Tag Archives: vacation

Tips for Road Trips with Kids

We’re heading out of town this next week for my sister’s wedding in San Diego. Because flights have become so expensive, we are bravely tackling the journey there by hitting the road super early and driving for 10 hours.

That’s 10 hours, one car, 4 passengers (DQ is riding with my parents to save room).

Luckily, I love road trips. They’re way more adventurous than flying in a plane. With the right soundtrack (yes, I burn several CDs and put a musical spin on my drive) and a couple planned rest stops to see the sights, a road trip can be soooo much fun. My kids have grown accustomed to the drive (we have made it every year on our own), so they tend to agree. But Mr. W and his son ~ who prefer an hour long plane ride to 10 hours on the road any day ~ are a tad bit apprehensive over the idea that come Saturday, we will all be cooped up in one car for so long.

Don’t worry, guys. Everything is going to be just fine as long as there’s a Starbucks every 50 miles and I get to listen to MY music.

Here are a couple things I’ve learned in my years of road trip adventures:

If possible, travel at night
This is hard to do as a driver, I admit. It’s especially hard if you’re the only driver. But it is much easier, especially when the kids are younger, to drive long distance at a time when they’re sleeping.  At the very least, start the trip early enough for them to fall back asleep before breakfast. There is less “Are we there yet?” and “I’m hungry!” and “I have to go to the bathroom!” And there’s the luxury of having the road almost entirely to yourself. Of course, if you’re going to drive all night, be sure to get plenty of rest the day before and pack a caffeinated beverage to sip on the way. Plan on stopping every 2 hours or less to stretch your legs. And if you find your eyes dropping unsafely, don’t push it. Pull over in a safe place and take a nap, or check into a motel.

Don’t overpack
This is especially true of TOYS. Your kid does not need every single toy they own when leaving home. They take up too much room in the car. And inevitably, the one they want will be buried under all the toys they decide they’re not interested in. Instead, have them choose a total of three or less toys to bring – and that’s all. Better? Buy them a special toy and don’t give it to them until you’re on the road. They’re guaranteed to play with it longer than their old toys before they huck it at your head.

Bring things to do
If you are under the impression that your child is going to play “I Spy” for 8 hours straight, be prepared to hear a ton of whining. There is NOTHING worse than a bored kid. Bring books, trivia games, mini board games, or visit sites like roadtripplanning.com for some other brilliant ideas on how to keep the kids occupied for a long time on the road. My favorite tip was to make up stories about the family in the car next to yours. Knowing my family, the stories that come about might not be suitable for young ears.

Make it magical
My brilliant cousin recently went on a road trip to Disneyland with her family. But she didn’t tell them where they were going. Her trusting children didn’t even question her as they packed up the kids and set out on an overnight trip. As they got closer, my cousin gifted them with a goodie bag holding little trinkets as clues to where they were going. It only dawned on them when they pulled out Mickey Mouse hats that they were actually going to the Happiest Place on Earth. How magical is that?

We try to avoid stopping too much for food when on the road. I hate spending excessive amounts of money on something I consume, and I also don’t like to open myself up to digestive problems while on the road. Plus, there is inevitably one kid who goes from full to hungry in a matter of minutes. Easiest way to tackle this is to pack a cooler of food. But car food has to be easy to eat without making a mess. Best bets are always grapes (cut them up for young kids to ensure there’s no choking while you’re driving!), pre-made sandwiches, dry cheerios, peeled oranges, carrot sticks, trail mix, pretzels, string cheese, beef jerky, crackers…

I asked around for some more tips on how to survive a road trip.  You can see all of the answers by CLICKING HERE.  Here are some of my favorites:

Traveling with Kids:

Jessica:  Make sure to have games that they can play together & apart, have good music everyone can agree on, have lots of healthy snacks & drinks to keep from buying junk, get lots of hand wipes or gel for the bathroom breaks on the road, find a way for them to nap in the car without hurting their neck & find some great stops along the way that they can stretch their legs & will have fun looking at & taking pics 🙂

Angie: Audio books! The kids (and us) get wrapped up in a story and the time FLIES! Lots of stops and breaks…and snacks!

