I have been dreaming of travel again. A LOT! This happens to me every single year at about this same time. It is cold and wet. The weather is bleck. I can't see the sun from inside my kindergarten classroom. The trees are bare. The flowers are long gone. Our camper is winterized and on hold until better weather. We spend our afternoons after school sitting inside a basketball gym for practices. I am getting more and more depressed by the minute just thinking about this miserable time of year. I am 100% a summer girl. I love hot weather and sunshine and flip flops and swimming pools and most of all TRAVEL! This time of year, I start to wish the dreary winter would end and be replaced with care free summer days of adventure. I get
interested...... very preoccupied......obsessed with planning our next summer trip.
Our family doesn't usually take the typical family vacation...the one where you spend 5 days at a condo at the beach. Nothing wrong with that at all, we just prefer branching out a bit. Our trips tend to be mega road trips that we do in our RV for cheap! Situated in the middle of Nothingsville, Alabama, we have to make quite a trek to see what we like to see....National Parks, specifically. They are free...or super low cost and offer stunning views and hiking. A couple of years ago we traveled 5083 miles round trip to Montana to see Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We have traveled to Kentucky, to San Antonio, Texas, to Kansas, most recently to Arizona, Colorado and Utah, and many other amazing spots.
Often, when travel comes up in conversation, people want to know how in the world we manage to keep the boys from driving us and each other completely NUTS while we travel so far. I have heard, "I wouldn't be able to be cooped up in a car that long with my family without killing someone." I have heard, "Don't the boys get bored in the truck for that long?" and "Doesn't driving that far drive you crazy!!?" and "How do you keep them entertained for the whole trip?"
My simple answer is to PLAN ahead.
But, a simple answer doesn't explain it near well enough. I am sure that some people can just hop into a car with no planning and drive for hours on end and their kids handle it perfectly. But, I have never attempted that and never want to try it. I can't imagine it would have a happy ending for us.
Here is how we have always managed to drive across the country.... clocking miles in excess of 5,000.....spending 15+ days on the road in each trip.....and enjoying every minute of it....even enjoying the endless hours inside the cab of a truck.
First, it is imperative that you include the kids in part of the planning. We always discuss possible general travel ideas and talk about which ones the boys would like. When we narrow it down to the perfect destination, we look at our basic route on a map together....months in advance. We talk about how many of the days will be spent solely inside the truck driving, how many hours our first travel day will be, and where our first stop will be. I think it is most important for kids to understand the huge amount of time they will spend inside a vehicle. When the boys were younger, we would discuss it on terms of time that they could understand. I would say...
"When we leave for our trip, we will get in the truck when it is early in the morning and we will keep driving past breakfast time. Then, we will still be driving during the day all the way past lunch time. We will take a break from driving and eat a picnic lunch together, but then we will drive for a bunch more hours. We will still be driving when it gets dark outside. We will still be driving when it is almost your bedtime and then we will stop and rest."
We have always talked about this in great detail before we get close to our departure date. The boys are always very informed of the great deal of travel time we will have. There are no surprises and that takes away the frustration of suddenly realizing that they will be sitting in the truck ALL day....and then doing it again tomorrow and possibly driving the next day, too. Having this understanding totally elimates the dreaded "Are we there yet?" questions.
After you have your actual trip destination planned.....which is worthy of a whole other blog post.... you need to plan for the time spent on the road.
Before departure, I usually have a map of some kind, whether it be printed off mapquest or a cheap atlas or map and I highlight the trip route. The boys and I periodically check the highlighted route to see what cities, rivers, and states will be coming up next. Seeing the route on the map as you are actually driving the route, literally brings the map to life and makes the map and the places on it more relevant.
Before we leave for a long road trip, I always prepare some "Road Games" for the boys. On each trip, the games are a little different, and I never tell them about the games until we are on the road. We usually wait to start the games after we cross the Alabama state line. By this point, we have a couple of hours behind us and the boys are ready for some entertainment. They always know the games are coming and get excited about the challenge.
The Road Games basically keep the boys busy and happy for the entire trip. I make them into a competition with a monetary reward at the end. We do not buy souvenirs on trips for the boys....at all. That could turn into a major cost if we did. But, we do give them some money as prizes for playing the games, which keeps them very interested in playing them. Each boy is issued a clipboard with their gameboards attached to it. For our last trip, they had 4 games going at one time. For each trip, the games are changed or altered to suit their current age and interest level. These were our games for our last trip......
