Cali Road Trip 2009


Who’s idea was it to take a 2-yr old on a road trip again????!
Oh, I guess that would have been my idea…
On the “not great” side, 2-yr olds don’t bode well on car trips.
On the “great” side? We’ll never have to road trip with a 2-yr old again.

Next time he’ll be 3.

We actually had a great – albeit exhausting – drive down to California as far as Oceanside/Carlsbad.
And, naturally, wanting to one day achieve a “perfect road trip”, there are lots of tips and tricks for me to remember and to share. Some might be repeated from other “travelling with kids” posts, but we’ll just tack that up to old age.

1. Take a GPS. And train your hubby how to use it BEFORE it’s late one night and you’re driving because he can’t drive at night and he doesn’t have a clue how to work it and you really don’t want to stop the car unnecessarily because it will wake up the finally sleeping 2-yr old in back but you really really need to find the next potty stop.


2. Wal-Mart SS’s (24-hrs) ROCK! Am I the only person who feels JIPPED to spend $80+ on a hotel that you’re only going to use for 8hrs or less while driving through?? We slept/shopped at a Wal-Mart SS lot (apparently you can stay up to 3 nights free) one night when I couldn’t drive past 1:45am, and were back on the road at 4:45am. Three hours. Done. Gone. Thanks. AND we picked up groceries for the next day all in the same spot. Sweet.


3. ALWAYS plan to make stops, even if you feel like you can keep driving, and ESPECIALLY BEFORE A MAJOR CITY where rush-hours will keep you locked in for extra hours. Always. Do it. With Boo we tried to stop every 3 hours, even if he had just napped for 2 of them. Targets and Wal-Marts were abundant and easy for a potty break, cheap toy bribe and a kiddie run-about, but next time I think I’ll mix them up with more rest stop stops. They’d cost less.


4. Check the schedule of all theme parks/activities!!! We almost missed Legoland, having no idea it would possibly be closed mid-week on a regular basis. Whew! Also, if we’d wanted, we could have scheduled Disneyland on a week when they didn’t have masses of tour groups – you might be able to call ahead and check what big groups will be there the week you’re planning.


5. Plan a “flex” day – or have an extra day or two built into your schedule. Upon seeing how gorgeous Oceanside is (purely by accident), we ended up ditching Sea World (I’m sure Shamu will understand) and spending a day at the beach. It became the hilight of our entire vacation. Surfboards and all.


6. Chat with locals to get great food/restaurant advice. A few times now we’ve found amazing food by asking some locals (i.e. random lady sitting beside me at Legoland) where to eat off the beaten touristy path. This round was some great Mexican in Oceanside, through which we also found a great pizza place, and through that we found our surfboard.


7. NO FAST FOOD! While this may be do-able for adults, we didn’t bother as much with the kids, especially Boo. We were just happy when he’d eat ANYTHING. As the boys get older, it’ll get easier. We had a cooler, and bought tins of salmon which they loved and other yummy healthy alternatives like fresh grape tomatoes and english cucumbers. I confess I ate Disney food twice – fish ‘n chips (disgusting) and caesar salad (disgusting). I regretted both and wish I’d brought a baguette and some fresh tomato at the very least. Next time I’ll bring a thermal lunch bag for the days milk/salami/tomatoes, etc.


8. Hotwire it, baby. We didn’t book ANY hotels before hand (easy because it was off-season, but we’ve done it in July too). This worked sometimes, didn’t work others. After our WM parking lot, we went d/t San Fran with no rsvp and grabbed whatever we could find downtown for $150USD. Ouch. We could have saved HALF by using to get a hotel. We used Expedia on the next hotel, but could have done much better on again. The third hotel was a Hotwire deal – nice, clean, beautiful 3.5 star hotel 1 block from Disneyland, for $80USD. Sweet. I’m sold – goodbye Expedia.


