Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How to Plan a Fun Road Trip With Kids Without Pulling All of Your Hair Out!

Well, this road trip was very pleasant and I say that with a surprising tone because we drove a total of 30 hours in 7 days with three kids, once of whom is 3. I thought about some of the tips I used to make it this way and thought I would jot them down!
1. Having the right luggage is absolutely necessary. I found luggage inexpensively and with different designs for each of the kids. A main area for their clothes (pjs on the left, day clothes on the right!), a pocket for undies, a pocket for socks, and a front pocket for toiletries. Every kid got the same number of each thing so I could make sure to keep up!
2. Always bring a laundry bag and do laundry at least once! I brought enough clothes for all of us to wear an outfit and change of underwear each day without having to change, but I did laundry on the trip to minimize the amount I had to do when we got home. It kept things very organized!
3. Vacuum out the car whenever you get a chance! I get high amounts of anxiety when I look back and see 45 jelly beans, crushed lucky charms in the seat, and dirt and sand all over the floor of the van, especially when pillows are also thrown on the floor as we travel (Like I want your shoe dirt in my face when I am trying to sleep!). We vacuumed our car out at least twice on this trip and it made for a very relaxing car riding experience!
4. Bring a power strip for a portable electronics charging station. They stayed plugged into the strip at all times and rolled up each morning. We only had to plug in one thing instead of 4 (we brought two strips, so we plugged in two things instead of 8.) It also helped us to make sure each thing was plugged in every night for fresh use the next day and also helped us make sure we didn't leave a charger in a hotel somewhere.
5. Book a hotel far in advance and read the reviews! I picked excellent hotels that saved us money and were in great locations because I took the time to read the reviews. I booked all hotels that you didn't have to pay for in advance, but still got a good price on. I didn't overpay by finding one last minute and every time, we got a great stay. If you liked a hotel, leave a review as well! It's incredibly helpful.
6. I like eating out at different places along the way, but if I shove my kids full of snacks and sodas the whole day, I end up paying way too much at each stop for gas and wasting money on eating out for kids who don't eat but two bites. I HATE wasting money on food that doesn't get eaten! We only got one snack per day and if was after lunch, it couldn't be candy. More often than not, kids aren't hungry on road trips, they are bored. So get snacks that aren't too filling and won't cost an arm and a leg! I also put a price limit on each snack, most of the time it was $1. With five of us, that saved us $5 on each stop, and for 7 days, that's the price of a restaurant meal!
7. Try and work out a budget in advance, giving yourself room for contingency. Nothing will kill a vacation with your family faster than worrying about money the whole time. I researched everything - every stop, every restaurant, and came up with a budget that I felt like was comfortable (and realistic) and wouldn't blindside me. A couple of times, I had to buy something I didn't think of ahead of time (sunglasses for two kids at a gift shop, long sleeve shirts for 3 at a gift shop). I hate spending money on those things, but sometimes it just happens. I would have had to buy a lot more if I didn't read the information about each stop. And just putting yourself on a budget doesn't mean you are being a cheapskate - and don't be a cheapskate if you can help it! - it just means you are prepared and what you think will be a $1,000 vacation won't end up being an $1,800 vacation. I also had to get over spending money on things like souvenirs and activities that we didn't plan on because I had to remember - this is our only vacation to this place and it needs to be fun and comfortable. If you have to buy it, then buy it and don't look back. However, don't blow money just because you can. There is a difference between spending extra money to enhance the quality of your vacation and spending $250 on one more movie for the DVD player, extra trips to the gas stations for unnecessary snacks, and a drawer full of shot glasses that will never get seen again. On a vacation, spend money with a purpose!
8. Leave time to just relax and enjoy! It's easy to plan every moment from beginning to end with driving or activities. I don't like pushing kids around all day long who don't get to rest and just "be" for a little while. If you get a chance to leave a couple hours later one morning and the hotel has a great pool, let everyone swim!
9. Don't throw bedtimes completely out the window just because you are "on vacation." I hate dealing with grumpy annoyed tired kids and especially hate dealing with them when it's my vacation too! We allowed for driving time but also allowed time to get to bed at a reasonable time as well. Some nights they did stay up, but knowing my kids wake up early no matter what time they go to bed, they had to be in bed with enough time to get some quality sleep. I don't mean 7:30 every night, but after 10 pm is always too late for our kids. It means whining and arguing the next day!
10. My husband got annoyed that we were driving through God's country and no one was looking because they were all too busy with their faces in their electronics. Getting an audiobook was an excellent idea someone suggested - they are listening while looking out the window and seeing the scenery on a road trip! My kids loved the audiobook the most - it's like a 12 hour long movie in your imagination!
11. I always got drinks with straws instead of drinks with tops. It never fails - my kids will lose a top then the whole thing tips over, spilling in my car. My 12 year old is fine, but the other two accident prone monkeys always got straws!! It's just one less thing to worry about.
12. I preprinted all confirmations and the budgets and kept them with us, so I could always have them handy in case I didn't have internet service on my phone. I also had all emergency services through my auto insurance handy, just in case of a, well, emergency.
13. I always get worried about only having money in one place, say, a checking account, so I made sure all credit cards were completely paid, so I had access to all of them in the event one was lost or stolen, and I made sure each of us had an equal amount of cash, in case of a lost wallet or a problem with the checking account. It is just something that gives me piece of mind, knowing that if by some strange situation all of the money in our checking account was wiped out (and having been through a recent identity theft issue, it's not an unlikely scenario), we had access to more money to pay for things.
The key to any long term traveling with kids is preparation, hopefully this will help you too!