Amanda: Apps!

Sarah:  One time I actually pulled it together to give my kids a strip of tickets. Every half hour they could turn in a ticket for a trinket. They were excited about the prizes and could visually see how much time was left by how many tickets they still had.

Gina:  Before we drove down to Disneyland last year, I went to the dollar store and found Disney themed things to have in the car. And downloaded some Disney albums from iTunes. I kept all the stuff up front with me, and dished it out as we went, so there was something new every hour or so. The most popular with my kids were the Mickey chalkboards, and the Treasure Hunt game I made. You fill a 2 liter bottle with rice and little trinkets (I used 23 items: eraser, paperclip, a plastic bug, an M&M, etc). They have to roll the bottle around to find all the things you have placed in the bottle. I kept the master list, so they would know when they found everything. They still have them in their rooms. 🙂

Must Haves:

Nancy: Non-smelly passengers

Jessica: Carrots and sliced bell peppers!! Oh and radio Disney

Shelly: water, snacks, good tunes and…dvd’s for the kids!!

Catherine: Twizzlers

Oh, Twizzlers…..  Is anything a more perfect junk food than those?  I am highly addicted…

Do you travel long distance with the kids in tow? What are some of your tried and true tips for taking a road trip with kids?

Vacationing with teens

It’s vacation time and your kids are finally old enough to not have to be on a child leash or watched every second so that they don’t run off in the crowd. Nope, they’re teenagers now. So surely it will be easier.

Are you off your rocker?

Sure, traveling with teenagers is nothing like traveling with a toddler. But as far as difficulty goes, it’s pretty much even. They don’t want to see that museum you wish to check out. They are vocal about how “stupid” the scenery is or how boring the plans you laid out are. They are hardly impressed with the hotel you have chosen. They are totally embarrassed to be seen anywhere with you, and spend the whole vacation walking several yards behind you – as if they actually sprung up out of the ground instead of admitting they are related to you. And it is apparent, your vacation has totally interrupted their social life.

However, a family vacation with your difficult teen can still be successful – maybe even fun.

The most important tip I can suggest to you is to include your teen in the planning of the trip. If they are a part of the brainstorming suggestions for where to go and what hotel to stay in, they are more inclined to enjoy it. After all, it was “their idea”. And teens have some really great ideas for why someplace would be great to visit. This is also a great way to teach them lessons in budgeting as you go over prices of airfare, hotel, car rentals, food, and all other vacation related expenses.

Nix the museums or travel places dedicated to things such as architecture (unless your teen is really into those kinds of things), and steer more towards vacations that are more activity oriented. Places like the beach, camping trips, or big city adventures are very appealing to kids in this age group. Even better, allow the kids of the family to come up with one fun activity each for the whole family to do. The more fun you have planned for the family, the less time they can claim they are bored. And in the meantime, they will hopefully forget that you are embarrassing them.

If your budget allows, book a separate room for your teens. They want their own space too, and a little bit of room for them to spread out will help them not feel so suffocated by family time. Not only that, you won’t be forced to step over all of their mess in the hotel room. Extra bonus? You get a little alone time on vacation with your spouse to do….well, I’ll leave that up to you.

Let your teen still be the tech slave they are at home – to a degree. Sure, it would be nice if your teenager would stop texting their friends or checking Facebook the whole time they are away from home. But let’s be realistic. This is a very big part of who they are. If necessary, set guidelines for when they are allowed to be sucked in by technology. Set up times during the day when they can text their friends. If overseas, check into internet options at the hotel so they can communicate through a computer. Just think about how your vacation will be with a sulking deprived teen. Yup, it’s better to keep the technology around.

Finally, ease up on the rules. This is their vacation too. If they are sleeping in late, would rather hang at the hotel pool than the ocean, or are making the hotel room just as messy as their room at home – bite your tongue and choose your battles carefully. At this age, you can enjoy breakfast without them as they sleep in. You can trade off days at the pool or the ocean. And the mess? That’s what corners are for. Look the other way and spend as little time in the room as possible.

Are you vacationing with a teen this summer? Perhaps you already have. What are some tips that you have come across that can allow a family vacation to still be fun?

