This is Robyn and today we have a super special guest blogger…it’s my older sister, Rhonda. I asked her to guest blog today because we’re getting close to summer vacation time and she’s a veritable expert on traveling with children regardless of their age. So without further ado…I give you my sister…
My name is Rhonda, I am the mother of 2, married to my best friend and and we have been traveling across America together for the past 20 years. As I look back on our travels I realize that not only did we travel well with young children, but have given our kids, now 20 and 18, a love for the great Road Trip. In part, passed onto me from my own childhood.
Here are the trips we’ve taken over the last 18 years.
Disney World (flew) ages 2&4
Washington DC. 3&5
Mississippi/New Orleans 7&9
Big Bend, TX 8&10
St. Louis, MO 9&11
Disney World (flew) 10&12
St. Louis/Chicago, IL (drove/Amtrak) 12&14
Mt. Rushmore 13$15
NY/Niagara Falls/DC. 14&16
California/Las Vegas/New Mexico 15&17
Wisconsin/St. Louis 16&18
Big Bend, TX 18&20
Beach trips (10 or more times) from the age of 2 and up. Corpus Christi, Galveston, Padre Island, Bolivar (all beaches in TX)
TRANSPORTATION: 5 different vans, Taurus, Suburban, Highlander, steam engine, Amtrak, subway, taxi, trolly, bus, fairy, boat and airplane.
FOOD: White table-cloth steak houses, Triple D diners, local dives, fast-food and chains.
AMUSEMENT PARKS: Six Flags, Astroworld, Sea World, Fiesta Texas, Busch Gardens & Disney World.
ZOOS: Amarillo, TX; Ft. Worth, TX, Houston, TX, San Antonio, TX; Waco, TX; DC.; St. Louis, MO
AQUARIUMS: Corpus Christi, TX; Moody Gardens (TX); Chattanooga, TN; DC.
OTHER SIGHTS: Museums, mounments,bridges, national parks.
CAR TUNES: Joe Scruggs, Veggie Tales, various vbs, Toby Keith, George Straight, Beach Boys, WOW’s, oldies, and music from multiple shows we were in or saw.
Each time we decided on our next destination, I began the research. I think making as detailed of plan as possible is the key to having a successful and enjoyable trip. I would divide the miles to be traveled by the hours and then begin preparing my 2 lists: the 1st list was of items we always traveled with and the 2nd list would be more specific to the particular trip at hand.
Usual list 1: gallon ziplock bags,mileage bags, cd’s, addresses & stamps, first aid, wet wipes, towels, travel cups, snacks,box of sandwich bags, books on tape, swim suits, cooler with drinks, receipt envelope, window shades, travel boxes….
Gallon bags : these I used to pack the kids clothes in. Each bag had the childs name on it and date to be worn. This helped when planning which clothes were for traveling (for comfort) , which were for parks, museums, the White House or meeting famous people like senators or Mickey Mouse! Packing in ziplocks also helped save room (like space saver bags) and made for a great way to store dirty clothes separate from clean, by putting them back in the same bag they came in. (Great for wet swim suits too)
Mileage bags: these were life-savers when traveling with small children. I used small paper bags, each numbered and labeled with kids name. Each bag usually contained 3 items : a snack (animal cookies, fruit snacks…) an activity (crayons & book, silly puddy, wipe off bd,paper dolls, stickers…) and a character for pretending (action figure, small stuffed toy). I would divide the miles we were going to travel into small sections, like about every 90 to 120 miles and then the kids would get their bag. This helped pass the time, and taught them about mile-markers and time of travel.
CD’s : music we All liked as a family that we could sing to….without judgement.
Sandwich bags: were for all the treasures we would find during our stops and a sharpie so I could label each bag so we knew whose treasures they were and where they came from.
Travel boxes: each kid had a plastic box with a lid that could hold all their travel needs and double as a desk. This helped things not get lost, and not be so cluttered in the back seat.
Being a stay home mom with a 1 income (educator’s salary) we were usually on a tight budget, so we found ways to enjoy our trips without spending too much, especially on the traveling days. I did however, research the trip and area we would be in so if we were going to be near a park or a specific interest of 1 of ours….like my son went thru a phase where he was interested in bridges. Well when I did research I found all kinds of bridges we would have missed had I not been looking. Seeing these extras didn’t add much time to the trip and were free! Maybe you are going to be near a famous persons place, in history, like Billy the Kid or Laura Wilder. Just do a search for interest that are near where you will be traveling.