Whitehead Family Vacation 2014

Well, we are home from our 7 day cross country (almost) road trip!
This was our first road trip as a family that doesn't include just a one day drive to a relative's house. A few months back, Jason's family decided to have a small reunion in Flagstaff, AZ, so we decided to use that as an excuse to take our time and see some sights along the way. I am really glad we did! We broke up our trip to AZ into four-5 hour day drives and it was so much nicer that way!
We started off our trip on Tuesday night and before we headed out, we stopped at Texas Roadhouse to grab some dinner. Very tasty way to start off our trip!

Our first stop was in Sweetwater, TX. We drove just long enough to get a good head start and left Tuesday after work. It turned out to be a great idea. The kids absolutely loved staying in all of the hotels.

Before we left, we stopped at Sam Moon for some new luggage for the kids. They were much needed - $12.99 for each of these and they are GREAT for organizing and traveling. They were the perfect size, too!

After Sweetwater, we drove about 4 hours to Carlsbad Caverns. Our trip was incredibly planned well (by me, if I must say) and we had all of the electronics, distractions, and seating arrangements organized for the best trip possible. In order to help with keeping up with things, we brought two power strips with all of the power cords pre-plugged in. We had 8 electronic items in all, including two tablets, three cell phones, and three DVD players. We just plugged in the two strips at each stop then unplugged them each morning so we wouldn't have to find 8 individual plugs each time. Every morning, we had freshly charged devices, even though we didn't always let them play on them. Jason wanted them to pay attention to the scenery, so every so often, we would have an electronics free hour. I stopped at Five Below and got each kid their own headphones for $5 and they worked great!


In Carlsbad, we stopped at the Rodeway Inn, which was at the entrance to Carlsbad, at the base of the mountain. This hotel wasn't the nicest in the whole world, but it was fantastic in terms of location. It was also clean, although the "continental breakfast" of bananas and prepackaged muffins left something to be desired. However, this hotel had two things going for it. First, there was a mini-water park in the parking lot and each room came equipped with free entrance for all. When I say mini, it was. There were two big slides, a pirate ship with small slides, and a large pool, but it was certainly better than any hotel pool I'd seen! Second, the actual entrance to Carlsbad was still another 20 minutes up the mountain from our hotel. If you stay in Carlsbad, it's actually about a 30 - 40 minute trip. After we'd been there about six hours and drove back around 9 pm, a short trip back was much appreciated.

The caverns were very pretty. We had to buy Jason, Jordan and myself a long sleeve shirt. We didn't realize how cool the caverns would be and how long we'd be down there. The hike itself, after you take an elevator down, is about a mile and a half. I guess it took an hour and a half or so to get through. It is 56 degrees and no sun, so needless to say, long sleeves were nice. I am incredibly impressed with how well my iPhone took pictures in a place with very little light!

After we were finished in the caverns and had some dinner, we got wind of a thing called the bat flight show. The bad part was that it didn't start until 8:15 and by start, I mean, you sit in this amphitheater at the entrance of the cave at 7:45 to get a good seat, the Park Ranger starts talking at 8:15, and the bats fly out whenever they very-well please. We sat there for a while, until it got darker. We weren't allowed to use cameras or cell phones at all once she started talking so all I got was a picture before they started flying. To me, this was one of the coolest things we did on our trip. It was completely free and once the bats started flying out, it was unbelievable. There were thousands of them and they would exit the cave in masses, fly around like a tornado, then fly out over the desert above our heads. I can't believe they didn't fly right into us! They were pretty small but it was amazing. Once they started flying, they flew out for a long time, probably half an hour. Just bats upon bats upon bats! We ended up leaving when it got too dark to see them, but man, it was a cool experience. I would highly recommend this as an extra activity if you ever visit Carlsbad!

