Friday, June 29, 2012

how to: plan the perfect road trip

Today's post is perfect for any of those summer vacations you have coming up.  Kimberly, over from It Began at Camp 4, is a road trip expert... and today she is sharing all of her awesome travel tips with us! Thankfully I was able to cheat and read Kimberly's post before we made the 10 hour drive to the beach... trust me, I took notes.
I'm so excited to be guest posting here at Black Tag Diaries today!  I decided to write about road trips because I love a good road trip.  Our family has traveled over 18,000 miles by car in the last 3 years.  All of it with small children and most of it in chunks of 1,000 miles or more.  We've been everywhere from Seattle to Orlando and covered 19 states.  I like to think we've learned a few things about what works and what doesn't along the way. Rule number 1, is to start with a positive mindset.  Remember: it's a road TRIP.  The TRIP is the vacation.  If you have only point A and point B with 3,000 miles of nothing in between, you'll be whining, "are we there yet?!?" before you've even left town.  Think about ways you can get the most out of the drive. Rule number 2: children and road trips are not mutually exclusive.  Our first long distance road trip happened when our kids were four and two.  We traveled more than 3,000 miles over a 3 week time period.  We all loved it.  The rules are slightly different with small kids, but it is doable. Of course challenges come up though, so here are some tips based on things we've learned along the way:

  • As I said, enjoy the trip.  Use google to your advantage and find things to do along the way.  It could be something more involved, like stopping at a certain museum, or something as simple as taking an hour to picnic or play at a neat park or playground.  
  • When traveling with children (or big people with the restlessness of children), respect their limits.  We try to stick to about 6 hours of car time a day if we can.  When we drive longer, the kids are less cooperative.  Use the extra hours in the day to swim at the hotel, spend some time at a playground, or check out some local sights. 
  • Go with the flow.  You don't have to plan out your entire route before you leave home.  On multi-day trips, we often have an ending point and vague idea of where we'll travel.  Each  night, we'll look at the map and do a little research on the towns along the way.  Then we decide which specific route to drive based on how we're feeling and what sights seem interesting on that day.  This makes it possible to check out those travel pamphlets in the hotel lobby and discover things you never knew existed when you left home.  Many of our favorite stops have been parks or attractions we discovered by chance along the way. 
  • But be aware too.  Keep an eye on the news as you travel.  Things like hurricanes or large storm systems might make a change of route prudent.  You might want to do a quick search for large festivals, as well....says the mom of 3 who ended up traveling through South Dakota during Sturgis. 
  • As much as space will allow, bring snacks with you.  You can buy them while they're on sale and avoid gas station prices.  I surely can't be the only woman that gets more than a little snippy when I'm hungry.  That steady stream of snacks comes in handy.  We keep the full supply of food in the back of the car and keep a small soft-sided cooler and a square bottomed bag up front with a variety of food to eat as we drive. 
  • Some specific foods that work well in the car with minimal mess: applesauce pouches, fruit snacks (we like the Clif Kid ropes and they work great for bribing the kids), Pringles because they don't get crushed, bagels because they're only minimally susceptible to crushing, boxes of raisins, M&Ms for a chocolate fix without the melty mess, juice boxes, canned drinks.  We'll also bring along a gallon of water to easily refill the kids' sippy cups.  I like the shape and sturdiness of the Ozarka bottles for packing, but I often refill them with tap water along the way. 
  • If you have a portable DVD player, it can be nice to pass the time watching a few movies.  We usually pack a few from home in a small carrying case, but Redbox rentals can be really nice too.  The great thing about Redbox is they are all over the place and you can return the movie in a different location from where you rented it.  We've rented at a Walgreens in Montana and returned at a WalMart in Washington.  It's a very convenient way to reward good behavior or get an hour or two of peace and quiet.  
  • If you don't get carsick, those miles on the road can be a fabulous time to catch up on some reading.  I know several couples who read to each other on road trips and then talk about the book.  If reading is a problem, check out books on CD.  You may be able to borrow these from your local library.  We've found several young adult books that were appropriate for the kids, but still entertaining for the adults.  My personal opinion is that audio books that are read by the author are often more enjoyable to listen to because the reader/author accurately gives the intended inflection to the words.  
  • Let children pack a small bag of activities to keep with them in the car.  Crayons are off limits because they will melt in the heat, but colored pencils work well along with a small spiral notebook.  Other favorites are hand held video games, stuffed animals and toy cars.  Anything our girls want to keep next to them in the car needs to fit in the bag.  Honestly though, they end up making toys of out the strangest things.  From creating a "plane" out of clothes pins they found, to pretending their feet are telephones.

