Here it is, I’m an over-planner. Not everyday and not with everything but more often than I’d like.
My husband and I are headed to Scotland soon, a place I’ve dreamed of visiting for decades and I’m completely paralyzed by the planning of the whole thing. I don’t want to miss out on things but at the same time I don’t want to have an itinerary that is so tight that we can’t embrace our adventurous side. We’ve been at this travel thing together for the better part of 20 years (a side effect of meeting and marrying so young). For the first 6 or 7 years we flew by the seats of our pants. Young, childless, and optimistic we rarely had hotel reservations, we carried maps because we frequently got lost when we went “adventuring”, and many times we didn’t know exactly what day we were leaving or when we were returning. Things either worked out, we figured it out, or we learned a lesson. We are both perfectly capable human beings and can manage ourselves fairly well in nearly any circumstance. So we did.
Enter our beloved kiddo and my inner planner instincts became very handy. I can plan an itinerary with the best of them. I’ve got maps, names, addresses, costs down to the penny, rest stops, hotels, Airbnbs, and everyone has exactly what they need exactly when they need it. I’m a pro. If I could get paid for this, I’d never work another job again.
This time though, since we are traveling childless (she has school and grandparents to oversee all that needs to go on), I’d like to fly by the seat of my pants again. It is way harder than I expected! I’ve always enjoyed our trips and can’t wait to go anywhere, anytime but I’ve missed the flexibility. So WHY is it so hard to be flexible? Perhaps I’m just out of practice. Perhaps it is because my professional life has consisted of putting out fires all over the place for the last decade or so and now that I have 3 seconds to think, I feel like I have to control something else. Who knows?
What I do know is this, I’ll either figure it out or I’ll drink a fair amount of Scotch to chill me out. Let’s see shall we?
You’ve decided to get out into the world and you want to try tent camping, that’s great! There are lots of reasons to do so; to get back to nature, to save money on accommodations, to have a little more flexibility, etc. This time of year, just the thought of warm weather activities brings happiness so let’s get planning.
This is what you need to know:
- People who camp are almost universally wonderful people. I think it is all of the fresh air and s’mores.
- Campground owners are wonderful too, though every once in a while it takes them a little while to warm up.
- Bicycles, scooters and skateboards are frequently welcome at campgrounds.
- Many campgrounds have pools and laundry facilities.
- You are going to need bug spray! Seriously, bring it.
- Some National Parks DO NOT have showers but they are available in the nearby town. (Rocky Mountain National Park is one such place but the views are worth the extra effort.) Get the details before you book.
- Bring shower shoes (flip flops) and a plastic container for your shower supplies (the kind that college kids use is best) regardless of where the showers are located.
- Your first time out, BORROW most of the supplies from friends (with full instructions on how to set up the tent). Please don’t spend money on new things when your friends have them for you to borrow. Save the purchasing until you know you love it, then buy what you love and use the heck out of it.
- You need a ground cloth (a large sheet of thick plastic about the size of the bottom of your tent) under your tent no matter what anyone tells you. It also must be completely under the tent, if it sticks out even a little it will collect rain which will run under your tent. Disregard this if you like but I don’t wake up in puddles, even if it rains.
- You MUST stake down your tent. This is to keep the shape so it is comfortable for you and to keep it where you put it.
- Assess your site carefully. Do NOT put your tent at the bottom of a hill or near a body of water if it is likely to rain, rivers rise when it rains folks. If you are concerned, ask for a new site. See #2.
- Many campgrounds offer some kind of community activity in the evening, usually around a fire. It is a great way to meet people. See #1.
- When borrowing or eventually buying a tent, you need to know that they generally sleep fewer people than the box says. Ours says it sleeps 5 but we can only get 3 in it. The number on the box for ours is accurate if a group were to all sleep side by side, without air mattresses, didn’t have any gear/clothes in there with them and no one was over 5’6″. Did I mention that my husband is 6’3″? You will almost always need to sleep perpendicular to the suggested direction. Don’t get frustrated by the discrepancy in capacity, just know this going in.
