’ll enjoy, because you have your list of possibilities at your fingertips. On the other hand, don’t force yourself to do everything on your list. If everyone’s having a great time at the Air & Space Museum, is it worth rushing through just so you can go stand in line for the White House? Weigh your priorities. Fully enjoy what you’re doing at the time, even if it means missing out on something else.
- Stick to your routine . . . but allow it to be flexible.
Again, prioritize. What’s most important to you? Bedtime? Mealtime? Not eating junk food? For us, our routine is kept roughly the same as usual: Early to bed, early to rise, although naps in the car may allow later bedtimes. Three good meals a day, but lunch and dinner are usually eaten earlier than normal. Snacks are more liberally given on vacation, as they can be boredom-busters as well as taking care of hunger pangs.
- Make a budget . . . and then add some wiggle room.
Know how much things are going to cost–gas, hotels, meals–but have the ability to make it through if things cost more. A special souvenir for the family, unexpected vehicle repairs, even hotel taxes–they can be little or big things that catch you off guard. Have enough money available that you can enjoy your trip and make it safely home again even if there was something you didn’t budget for.
- Stop for breaks . . . but keep driving if the kids are happy.
I’ve heard people say that they stop every hour when they’re traveling with kids. Not us. For one thing, every stop adds time to the drive and takes time from the fun. The clock might read noon, but if the kids are happily reading and coloring, drive another hour until they’re hungry and restless and really need a break. If you, the parent, need a bathroom break but the kids are sleeping, deal with your discomfort. On our trip last year, we drove 600 miles in one day with only two stops–lunch and supper. (And we happen to be one of those no-DVD-player-in-the-car families.) No one needed to use the bathroom in between meals, and we had snacks in the car. The kids were happy, so we kept driving, and arrived at our destination with extra time to relax and stretch out. That being said, if you do have to stop, try to make it somewhere fun where kids can work off some energy. A children’s museum is great if you have a reciprocal membership, or a playground if the weather is cooperative, in making a stop be part of the vacation fun.
A cross-country trip may sound daunting, but it can be a great family experience. Just remember that you can’t see it all, so enjoy all of what you do get to see. Have a good trip, and a very merry Christmas!
- Using a “Vacation Book” to Organize a Road Trip and Keep Kids Involved
- Holiday Travel Planning
- How We Travel
- A Travelogue in Books
- Six Suitcase Travel: Resource for Finding Large-Family Hotel Rooms
- What’s In a Membership?
- Top 5 Tips for a Successful Outing with Kids