Hotel hunting? Check the reviews.

Our family finalized all the plans for our annual vacation to San Diego this summer. This year, instead of staying with my sister as usual, we decided to get a hotel room instead. We found that getting our room through Hotels.com was the best deal, as they shaved $30 or more dollars a night off the price than the actual hotel did. But another cool feature? They allow guests to post their own photos of the hotel on their site.

My daughter and I were perusing the other hotels after we chose the one we were going to stay in, mostly to drool over the ones that were way out of our price range. And in our search, we found some at obscenely low prices as well. We clicked on one, and that’s when we discovered the guest photos. And we also discovered WHY some of these hotels were so inexpensive:

Here is a lovely picture of a victim of BED BUG BITES.

We were dying, we were laughing so hard! I mean, it’s so not funny. It’s actually really gross. But looking through all the photos, there was an obvious discrepency between the photos the hotels supplied and the real photos that guests supplied. There weren’t just pictures of bed bugs (and yes, there were actual pictures of the critters themselves), but of how tiny the rooms and beds were, how some doors didn’t even clear the bed, how the heater was old fashioned and behind the bed, how the mold in the bathroom had obviously been growing for quite some time…

Most people will book their hotel online. Obviously, that means you are not seeing the hotel in person and are relying on the website to show you where you’ll be staying. And if it’s a place that you’ve never been before, there is reason to be a little on guard. My tip for the day? Before booking your reservation, be sure to check out the comments, and photos if they have them, from guests who have actually stayed at the hotel.

What's up for summer vacation?

It’s time to start planning out your summer vacation. What?!? It’s only May! Exactly. In less than one month those kids are going to be out of school and bored out of their mind unless you have some fun activities lined up for them. And rather than wait until June 1st, the time to start planning your summer itinerary is NOW!

So what to do?

I’m glad you asked. The best way to create a fun summer is to stick your kids on a loose schedule. Mark on your calendar certain activities for certain days, such as making Monday a pool day and Friday a library day. During the school year, kids are on a pretty tight schedule. In class, they know what days they get PE, and they know which days are library day. After school activities are the same way. This helps them to be prepared for the week, and to know what to expect. It also helps the weeks go by faster, and helps them to retain the information they are required to learn. Let’s face it, when there are unexpected surprises thrown at a child, it can cause them to lose focus and become cranky. Even as adults we tend to become more scattered when our routines are interrupted. Putting a schedule in place will help alleviate the “Mom, I’m bored!” blues, or the “What are we going to do today?” anthem. Of course, this is summer vacation. The main reason that a child looks forward to summer vacation all year long is because they have been overscheduled for 9 months out of the year. So always leave room for downtime so that your child can sleep in a little and also have time to play with their friends or rediscover the toys in their room.

One of the things that my daughter suggested for summer vacation is to create a Bucket List of all the things that the family would like to do over the summer. This can be a great conversation at dinnertime as the whole family participates in brainstorming ideas for activities. Together, my daughter and I created a list for moms of big and little kids, which I have included in the Santa Rosa Mom forums. Some of those ideas include bike riding, watching planes take off at the airport, having a picnic, collecting bugs and having a bug race, painting a picture, decorating the sidewalk with chalk art, holding a backyard campout, and grabbing a camera and playing tourist in your own town. Last year, a couple of local moms came up with their own bucket list for their young and older children. I urge you to check out their list as well when creating your own bucket list.

And then, of course, there are the actual vacations when you pack your family up and head off to someplace else for a couple of days. Taking your family on vacation can be a really fun experience, or it can be a nightmare. The best thing to remember when it comes to family vacation is that it is for the kids as well. Make sure there are plenty of fun things they can look forward to doing while away from home, and keep the adult activities (like perusing art galleries or shopping) to a minimum. If you can, vacation with another family so that the adults can switch off on kid duties while the other gets some time to enjoy things that might not be of interest to the little ones. For travel time, make sure that there are plenty of things for the kids to do. Create a travel bag that is filled with games that can be played easily in a car or an airplane, coloring books and crayons, and a new book or two. It is also helpful if you make a list of travel games they can play, such as Eye Spy (looking for certain items outside the vehicle with only one clue given) or the Alphabet Game (searching for all the letters in the alphabet in order from signs, license plates, etc). And keep in mind that while your whole family is together, some kids get homesick. If that is your child, keep the vacation long enough to have a good time and unwind, but short enough so that they can be back and sleeping in their own bed before they miss it.