9. Take time to do nothing. Go nowhere. It can’t be a vacation if you’re rushed the whole time, trying to do far too much, now can it?? We spent an entire day in a hotel room just hanging out once. It was great.


10. Take a chance on something new. Every year we try to see one new thing in San Francisco. This year my sis-in-law suggested the “Exploratorium” and we all loved it! Even Boo – there were so many things to touch and move and watch. We spent almost 4 hours there and could easily have gone another 2. It was a homeschoolers dream, but more appropriate learning-wise for 6-12 yrs old. (Last year was the Monterey Aquarium, which was also fabulous).

Well, we’ll see how we do next Spring… With a 3-yr old…






Other posts you might enjoy:
Travelling with Kids – Roadtrip 2009 Warmup

Travelling with Kids – Extra Advice
Travelling with Kids – Italy

Travelling with Kids – Roadtrip 2009 warmup

This SPRING, Hubby + I are driving the boys down to San Diego and back.
Hubby is trying desperately to get out of actually driving, but even with $100 per person airfares, it’s still at least $800 cheaper for the holiday for us to drive. I told him I’ll still save him money if we drive AND I spend $400 in clothes. He’s not amused.

pic-0142(no, I’m not actually driving in this photo…)

It just so happens that we’ve had to take a number of short trips, both in US and Canada, so I’ve been paying attention to the boys to prep myself for the “big’un”. Here are the top 10 things I’ll need to remember for our drive to San Diego:

1. Small boys can only go 3 hours without a pit stop to stretch. Momma can only go for 3 hours after each latte before needing to pee. That will add 4-5 hours to our driving time between here + San Fran, 2 hrs between SF + LA.

2. Target (with Starbucks!) + Wal-Mart (Supercentre) are good places to stop. Boys like to run up and down aisles and inbetween clothes – let ’em go for it (sorry, Target + WalMart employees…). At one I get a latte, at the other we can pick up fruit + drinks, etc. Win, win, win.

3. Put boys each in a seat that reclines slightly for longer napping times. Leave a seat between them for avoiding fights to save Momma’s sanity, and for fitting their new lap trays to play on.

4. ALWAYS, always have the following handy: can opener, swiss army knife, napkins, empty kiddie cups that don’t leak when they get thrown onto the floor or left on a seat. The seat that I’ll most likely end up sitting on next.

5. Have a full supply of GOLDFISH in all 3 flavors, to be purchased at first Target stop, on hand at all times.

6. Take Gramma/Grampa’s GPS to find all necessary Targets and Walmart Supercenters before the actual turnoffs.

7. For the “itchies” between stops, have at least 3-4 small “treats”, and a few new DVD’s to watch hidden to pull out for emergency surprises, aka BRIBES, also to be purchased at first Target stop – secretly.

8. Momma to bring her own music. LOUD for driving later in the evening to keep her awake, MELLOW for a sanity break during boys naps.

9. Bring a few learning tools for the car rides for “extra fun”, aka School!

10. If all else fails – get out the bubbles.


2 months to go… and counting.


Travelling with Kids – Extra Advice

A few more things that have come to mind that we’ve learned while travelling with our Kids.

1. Plan. Have an itinerary. For Italy (and Paris before that), not only did we have an itinerary, we had addresses, maps and photos of each place we would need to find. It was a crazy amount of detail, but when you have 4 cranky kids and you don’t really know where you are or where you’re going, you need all the help you can get. Besides, photos of what your hotel looks like from the street, and a walking map from the train station to the hotel – it’s all available online nowadays.

dsc_9137(Our lose-it-and-we’re-screwed, EVERYTHING folder. It kept our passports, air tickets, train tickets, emergency information, stubs, souveniers, hotel confirmation numbers, detailed (!) itinerary – you name it, it was in what I lovingly called our “FOLDER OF FUN”, as in “KIDS!! Who’s seen the FOLDER OF FUN??? I left it RIGHT here!”)