A typical, long travel day for us would have looked something like this…we packed the car the night before and had everything ready for departure, so when we woke them up all they had to do was get dressed and we would each grab our travel cups. We would leave as early as possible, before breakfast, so that we could get as many miles as possible behind us before stopping for breakfast. I know fast-food is not the healthy choice, but we would look for a stop that had one of those indoor playgrounds, this way we could eat while they played and then we would all visit the restrooms and bring any of the kids breakfast with us when we left. When we got back into the car the kids would eat and then they would get their first mileage bag. We would just talk and let the kids get the most out of their 1st mileage bag…we wanted it to entertain them for long as it could. We would then play a book on tape, music or play a car game to pass the time. ( ie… Car bingo, alphabet game.)
Our kids did not have a movie playing device for the car until they were 10 & 12, so we had to use what we had to entertain them. We tried to plan our lunch by packing one with us or we would stop and pick something up and head to the nearest park or rest area. We tried to go somewhere outside so that they could walk around and get some exercise. This is when we would use the little ziplock bags and let each kid pick up some ” treasures” rocks, acorns, a leaf….the point was to get some moving in, so that just maybe they would nap when we got back on the road. After lunch and hopefully a nap we would sometimes look for another indoor playground stop, we could get a drink, maybe a small cone, the kids could play and of course we would all go to the restroom before loading back up. The kids always knew that these stops would be short, so they were prepared for us to give them the 5 min warning and they seemed fine with it. 10 – 20 min went a long way in helping the weary traveling kid, and helping them…..helped us!
On travel days we always tried to stay in a hotel that had 3 things in common: cheap, free breakfast and a POOL! We would try to get to the hotel with enough time for us to swim, for at least 30 minutes. Swimming is great for tired, stiff muscles that have been sitting in a car all day and it makes for a great nights sleep. We liked to go out to dinner to a place with the “local” flavor. If time permitted, we would try and swim in the morning too, this would cause us to have a later start on morning 2. When scheduling our trip we tried to have our heaviest travel day on day 1 so that day 2 could be lighter. If we had several days of travel in front of us then we often alternated long then short travel days.
We have traveled 35 of the 50 states, we even had one of our new teenage drivers get his driving hours in 25 of those states. We have seen the Grand Canyon, Pala Duro canyon, the white sands desert, Hoover Dam, Niagara Falls,the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, the giant red woods, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and the Pacific, Crater Lake and a great lake, the mountains of Colorado, the Smokies in Tennessee and all the plains in between….memories for a lifetime
My advice, make your trips as personal as you can, for your family. Maybe you and your family like a specific food show, make a list of places and dishes you would like to try. Maybe architecture is interesting or battlefields, maybe courthouses, Route 66 , national monuments or windmills…..whatever your family finds interesting will add to your family trips. When crossing state lines stop at the welcome centers, they have clean restrooms, complimentary maps, information about state wide attractions and often a state-themed activity book for kids. Just do your homework so you know how much things cost, so you can plan for it. Be prepared for plans to change due to unforeseen things that Will come up. Rain closed an attraction, sick kids, car trouble….we have sat on the side of the road and played cards or gone to a movie because of a rained out attraction. Don’t let things outside of your control ruin your trip, you are making memories…make them good ones!
Souvenirs. We did like to buy post cards to send to family, friends, teachers…we helped the kids write them until they were old enough to do it themselves. We sent them to a variety of people depending on when and where we went. Our souvenirs were not always the same but we did have some usuals. I like coffee mugs & christmas ornaments, my daughter liked bells or playing cards my son liked things that were specific to the trip, sometimes both son and husband got hats. We also liked getting music from someone we had seen on our trip or a soundtrack from a musical or show that we got to see. We tried to keep them to small items, with a few exceptions…like the walking stick my son had to have and has traveled with us to every park since. He has it with us on this trip we are currently taking to Big Bend and we are also listening to our soundtract from Grease that we got to see on Broadway.
We have a shell luggage carrier we put on top of our car, so that everything inside the car is for traveling purpose and that gives us a lot more room. The luggage carrier makes our vehicle look like a turtle and so that is what we call it, it also makes it easy to find in a crowded parking lot. As we take this trip to Big Bend and plan for a summer wedding trip to Gatlinberg, I am mindful that any of these trips could be the last “family” trip we take. My kids will both be in college next year and our lives are changing daily. I cherish the travels and adventures we have had and look forward to getting postcards from them when they travel with their own families some day. I wish you safe and happy travels, now go make some memories!
Rhonda Peyton is a wife and mother. She’s a former Dance Team instructor and taught high school for ten years. She’s the sister of the fabulously famous Robyn DeHart.