- If there is severe weather, GET OUT OF THE TENT! Find a secure building. The camp office is usually your best bet. We were camping one night in Nebraska (we were in a camper this time) and a thunderstorm came up with some noticeable winds, nothing to bother the camper but the tent in the site next to us ended up in the lake. See #10. Please note that had the winds been any higher we would have had to vacate the camper too. If you are camping out in the open in an area of the country where high winds and tornadoes occur, talk to the camp office about emergency procedures. They have them, I promise.
- Tent camping usually means that you are further out into nature than you may normally be. Be careful with your food. If you leave food out, you will likely have visitors. The other humans will leave it alone but the raccoons, bears and their friends can actually smell it from a mile away. There are quick and easy ways to contain your food and prevent an unplanned run-ins with your woodland neighbors. Check with the camp office for their recommendations. Call or email them before you arrive so you can bring the supplies you need. I’m purposefully not giving specifics here as many campgrounds have their own regulations based on their facilities and local wildlife.
Next time: A detailed packing list for a tent camping trip.
Original photograph by: ByBy Kbh3rd (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Text added by DreamDepartExplore
It is time, your sisters-in-law are pregnant and it is time for baby showers! Your darling sisters-in-law have been very kind about your vacation time and money. Even though they are due about 3 months apart, they scheduled their baby showers on back to back days so you only have to make one 30 hour roundtrip car trip instead of 2. Did I mention that you ADORE your sisters-in-law? (If you don’t actually like yours, I’m sad for you because mine are awesome!)
You decide to make a family vacation out of it by planning several overnight stops in a few states with lots of fun along the way, the whole trip takes 12 days. You pack up the car and help your 4 year old settle in. Now you face 30 hours in the car over the course of 5 days or driving. This is doable people, planning is key!
After 25,000+ miles of car trips with a child these are my tips on how to arrive the same happy family you were when you left home:
- Snacks – You’ll be spending hours in the car each time you get in and if you have to stop every time someone is hungry you will never get out of your own state. Apples, carrots, trail mix, granola bars, nuts, cheese sticks, etc. in a cooler will be plenty, oh and water too. Have a SMALL amount of something sweet as an occasional treat if you like. However, think about how your little one reacts to sugar and imagine the whole reaction strapped to a carseat 2 feet behind you. Like I said, planning is important.
- Toys/surprises – there are lots of versions of this. The basic principle is this, have something new to hand to your child every hour or so. The novelty of a new toy will help pass the time and keep them active when you need them to be awake instead of sleeping and messing up their schedule. Some people wrap the toys up or put them in a mystery bag each time. Borrow toys from friends instead of buying if you like. Do what works for you.
- Bring a blanket. If the driver likes the car cool, like my husband does, kiddo is going to get cold. Cold kid=cranky kid=LOOOONG drive.
- Movies – 30 hours of movies when you are home? Uh, no, head outside little ball of energy. On the road? You bet! Again, this is novel and since your little one can’t move that much let them watch their favorites so they are entertained and you can maybe talk to your spouse. Load up the iPad or bring along DVDs (and a DVD player if your car is old like mine. I still have a tape deck people! No tapes though, curious…)
- STOP THE CAR! – Even if you are worried about “making good time” like my husband you have to stop the car every couple of hours. Despite all of that entertainment your little one is going to get antsy, cranky and need to use the bathroom. So stop the car at a rest area, stretch your legs and use the facilities. However, if your child is happy, well fed and otherwise enjoying the drive don’t feel the need to stop exactly every couple of hours. Keep going and stop when they start to fade.
- Run! – This little tactic has gotten me more strange looks than anything else. While at the rest area, find a nice grassy area that is NOT the dog run area, ew. Take your munchkin over there and ask her to run between this tree and that one and then between those two. Run with her if you can. People WILL look at you strangely. This is what to do, look them straight in the eye and with your kindest look and most pleasant voice say, “We are going to be in the car for 6 hours (or 8 or 10) today and we are burning off some energy.” Then take your child by the hand and stroll back to your car. Wait for it…..then listen. The person who just looked at you like you were completely out of your mind will say something to the effect of “Honey, go get Jimmy!” As you drive past the grassy area where you burned your energy, Jimmy will be running between the trees. If this ever happened to you along I-90, particularly on the New York State Thruway, my name is Cheryl and you’re welcome.