2. Plan more. I had pre-researched a number of things to do in each city, with, of course!, maps and photos. Then we kind of went with the flow – if we wanted on the spur to visit a museum, I already had the hours, fees, directions all handy.


(The itinerary to beat all itineraries – even including how much a cab should cost (but didn’t…), check in/out times, maps between our hotels + the train stations, and sometimes what the hotel breakfast buffet would look like!)

3. Got milk? Foreign countries don’t drink milk. If your kids gotta have it, it’s best to try to find out ahead of time where your next milk will come from. We didn’t, and paid for it a few times. Next time I would pre-locate a number of supermarkets about each town. Also, we didn’t prepare for the 11 hr plane ride back home and, so everyone knows, airplanes don’t drink milk. Again, next time we’ll better prepare.

4. Be aware if you have an “Extra Kid”. I’ve learned over the years to treat Hubby as an “extra kid”, who rarely knows where we’re going, needs to have something also of interest for him, needs daily naps!, gets cranky without food… Generally, he needs all the same care, attention and concessions as the other 4 kids do. On holiday, he IS the 5th kid. (Which, you may realize, means it’s never really a holiday for ME.).

Happy travels!


Travelling with Kids – Italy

“Are you CRAZY???”

As I’ve said, I really hear that a lot, therefore it must be true. This past summer we decided, since it was potentially B’s “last” chance to travel with us for awhile, to take a big, BIG trip to ITALY as a family. With backpacks. With a 4 1/2 yr old, and a 14 month old. We visited 4 cities in 14 or 15 days and came home exhausted, but happy. We borrowed just about every penny and it’ll take us about 3 years to pay it off, but it was absolutely worth it. And, yes, we learned a bit more about travelling with Kids.


1. Travel EARLY! It would have been far easier to travel with Boo BEFORE he was able to walk, as we had with Tt to Paris. BUT, c’est la vie – we weren’t going to NOT travel just because we had little ones. We bought and packed 2 umbrella strollers (the super cheap ones). Even though they both COULD walk, didn’t mean they WOULD for 8+ hours a day.


2. Again (and again?), something for everyone. It was kind of hard to find things for Tt throughout Rome, Florence, Venice and London, but somehow we managed even if it was to find the ONE toy shop in town. He’ll never forget the Colliseum (of course – there was fighting there once!), the girls got to do some afternoon shopping every day in every city, Husband got to see some art galleries and we ALL loved the beaches in Lido (Venice). While I would have enjoyed an hour long afternoon latte each day, I’ll just have to catch that when I return ;-).


3. Mix it up. Like our roadtrip to San Diego, and another trip I had taken to Paris 10 years ago, it seems to work great to mix it up – and in this order – big, stinky city first, smaller shopping town second and gorgeous beaches last. Ahhhhhh. We “accidentally” found Lido in Venice (via Expedia) and it was definately THE highlight of our holiday.


4. Work your flights. We started out with flights around $9,200 for all 6 of us (yes, they charge something for under 2 yrs). They were on hold, but then I did more research and found flights for $8,800 or so if we left from Seattle. I figured it was a free nights hotel stay, so why not save a bit. When I told the travel agent about the flights, she did more research and came up with separate flights (return Vancouver-London Transat, return London-Rome BA) for $7,000 total. Next time I’ll really work the internet, then take whatever I find to my travel agent to make sure the flight is “good”. She just comes up with the cheapest things she sees, but once she knew I was working it, she worked a bit harder too. Our flight times/days changed off and on, but we were flexible within a day or two.