Car Tag Scavenger Hunt
How to play:
This one is their favorite and a version of it has been on every single trip. On this version, when they spot a car tag from a new state, they color the coorresponding state in on their blank map. This is the only game that the entire family works together for. If anyone spots the tag, then it counts for them all. We have tried playing this as an individual game, but whomever gets stuck sitting in the middle of the seat never scores as well...which makes the game unfair. When we reach our destination, a fully colored in map can be cashed in for $5 each. Any states not filled in are a deduction of $1. We allowed 2 blank spots on this trip. So, if each boy filled in 48 out of 50 states, they got their $5. They start again with a clean, blank map for the returning trip home. The boys do not realize it, but this gameteaches them all sorts of geography skills as they play. All 3 boys have a pretty good understanding of where each state in the country is.
How to play:
This is a scavenger hunt game that keeps the boys looking around at their surroundings instead of having their nose plastered in a video game the entire trip. Each trip has a new list of crazy things to look for. The harder to spot, the more points the item is worth. Easier items, like a sculpture or mini golf place, is worth one point, where harder items like an old caboose or a volkzwagon van are worth 3 points. The kids can find up to 3 of each item. Therefore, if they find 3 cabooses, they get 9 points at the end of the trip for that item. This game is an "every man for himself" game. The child with the most points gets awarded $5 for winning this game, 2nd place gets $4, and 3rd place gets $3 to spend on souvenirs.
Road Sign Hunt
How to play:
The boys are in search of 80 different types of road signs. If they spot it, they mark it on their page and get a point. The winner is the child with the most points. He gets $5, 2nd place $4, and 3rd place $3.
It's a simple game, but was their least favorite game of the four.
How to play:
This is a variation of the age old game of "Punch Bug" that everybody in the USA plays. This variation is used to save fights. Who wants a truck load of kids screaming "Punch Bug!" and then throwing punches at each other when you are going to be driving for days? Not me!
In this variation, each different type of Voltzwagon is worth different points. An "old style" bug is worth 3 points, a convertible one is worth 2 points, a standard new model bug is worth one point and a custom paint job is worth 3 points. When we arrive at our destination, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners get paid accordingly to use as souvenir money.
When we reach our destination, we shell out $51 total in payment for the games. This is the only souvenir money we give the boys. 50 bucks is 100% worth the peaceful traveling time we get in return. Plus, we are squeaking in lots of math and geography lessons along the way.
Of course, sometimes the boys want to take a break from playing their "Road Games" and they like to play their hand held video games, watch movies, or listen to their ipods to break up the trip.
We also pack a small art supply kit and sketch pads for the boys to spend some time drawing or creating art when they want to.
Of course, they know that video games, music, art, and movies do not help them win the competition and they are VERY competitive, so they prefer to look out the windows and play their Road Games the majority of the time.
We also handle our meal stops on a long road trip differently than typical meals. We realize that kids need time to move and run and climb and play and get extra energy out. The boys are great to sit still for hours in the truck, but everyone has their breaking point....and we don't want to cross it. So, we plan accordingly and build in times for movement and leg stretching. When it is time for meals, we generally find somewhere that the boys can get out and play for a little while. They sit for SO long riding in the truck that the last thing they need to do is sit down and be still again in a restaurant.
So....we find a place to let them move. Since we travel in an R.V., I usually climb in the camper and start preparing the meal when we stop....sometimes sandwiches or sometimes I actually use the oven up and warm something up while we are stopped.
While I cook, Bradley takes to boys to use the restroom and expend some energy. We let the boys explore a nearby creek, walking trail, or just get in an open field to throw a football. While everyone is burning off steam and feeling rejuvenated, the meal is getting prepared. So, no time is really lost.
When the food is ready and everyone is feeling happy again, we take the food back into the truck with us and eat while we continue to drive. Just eating in the truck is another way to click off more miles and more time.
Building in times for activity like this along the route are absolutely imperitive to our travel sanity!
Traveling with children certainly takes more thought and planning than traveling with only adults. While I am certain that we could take these same trips without planning the driving time, I can't imagine that we would enjoy it very much....and I want our travel time to be a fun experience. From the time we buckle up to leave to the time we unload the truck back at home, I want our trips together to be near perfect. Every trip is going to have a few bumps in the road, but all the planning and thought we put into each trip certainly helps get each road trip closer to perfection.
And it doesn't hurt that we actually enjoy spending time together.
My favorite moments of all with my family are those spent on the road.
If you've never tried a road trip with your family, give it a whirl! You will be rewarded for your effort.....I can promise you.