- Plan stops for fun things – My brother and sister-in-law are particularly adept at this trick. They like to find somewhere fun about half way through a day’s drive and then stop for 2-4 hours. Zoos are a popular choice for them but parks, playgrounds, and lakes are great choices too.
- Know your limits – Figure out how many hours your family can realistically spend in the car in one day and stick to it. After all these years of travel, our family limit is about 15 hours (up from 8 hours when my child was 4), after that we start to get cranky. OK, I start to get cranky. If you can’t make it to your destination under your threshold, you need to get creative.
- Sleep – Sleep in this case means hotels. If you have a very long drive that exceeds your threshold, break it up. Our favorite trick is to leave after school, drive about 3 hours and then stay at a hotel. I always pre-book these hotels and I look for ones with pools and near areas we’d like to explore or at least near restaurants we like. We wake up the next day and try to get out by 8 a.m. at the latest.
- No-go Day – Once we reach our destination we find it is best if we keep the munchkin out of the car completely the following day. This was especially important when she was little. These days though she is just as eager to get going as Mom and Dad. She is stronger and more resilient now. More trips for all!
Well that is all great dear, but my child gets carsick, any suggestions there?
Actually yes, and they come courtesy of one of my fantastic sisters-in-law mentioned above. Lest you think that the carsickness gets in the way of traveling for her family, let me assure you that she travels as much, if not more, than we do. It just takes planning, some knowhow and watching your kids closely to figure out what works for them.
- Accept that your child who is prone to being carsick will likely get sick at least once or twice and (over)prepare with supplies. My SIL went to a medical supply store and bought bags similar to these. They aren’t the most exiting purchase ever but they will help keep your child and your car clean. They may make getting sick almost a non-event. According to my SIL, a single adult who is driving can hold this for a child when needed. She’s got skills people!
- Be especially careful in how you dress your child. Dress for the car ride itself and dress for comfort! PJs, yoga pants and t-shirts, etc. You want nothing to be pressing too hard on their bellies. Hmm, comfy travel clothes, see a theme in my family? In this instance though, socks and shoes are optional.
- When dressing your child, consider adding one extra layer on top, a hoodie is a good option. This way when they start to get hot and queasy, they can take off the layer and the change in temperature may be enough to settle the stomach. If not, open the window a little bit if you can, the cool air frequently helps too.
- This is the only time I’ll give this advice since I love books. Don’t let your child read. This is one that I know very well myself. I can’t read in the car. The shadows constantly remind my brain that I am moving but the stationary page insists otherwise, hence the motion sickness. Some people can watch movies in the car with no trouble since the picture is moving, my daughter and I fit into this category. Others can only watch for 10-15 minutes before they need to stop and look out the window, this would be my niece’s realm.
- Play “I Spy” instead. You get to learn more about how your child sees the world, literally, and she won’t get sick.
- Sing songs or talk. Again entertainment that doesn’t require focusing on something that is stationary.
- My SIL swears by this cooler that you can plug into the car (or the wall later on). For her, having the kids’ favorite things to eat on hand works wonders for mood and motion sickness. The variety this cooler affords helps as well and she always travels with ginger ale. The nice thing is that you can bring this into a hotel for an overnight or into your cabin, etc. when you arrive and skip the grocery store for a day or so.
- Drive at night. The kids will be sleeping anyway so you may as well be moving. The issues that cause motion sickness are severely lessened at night and pretty well eliminated while sleeping. Make sure the driver is well rested and switch drivers throughout the night to stay safe.
Ok, pack the car and the kiddos and head out for some fun!
There are lots of theories on packing for a trip, this is mine.
Plan very carefully, pack only what you need and then you can fly with just a carry-on anywhere you go. When you fly carry-on only you get to skip the ticket counter and the quibbles and problems of other people trying to check items in line ahead of you, you get to skip the baggage fees, you get to skip baggage claim, the airline can’t lose your luggage and once you reach your destination you move with ease through transit. All of this leaves you with more money, more time, more flexibility and less stress. Yay!