Since we are now midway through May and June is staring us down, I have three goals for you to complete by the end of this week.

1. Set a budget for summertime fun and vacations and stick to it. It’s unnecessary for your family to go broke just to entertain the kids during the summer, and having a budget in place will alleviate any stress that you are trying to escape during the next carefree months.

2. Make reservations.  If you are going camping, flying away anywhere, sending the kids to camp or summertime daycare, or staying in a hotel, DO NOT WAIT ANY LONGER TO RESERVE YOUR SPACE!  You are not the only one who is planning out their summer vacation. If you procrastinate on making reservations, you may find that your plans will have to change because everything is booked up.

3. Mark up your calendar or make a bucket list with things to do for the next three months. Have at least one plan for each week so that the kids have something to look forward to. And let the kids help you in deciding some fun things to do.

What are some of your ideas and tips for creating a fun and memorable summer vacation?

Camping with Kids

We’re leaving tomorrow to go camping. This will be Mr. Wonderful’s and my first family vacation, ever. It should be fun, and it should be interesting. A 13 year old boy, an 11 year old girl, and an 8 year old boy, plus the two of us for two nights and three days. We’ve been planning for months, making lists for weeks, and packing for days. And tomorrow we will embark on our journey, and hope with positive thoughts that the integration of our families for several days will be chalked up as a successful vacation we’ll want to do again year after year.

This brings me back to years ago. I have always loved camping. My family and I would go with a group from the neighborhood. We would rent several sites and make a weekend party of it. On the spit would be a whole pig with an apple in its mouth, turning slowly over open flame to make the best dinner I had ever tasted. We would stay up late at the campfire, swapping stories and toasting marshmallows. At night, us kids would go to sleep with our flashlights, telling ghost stories till way too late. We thought we were being sneaky back then, not realizing that the glow from the light cast our shadows against the tent twice the size of us. But no matter, we were camping. As long as we were in our beds, the parents didn’t seem to mind.

Years later I brought my own daughter camping. She was a little over a year, and loved sticking her tiny feet in the lake water the best. Unfortunately some of the dinner she ate one of the nights gave her the worst colic ever. She screamed and cried, waking the neighboring sites until I brought her into my car to mask the noise. As a baby she had been a very colicky baby. Since, though, she had outgrown it. That is, until that night. But other than that, it was a great experience having her there. And I have taken the kids camping several times since then with only great experiences.

Some tips I have learned several good ideas for keeping the kids happy when it comes to camping:
– Try to choose a campground that has water. When there is a lake, river, or ocean within walking distance, you have just sealed the deal for hours of fun throughout the day.
– Showers are a good thing. Some people claim that it really isn’t camping if there are showers. But think about it. You have kids running around all day in the dirt. Then they are crawling into their sleeping bags. Their skin is getting irritated, not to mention that those sleeping bags might be destined for a one time use. Yes, showers are good.
– On that note, bring quarters. Some showers at campgrounds make you pay for 5 minute showers by the quarter.
– Consider camping with another family that has kids, or letting your child bring a friend. If there are too many adults and not enough kids, there is a for sure forecast of the “Mom I’m bored!” complaints.
– Bring board games, baseball gloves and balls, a Frisbee, anything that will pass the time when sitting around the campfire has lost its luster.
– Teach your older child how to build a campfire, pitch a tent, find the perfect roasting stick…. Let them be involved with the responsibilities.
– Have fun! It’s just camping!

Do you camp with kids? What kinds of activities do you plan for the trip? And do you have any suggestions for parents who might be embarking on this kind of vacation with their kids for the first time?


Are you ready for school?  Share on the forums how you make the transition from the lazy days of summer to the busy life of a schoolkid, and how you make the new schedule easier.