5. Beware the European Hotel in your budgeting… I had a pretty well-researched budget going into this trip, and Husband had given me a specific overall “allowance” (then I added about $2,000…). That said, I didn’t realize that travelling with more than TWO people adds to every single hotel cost. (We weren’t staying in any one city long enough for apartments, etc). We ended up having to get 2 rooms in almost every city, PLUS pay an “extra person” fee in one room (Boo didn’t count in the other). It sure adds up when you’re not expecting it, but fortunately the savings in airfare covered most of the extra hotel costs.

dsc_2376(this was the one hotel all 6 of us fit in one room – we paid dearly for it (Lido, Venice), but it was a nice change and big and roomy for the boys to run about)

6. AND BRIBES  still WORK! Tt again was allowed one new toy (again, around $5) every day. He found little Gladiators in Rome, Knights and a mini-soccer ball in Florence, double-decker bus and one of those guards with the funny hat in London – mostly little plastic figures that he collected and played with every day. It kept him entertained throughout the trip, and the only other “toys” we had to pack going was his blankie, a stuffed shark and a pad of paper.

dsc_1914(‘scuze the fuzzy pic…)

7. Plan on being in the hotel. With really small kids, sometimes the hotel room IS the holiday. To Tt nothing else really mattered but having time to run around and play in the hotel, as opposed to being told to “behave properly” amongst traffic, art galleries and unfamiliar places. And Husband always appreciated a nap – good thing we always had two rooms, one “quiet” and one “play”!. We spent at least 2 hours every afternoon before dinner just relaxing.


8. Two words – RED EYE. We took a red eye that left Vancouver at 9pm on the way there and it was smooth sailing. Boo fell asleep before takeoff, and Tt, B + A slept on each other in another row almost the entire way. Bliss. The way back was not a red eye, and it was miserable for Boo. (Note – airplane creamers in a bottle cannot be substituted for a bottle of “real” milk. Lesson learned. Lap thrown up on. Noted.)

ya, I have no photos for that one.

9. Cameras for everybody! They might not be big photographers, but sometimes that one or two shots they catch are great and memorable. Plus, it means even the “trip photographer” gets to be in a few pictures! Tt took up a camera a few times and it was hilarious. Some trips I even buy a few waterproof disposables to hand around.

dscn2798(even a 4-yr old can catch some real memorable moments!)

10. Save a gem for your last night. Every time a holiday is about to end, we really just want to get HOME, NOW. A few times now we’ve treated ourselves to a really nice hotel on our last night, and it sure makes the wait to get home soooooo much more bearable. Nothing like a nice hot shower in a gorgeous, comforting bathroom and a fluffy fluffy clean bed to end a trip on a high note. Our last night was in London and we sure enjoyed the airport hotel – Sofitel – at Gatwick.


Travelling with Kids – ROADTRIP to Cali

“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!

dsc_7838(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?!).

dsc_7842(print and use even the crappy shots – later you’ll be glad to remember the moment more than you’ll be upset it’s fuzzy)

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??).

dsc_7843(grab business cards from good restaurants or shops – it’ll help you pass on the info of a great find to a friend, or know where to hit when you go back)

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 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.

dsc_7847(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.

dsc_7849(take lots of family pics! even if it’s not great conditions. it’s so easy to forget)

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.

Travelling with Kids – Paris

In 2004 Hubby and I took B, A and a 4-month old Tt to Paris for one whole week. It was fantastic! And, naturally, we learned a bit more about travelling with KIDS.


1. Show them where you’re going. When it’s far away, it can be difficult for Kids to realize quite where you’re actually going. We took the time prior to going to show them where we were going and to talk about a bit of the history.


(Fly RED-EYES! Both our recent flights to Europe we left YVR at 9pm, and the kids ALL slept the whole way over – ahhhhhh.) (Ask for a bulkhead seat if you have a basinette-sized baby – you have somewhere to put them while they sleep. British Airways even had a basinette to put Tt in)

2. Give them a bit of history. Because Paris has just so much history, I knew we would end up at the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and a few other places for sure. I put together a little “handout” with just 2 or 3 interesting facts about each thing. Keep it short – better they learn a bit then think the entire vacation is a bore. (The boys will be different – by virtue of homeschooling they’ll be using travel as school, whereas for the girls it was meant to be a break from school/work).