Despite every single person I know telling me I was crazy, last October my family of 3 traveled for 11 days in Europe with just 3 carry-on sized backpacks. This made our lives so much easier. We had no trouble getting our luggage in our tiny rental car while we had it, we had lots of floor/table space in our friend’s home and hotel rooms, we moved with ease through Tube, train and Metro stations not to mention the streets of London and Paris. The friend who took us to the airport even commented, “It looks like I’m taking 3 kids to school not a family to the airport for a European vacation.”
How did we do it?
- We used 2 carry-on size convertible backpacks and 1 smaller one for our daughter. We also rolled our clothes and used packing cubes.
- We packed small toiletries and shared the space in our 3 allowed (1 per person) 3-1-1 bags.
- We used technology to our advantage with phones, iPods and eReaders serving as our entertainment.
- We made sure everything we brought could be used at least 2 ways.
- Each person packed a limited amount of color coordinated clothes;
- 4 long sleeve shirts
- 3 short sleeve shirts
- 2 sweaters or hoodies
- 3 pairs of pants
- 2 pairs of shoes
- 1 semi-formal outfit for the wedding (did I mention we attended a wedding too?)
- 1 warm jacket
- 5 pairs of socks
- 5 sets of undergarments
- No more than 3 accessories (my daughter and I took scarves and my husband chose not to take anything).
- 1 pair of small gloves
- 1 warm hat
- 1 small umbrella (we were headed to England after all)
Some simple math would indicate that we didn’t have 11 of anything. My friends, laundry is YOUR friend on a trip like this. We stayed with a friend the first 2 nights and made use of her washer before we left her home. From there on out, we did laundry as needed at the hotel either in machines or in our room. I do a lot of hand-wash laundry at home managing my daughter’s dance clothes so it took no time at all. (To be perfectly honest, we pack this same way regardless of where we are flying not just on international trips.)
If you end up doing laundry in your room, I have two suggestions;
- Do it as soon as you arrive, it will have a much longer time to dry,
- Consider bringing a clothesline to string in the shower, though the lovely European heated towel racks will do in a pinch and are actually much faster what with being heated and all. As a rule hotels don’t love you doing your laundry in the room because they worry you will string it up everywhere or leave it draped over all of the furniture and ruin the finishes. If you keep it in the bathroom, especially in the shower, you will have no problems at all.
Trust me on this, 20 minutes of managing your laundry will certainly be worth the aggravation and space you save.
When picking out clothes, choose 1 color palette so all of your clothes will go together. Be sure to bring pieces that layer well so that you will be warm enough if it gets colder than you are expecting. We only had one day that was really cold, of course it was the day we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and later experience the tail of a hurricane sliding through Europe. Nevertheless we had fun and got some great pictures.
*Note: I have no affiliation with eBags, I just happen to like their stuff and have had good luck with everything have I purchased thus far.
Yup, just two. Here they are.
1) RUN! As fast as you can, with a packed schedule, taking lots of pictures and usually eating on the go. I have done this a few times myself, especially if I don’t have a lot of time to see a particular city or know I won’t return.
2) Pick 2 or 3 things to see each day and then just see what else happens. This is my preferred method in most places and it is definitely the way I do it if I plan to return.
If you go with option 1, you will see a lot but won’t experience as
much of the place. You likely won’t meet many people and you may feel you need a vacation when you get home from your vacation. There is nothing wrong with this method. It is your vacation to do with as you please and some people really can’t stand to stay still when they flew (or drove) all that way. So run far, and run fast my friends.
If you go with option 2, you will see nearly as much but you will really get a feel for the place. Meeting the people who live wherever you visit is the best part! If you do it well enough, you will end up with new friends with whom you can connect on Facebook or your social media of choice. That way when you are lucky enough to return you get an even deeper experience as your friends show you the secret local places that most tourists never hear about. If you play your cards right, you may even get to stay with your friends for a couple of days on a return trip. I hope your friends are as wonderful as mine. I am awakened by a lovely singing voice who then brings fresh brewed coffee to my door on a tray. I look forward to returning the favor.
Dream up your vacation and see if you can’t balance the two. We’ve been known to schedule a “down day” every 3 or 4 days if we know that we will have a particularly busy schedule during the rest of the trip. It makes a world of difference!