My family and I just completed an eight day road tour, in our trusty SUV, that took us through seven different states, AND WE SURVIVED! Car songs were debuted, tantrums were thrown, inside jokes were created, and memories were definitely made. It was a great time (for the most part).
Planning and organizing things is my jam, so for the past few months I have been putting a lot of thought into our family vacation. I wanted to go somewhere for an entire week, during the summer, that would not end in murderous glares and constant eye rolls.
Therefore, no matter how much I love my immediate family, I knew reinforcements were going to be necessary. I am blessed to know great people and I was able to coordinate the first part of our trip into being a four-day visit to see my college roommate who lives in a different time zone. She has kids around the same age as my children, plus my husband and I really like her spouse. Win-win for all involved. She was an excellent host and we got to tour her city like true locals. Plus, since we gave enough advanced warning regarding our visit, my friend was able to score a lot of coupons and free tickets to area attractions that made everything a lot more affordable.
We have never really done a full-blown, whole week away, family trip. I wanted this excursion to have the bells and whistles of a true vacation, so after leaving the comfort of my friend’s home, we needed a second destination that would involve a hotel. Nothing is more exciting to my children than being able to sleep on a pull-out couch (who knows why?). We also have a hard rule that the only beds you can jump on EVER are hotel beds. Expedia was my friend for the planning process, and I was able to book a decent downtown suite that offered a good breakfast spread and also hospitality snacks and hors d’oeuvres. The hotel’s food offerings, ended up supplementing dinner every evening. (Go Hyatt!)
Awwwww to be my husband and only have to pack for one’s self, such is not the life of a mom. Since we were going to be gone so long, I tried a new packing strategy with the kiddos. I used little plastic grocery sacks to hold clothes for each of my three children. Each day was then labeled, so we could avoid the development of messy piles in the suitcases. We were gone eight days, therefore I had eight labeled sacks with a shirt, pair of shorts, and undies for each child. This worked out great. Plus, I had an abundance of grocery sacks available during the trip that could be re-used to hold all of our dirty clothes. This method helped me make sure that I was not forgetting anything important. I also packed a sack just for swim suits, pajamas, and a day’s worth of extra clothing.
For survival purposes, all rules pertaining to screen time were thrown out the window. The kids and I borrowed a ton of movies from our neighbors and friends, which made for a much nicer drive. My husband also downloaded some audio books for himself, and I had a few hardbacks to keep me company in the passenger seat (I finished two books on the trip and would recommend them both: Saturn Run by John Sandford & Ctein and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell). My husband introduced me to Radio Labs during a portion of our driving extravaganza. While our three kids happily watched Zootopia (for the uumpteenth time) my husband and I listened to four different episodes of the radio program “More Perfect”. The show highlights Supreme Court cases, and it was cool and interesting. If you like NPR, you will like these podcasts; they dealt with issues that we -as in the general public- should already be familiar with, but most likely do not follow adequately. I felt good (and a bit smarter) just from listening to them.
Also, to keep the vehicle moving and our pit stops to a minimum, we brought along a potty training toilet. Shamefully a lot more people than just our two-year-old used it, but such is life and it really did help us make great time on the road.
I had high expectations for the vacation to go beyond well, and for the most part it did. However, there were hiccups. Mother Nature was not super cooperative for July and instead of sunshine and heat, we had lots of rain. The storms limited our outdoor pool activities, but also led to the purchase of some sweet souvenir umbrellas for the kids. My always strong-willed son heard me say “you can hold my finger or I can hold your wrist” a lot as we navigated parking lots, crosswalks, and trails. I love him so much, but he can be a real struggle at times.
The first half of the trip, which we spent with good friends, was great because common bedtime practices stayed in place. This meant that once all the kiddos were tucked in for the night, we adults could have cocktails and relax. That is what made those four days a true vacation for me. My husband and I got to talk with other grown-ups, uninterrupted, for four straight evenings. It was glorious. My college roommate also took charge of breakfast and dinner, and had some crafts for the kids. (Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, if you are interested in seeing how the kids made their own tie-dye shirts and also yummy overnight oats for breakfast.) Staying with others does not work for everyone, and I understand how fortunate I am to have some pretty awesome friends who are willing to do stuff like this with me. My friend’s outstanding hospitality proves that nothing bonds two gals for life,more than having to share a basement bathroom in college.
The second half of the trip was also super fun, because my family of five got to hang out all on our own. We took those last three days to really “summer hard” as Tessa has mentioned before in a post. We saw lots of sights and attractions. The kids had their typical whines and frowns. I wanted to kick my husband in the shin on multiple occasions, and more than once I know he rolled his eyes pretty far back in his head at me (especially when I noticed after check-in that our hotel did not have a pool, oops MOM FAIL!). However, we are all stuck with each other for eternity; so even in the face of irritation, we regroup pretty fast.
Probably 80% of the trip was all about the kiddos. We went to science centers, children museums, petting zoos, regular zoos, aquariums, playgrounds, and splash parks. The kids got to eat a lot of ice cream and order soda pop at restaurants. However, even though I love my children and want to do so many things on their behalf…my husband and I were good about making sure the trip was a vacation for us and not just a constant parenting chore. We went out of our way to find some good breweries for lunch stops, and made sure to enjoy a lager or pale ale with our meals. (Our favorite brews were: The Vanilla Coffee Underbrown Ale at Heavy Riff Brewing Co. and Contact High Wheat Ale from 4 Hands Brewing Co.)
I knew it had been a great trip, when departure time came and I was sad. The eight-hour car ride home went pretty fast, as the kids were tired and content to quietly watch endless cartoons. Our two-year-old had a few meltdowns, but he also napped close to three hours during the return drive. I think it was a fair trade-off in the end.
Mountains of laundry awaited me at home. My friend, who hosted us for four days, graciously offered me the use of her washer and dryer, so that my dirty clothes pile could be smaller. But when I take vacation, I do not do laundry. I regretted this a bit when I had to spend an entire Sunday cleaning and folding. (*I know a lot of people who have access to washers and dryers when they are on vacation or visiting family away from home, and they all swear by doing laundry on the last day of a trip to avoid the massive chore later. I may have to change my tune and actually try this, hmmmm this could be a future blog post, stay tuned readers.)
The long hours in the car, the money spent, and the horrible habits formed (unlimited snacks, sleeping in regular clothes because changing into pajamas is too tiring, taking shoes off every time a child enters the vehicle, etc.) were all completely worth it for the awesome memories. The vacation was an actual vacation in every sense of the word. I let myself have fun and also took time to really enjoy my family. I already cannot wait to plan something for next summer.
If you have some great vacation tips to share or know of an excellent destination spot for families, let us know. Please send an email to email@example.com or leave a comment.