Car Organization
  • It's helpful to have a trash bag available at all times. Dump or toss the bag at every gas stop.  Some people like to attach a bag to the back of a seat, but I prefer using paper bags I've saved from fast food stops.  The flat bottom keeps it upright, and in our van it will easily sit between the two front seats.  You could also use a Rubbermaid cereal container lined with a plastic bag.  The sturdiness will keep it from get crushed under foot and the lid will keep the trash contained. 
  • An inverter can be extremely helpful.  This device plugs into the car's cigarette lighter and gives you regular outlets to attach plugs to.  This allows you to travel with the regular chargers for your electronic devices rather than trying to keep up with both regular and car chargers. 
  • Thoroughly clean the car before you leave.  If you have kids, remove their car seats and clean underneath them.  It's difficult to have a good attitude about a trip if you start out dealing with clutter and mess.  Once you're on the road, clear all of the trash out of the car at least once a day. 
  • If you're traveling for a long time with frequent stops, consider packing 2 or 3 days' worth of supplies for the entire family in one large suitcase.  The rest of your supplies can be packed into Rubbermaid or Stearlite containers.  These containers often stack more neatly and efficiently in the back of the car than a bunch of differently shaped suitcases.  When you arrive at a hotel, bringing in one suitcase is much easier than unloading an entire car.  Just don't leave valuables in the car.
  • Minimize the clothes you bring and plan to do laundry.  If you are staying at mid-range hotels, self-serve laundry facilities are often available.  I like to travel with the Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets.  They are detergent and softener in one on a dryer sheet type material.  It's easy to throw a pack of these sheets and a roll of quarters in a ziploc and be ready for the laundry room.
  • Plan for illness.  Especially with kids, it can be miserable to search out a pharmacy in an unfamiliar city in the middle of the night.  We keep a shoebox size Stearlite container in our suitcase with a thermometer, antibiotic ointment, band-aids, and any medications we frequently use.  
Save Money
  • A road trip is a road trip.  It's not going to be cheap.  It can be a lot cheaper than you'd think though and the biggest place you can cut back is on food.  As I said, bring snacks and drinks with you.  Pack shelf stable lunch supplies (peanut butter is our favorite).  Stay at hotels that offer a free hot breakfast and take full advantage of it.
  • When you do stop for meals, don't over buy.  If you are eating fast food, it will be cheaper to just buy the main "dish" and then utilize the chips and drinks you brought with you.  Remember that restaurant portions are usually too large for one person to eat.  We will often buy two adult meals to split between two adults and two kids.  This saves us money, none of the food goes to waste, and we often have room leftover in our stomachs and our budget to get a dessert for everyone to share.
  • If there is a particular hotel you like, join their loyalty program.  Our favorite is Country Inn and Suites.  We rarely pay full price for a room there because we utilize their loyalty program, Club Carlson.  We also haggle for our rooms.  If we reserve a room ahead of time, we ask if we can upgrade to a suite when we arrive.  Sometimes the answer is, "yes", sometimes it's, "no", sometimes it's, "yes, but it will cost $10".  It never hurts to ask though. 
  • Because we homeschool, we often travel during the school year, when it's less crowded and more sales are available.  Many times we won't reserve hotel rooms for these trips, we just walk up to the desk and ask if there's an opening.   A hotel does not want to leave rooms empty and if they know you can easily find another room in town, they will often negotiate on price.  Don't be afraid to ask if they can do better than their initial price quote.  We have saved big bucks this way, but we've also been burned.  Keep the national directory of your favorite 2 hotel chains in the car and if you're going to be arriving late or everyone's nerves are already shot, call ahead and be sure a room is available so you don't waste time looking for one.
  • If you enjoy outdoor activities, a National Parks Pass can be a big money saver.  We love collecting the National Parks Passport Stamps and an annual pass to get into the parks has saved us a lot of money on entry fees.  If you stay closer to home, a State Parks Pass may be a worthwhile investment. 
You can visit the travel section of my blog to see a map of where we've been and read blog posts about any stops that look interesting to you.  Then grab the keys and take a trip!


Anonymous said...

I love all your tips! One thing that I do is instead of stopping and picking up something to eat, is I will pack a lunch and we sill stop at a rest stop and have a picnic. This way they get to stretch their legs and run around, and we are saving money by eating lunch that I made. I always bring my iPad with me when I am traveling so they can stay entertained. They can play games, read, watch movies, or watch TV. A co-worker at Dish told that with the Dish Remote Access app and the Sling Adapter hooked up to my receiver, the kids can watch all our subscription channels live anywhere we can get a 3G or Wi-Fi connection. The kids love being able to watch all their favorite shows and they can stream movies on there as well through the Blockbuster@Home service. The iPad is a lifesaver on the road.

black tag diaries said...

loved all of your tips kimberly... and totally put some of them into practice during our trip to the beach! thank you so much for guest posting!!

Chrystina said...

I loved reading this - great tips! A road trip has always been on my to do list - and to be honest I DEFINITELY fall into the category of big people who's as restless as a child. Also, I like the concept of haggling for a room. Now first things first, find somebody who has a car :)