(Turn a chore into fun galore! We made a “going up the hill” drama for a regular hill we had to climb to get to a Metro. It was funny and silly)

3. Don’t bother trying to see EVERYTHING. If it’s that great a place, you’ll go back one day. And if you don’t, oh well. There is so much we could have seen while in PARIS, but we chose to try to see one or two things each day, which I had pre-researched. This allowed us have “empty” time to relax and walk aimlessly a little bit each day, when we’d find a few unplanned treasure spots.


(We decided to learn calligraphy during our trip – it kind of fit in w/ the “old” aspect of Paris. We bought little leather-bound books and a pen while we were there.)

4. Keep each persons interests in mind. I purposely tried to find 1 or 2 things for each of our personal interests. For B it was the Catacombs (I stayed “up” on land w/ Tt enjoying a cafe au lait – see? Something for everyone 😉 ). For A it was a mall (yes, we went all the way to Paris to walk a mall…). For Husband it was a Park to relax (and nap?) in. For me… well, just being there was for me.


(We took a few sketch books with us – everyone HAD to draw, even Daddy, which of course made it all very, very funny…)

5. Mind the stairs. Tt was only 4 months, so there really wasn’t a whole lot to consider on his behalf. He was content to sit in his stroller, I managed to breastfeed whenever he needed (did I get nasty french glares? who knows, who paid attention, who cares) and other than the first night there was little time-change lag. The one thing we DID plan for was carrying the stroller… THERE ARE NO LIFTS when you need them in Europe. We took only a small easily collapsible umbrella stroller and got the hang quickly of grabbing a side each and just hauling up and down stairs to the Metro etc.


6. Learn a bit of the Language. Well, I did happen to remember just enough French to get us by, but when my French failed me and we got some grotesque raw steak for dinner, we just laughed and went with the flow. What can you do? I tried teaching the girls/Husband a few words, but to no avail.

7. Do at least one thing “special”. For us, this was a Lunch cruise on the Seine. It was pretty pricey, but we got to dress up (with some of our new things we’d bought!), have some great food and see the City from a new angle.


(While doing that one thing special, I learned not to get upset if everything doesn’t go to plan… We arrived with our tickets only to find they wanted to charge full child admission for Tt, who, obviously, wasn’t even going to get a chair much less eat… We just paid it and let it go, as getting overly upset and arguing would have just ruined the experience for all of us)

8. Allow for mis-haps. Take it all in stride. If you get stressed, the kids get stressed. When we left, we’d left an important document at home. Fortunately we’d arrived at the airport 3 hrs early and had enough time to RUSH a cab home. B and I had to break a window to get in (longer story), but I refused to be stressed and we just laughed. As we were waiting to take off, Tt pooped. Huge. All over. And I couldn’t get up because the “seatbelt” sign was still on. Disgust, sure, but then laughter.


(As part of our “something for everyone” approach, we treated the girls to a day at EuroDisney! Although it wasn’t sooo nice as our California park, it was a fun, fun day.)

9. Allow for Rest. We purposely didn’t plan much for the first day, assuming we would be tired, would want to sleep in and recover a bit. We also tried to have some “downtime” in the hotel each day. It seems such a waste to spend precious time abroad sitting in your (tiny) hotel room, but it was worth it to reduce Husband crankiness!


(We all appreciated a little mid-day down time. SURE, we could have seen more if we’d just GO, GO, GO, but I think we enjoyed what we did see that much better with lots of rest)

10. Pack extra clothes – for just about everyone. On our flight over, we SHOULD have packed: extra jammies for Tt (he pooped all over his); extra top + pants for Momma (he pooped all over mine); relaxing “airplane” clothes to change out of once we landed so we could feel at least a little bit fresh; and those small rollup slippers for each of us because even though it’s carpeted, 2 hrs into an 11 hr flight the floor is just plain gross.