“Are you INSANE?”
Yep. Pretty much (I hear that a lot…). I must be, because that’s about all I heard when we drove to San Diego from Vancouver and back last – last summer (2007), in just under 2 weeks in our mini-van. I drove the 4 Kids (Boo was only 5 months) to San Francisco, and Husband flew in that night and drove with us to San Diego. BOY did I learn some more things about travelling with Kids!
1. Make LOTSA stops! Well, it was kind of forced – I had to stop every 3-4 hrs the entire way to SF to pump milk (too much info?!?). We left around 6am one day, and drove until late at night when we hit Yreka (top ‘o California). But, it was a good excuse for potty breaks for the little ones, stretching breaks for the teens and food for one and all. We did try to limit each stop to about an hour though… We made it into SF the following afternoon. Whew!
(I took my mini photo printer along to do our trip album “old school”, along with tape, scissors and markers. It was fun for everyone to contribute to our memories as they happened, and gave us something other than TV to do in hotel rooms at the end of each day)
2. Don’t be above bribery. The trick to a 3 1/2 yr old and what was basically a 13 day car ride is BRIBERY. Each day Tt got to pick out 1 toy (about $5) at whatever Wal-Mart, Tar-ghay or special entertainment place we stopped at. Kept him happy the whole trip long, and he’d started a rather nice Star Wars characters collection by the end of it.
3. Take a huge cooler. The girls and I love Whole Foods, so we got groceries and hauled them around rather than stop at fast food too often. There are coolers now that plug in to keep cold – gotta get me one of them. We just used ice, which also helped keep Boo’s breastmilk cold (again, too much info?!).
4. Again, something for everyone. We made sure there was something for everyone – San Francisco for me/girls, Disneyland for Tt (well, for all of us, actually!), Sea World for Tt, San Diego shops for the girls and Laguna Beach for Momma and the girls. I also tried to watch everyone – if B or A were starting to get bored, I’d suggest something quickly. While walking I would keep my eye out for shops that would interest them. If Husband was getting tired I’d take the wheel so he’d rest before we got somewhere to avoid having to deal with Mr. Cranky later on. We had a double stroller, so Tt or Boo could nap anytime they felt they needed it. (Seriously, was I the only one who didn’t get to sleep??).
5. Plan, plan, plan, then be spontaneous! I try on trips to be very planned, even for spontenaeity. I had a list and map of all kinds of options for things to do (with hours, locations, costs, etc) and as we went we picked one or two. We didn’t try to cover the whole list, but when travelling with teens who can get “bored” and small kids who can just get restless, you don’t want to waste time figuring anything out. Laguna Beach was a last minute decision while we were already in San Diego – we’d driven past on the way down and ended up cancelling an extra night in SD and finding a hotel via Expedia.ca. Best unplanned thing we ever did, and it ended up being a trip hilight.
We had planned out all our hotels ahead of time because it was summer, but in the end it wasn’t entirely necessary. Super 8 totally messed up our RSVP’s and we ended up with nothing but Disneyland Hotel booked (via Expedia). We had to be extra spontaneous! (Some hotels told us that if we had booked through Expedia it would have been cheaper, some said it would have been more expensive. In the end, it was always possible to find a room somewhere if you’re not on a super tight budget and have a laptop handy.)
6. Take turns. Once or twice we split up, which was also nice. One fine Disney morning Husband and I took the boys into the park while the teen girls slept in. They found us later by walkie-talkie. Another time the girls and I did extra shopping while the boys hung out at the hotel. We don’t do too much apart, but I had realized that we could all, in turn, use a break from the work of being around a toddler and infant 24-7.
7. Don’t be afraid to try something new. I actually got on a boogie board at Laguna Beach! I sucked at it, but I tried. And it led me to two of the greatest pics of the vacation – one of each of the girls. Neither of the girls had been to SF, and it turned out they quite enjoyed it. (On another trip my bro and sis-in-law took us out for Burmese food – it was new and great – and now a favorite).
8. Ask around. Locals always know where the best (and most family friendly) places to eat are. We found a great surfboard place that had 2′ long pizzas in SD, and a nice family pasta joint in Laguna, just by asking locals where the best places were.
(take a few cameras – even 4 year olds can take some good shots, plus you might even get one or two of yourself in there. I always end up with dozens of photos of everyone except myself, then when we look back on the albums we wonder where I was…)
9. Take it easy. There were a lot of stops we didn’t make, in favor of just doing one or two things each day. It was actually a rather relaxing vacation in the end. Don’t stress out when something goes wrong – a vacation is rarely perfect, so just go with it rather than stress everyone out and ruin the relaxed vacation vibe.
10. Movies, movies, movies. Actually, the car ride was only really painful coming home, when we just wanted to be back in our own beds. Otherwise, the time in the car passed ok and I can’t even remember what we really did. We switched up seats a lot, watched movies (we’d bought some new ones to see on our mini-DVD player), kept a journal, chatted, listened to the iPod, slept, played w/ Tt, gave Boo his bottles… I even brought our mini-photo printer in the car so I could do some scrapbooking during Husband’s driving shifts! It was definately harder to entertain all the Kids WHILE doing all the driving, but once the Hubby joined us it was much better.
11. Take a big car! We took our 8 passenger mini-van, and removed one seat for easier in/out access and leg room. It was perfect. The extra rear seat was folded down for luggage. I’d recommend a mini-van for any group of 4 or more – the extra room on a long ride was so much more comfortable, and you don’t have to feel like you’re RIGHT in each others face the entire ride.
I’ve driven as far as San Fransisco again since, and plan to drive that trip as well as down to Laguna again next summer. I enjoy the car, and although I said I’d “learned” a lot about travelling with kids, this is all the stuff we did and I wouldn’t change anything (except book fewer hotels ahead so we can travel more flexibly) – it was a fantastic trip.