Jason had been to White Sands, NM as a kid and we started talking about going a long time ago, but I just didn't think it would be all that fun. Our trip was planned without us going there, but after several people told me how cool it was, we left one night early to fit it in. This was my very least favorite thing we did. It was sooo hot and the way our trip was, we couldn't have gotten there any earlier in the day. Perhaps if it was cooler, I would have like it better. We drove about a day out of our way and spent about $80 once we got there on three sand sleds, two pairs of sunglasses for the girls that we didn't think about before, entrance to the park, and two cubes of wax for the sleds. We stopped at the first parking lot we found because we didn't really have a lot of time to go further into the park, and climbed up the dunes. It was so hard - I had a backpack with 8 bottles of water and ended up carrying two pairs of flip flops up these dunes and it was so hard to get up them. It was so hot and our energy was just zapped the second we got up the first dune. They went down a few times but we lost interest in it after about 30 minutes. We got back in the car, sandy and sweaty, then had to drive another four hours to Albequerque. Needless to say, my attitude was pretty poor. We were tired, hot and annoyed, but ultimately glad we stopped and saw one more sight. It was a cool sight, all that white sand out in the middle of no where.

We almost didn't drive to Albequerque, but we did and I am glad we did. The hotel we stayed at there was the MCM Elegante and was not only affordable, but nice. They had an indoor pool and hot tub that we had a great time playing it. They also had an amazing breakfast buffet, complete with omelet station, included in our stay. We got to the hotel that night, took quick showers, then headed out to a Mexican food restaurant because we were all just craving Mexican food! It was great, but we got there really close to closing. We had to kind of hurry because we felt bad, and by the time we got back to the room, it was about 10:30. The next day, we spend our morning swimming, eating breakfast and relaxing before the five hour trip to Flagstaff.

We made it to Flagstaff around 5:30 Friday evening and we were so glad to be with family! Flagstaff is a gorgeous town and the cabin we got to stay in that Jason's aunt and uncle so nicely offered was the perfect fit for all of us! Everyone had beds (except for the little ones, who ended up sleeping in our bed anyway) and there was lots of room outside to run and play. I didn't get a ton of pictures, but they did have this tire swing that they said has been there forever that was a huge hit with the kids!!

Saturday was shopping and spending time with the family! he women (and Jason's cousin Phillip) were kid free and walked around the downtown area, which I must admit, is very nice. We ate at this hotel restaurant called Charly's. It was very affordable and delicious!

Sunday was the Grand Canyon. From Flagstaff, this was a four hour round trip drive, so I wasn't looking forward to it as much as I probably should have been. Once we got there, of course, it was breathtaking. When I got to the top, I am ashamed to say I had either altitude sickness or an attack of mild dehydration because I almost passed out! Drink a bunch and bunch of water if you ever go because they way I felt just about ruined my whole experience. Avery didn't really know what we were looking at, neither did Sophia, but Jordan really loved that we got to go. There is a really cool town just a few minutes from the entrance, and if I ever go again, I would totally spend the day and night there. We were really rushed and none of us were too keen on spending so much time in the car the day before what turned out to be about a 10 hour drive, so I am sure we could have had a better experience if we had more time. But, you can only do so much, you know!

Monday, we left around 9 and made the very long trip to Amarillo. It was the longest day of driving and after talking with my brother in law, he gave me the great idea of getting an audio book to listen to. I am so glad we did! We got The Red Pyramid on our way out of Flagstaff and it is an excellent adventure book for tweens. It is 12 cds and almost 12 hours of listening fun. We started and stopped it a few times, so even after Monday and Tuesday, we still have two CDs to go to make it to the end.
Even though we knew it was going to be expensive, we couldn't make it out of Amarillo without eating at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, which none of us had ever eaten at before. It was expensive for sure, we had about a $100 bill, but boy, is it a fun place to eat. It is surely a tourist trap and reminded me of Landry's in Alabama - big, bold, huge gift shop - but it was worth the stop. They had this really big shooting gallery (I took pictures but can't find them now!) and it cost only $1 for 40 shots. The kids spent like, $10, and had a great time. We didn't end up getting back to the hotel until after 11 that night, but we were full and happy.

 All in all, this was a great family trip with lots of memories! It's one trip that I had on my family bucket list of trips and I am so glad we had a chance to go!