Things here have been super crazy these last several years hence the break-neck speed of my posts coming at you about once a year!
This year I plan to, well, plan. We have quite a number of trips on our bucket lists here at my house. We don’t have exact timelines for these trips yet and a lot of the timing will depend on the time and money required to take each trip. I know, this is quite a startling revelation as we are obviously the only people with those parameters.
Anyway, I will be planning trips that I want to take. I will be researching flight costs, lodging options, car rentals, travel insurance, visas, attractions, etc. The goal is to have a set of trips ready to go whenever we can fit them into our schedule. My dear readers, I hope that you enjoy reading through these plans and I welcome information that you would like to share. Honestly though, whether anyone but me and my family ever reads these plans makes no difference to me. Our child is getting older and we have a limited number of years left to take her on adventures with us before she is off on her own adventures. We want to be sure to share as many trips and experiences as possible in the next few years. Time marches on.
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?
Yes, I have issues with animals. Yes, I now have a dog. Yes, I’m a sucker for a cute face. I mean come on…
Our little guy is small on purpose, we knew we wanted a dog that was small enough to travel because we have no intention of slowing down! He’s even small enough to fly in the cabin of the plane if needed, though we’ve not done so yet.
Now, we’ve traveled with our child every year of her life, and some years it was every month. We are, therefore, aware that babies travel with a ridiculous amount of gear and it appears puppies aren’t much different. On our 16 day trip to the northeast each human had a carry-on size bag of clothes (laundry is our friend), a pillow, a book or 2, and an electronic device of some kind. We shared a toiletry bag. However, the dog had a crate, a backpack in which he could ride both in the car and out in the world, a sleeping pad, 2 towels, 2 blankets, a lifejacket (you can rent lifejackets for humans but not for puppies), a bag of food and treats, and a bag of toys. He is so lucky he’s cute. His stuff outweighed his cute, 12 pound self at least 2 times over!
The most important thing we had for the dog was paperwork. Humans need passports to cross the Canadian border and dogs need rabies vaccination records.* They are not kidding and there is no substitute. Even if you have the tag on the dog’s collar, you need the paperwork or your entire family can be turned around at the border. I was taking no chances. I Googled, I quizzed my friends, and I quizzed the vet who then consulted some magic vet portal to be sure we had what we needed. NOTE paperwork for driving to Canada is different than flying to Canada, ask your vet.
Border stop one, from Vermont into Quebec. An un-amused guard did not appreciate us butchering her native French (high school Spanish for me and Russian for hubby, but at least we tried) and checked all the paperwork and faces extremely carefully, including the dog’s. It was a good thing I got that updated rabies vaccination record, the original one said he was dark brown, which he was at the time of the shot, but his is now mostly cream colored. I’m positive we would not have passed had the paperwork not been updated. She did NOT like us but I’m pretty sure she didn’t like anyone. We forgave her though, that must not be an easy job.
Border stop two, out of Ontario and into Michigan. The guard briefly checked passports, waved off the the paperwork for the dog that we had out and ready for him and asked us why we were in Canada so long, “You couldn’t get out any faster?!” Funny guy, the first we’ve encountered actually.
The moral of the story, have ALL the paperwork for anything that breathes when crossing borders. Have it out and ready and be serious when approaching the border guards. Some will make you feel almost like a criminal and some will welcome you in with a smile and a joke.
The last bit of advice, pack very well. Keep like items together and be extremely organized. If ever your car is searched, it will be so much easier and quicker if you look like you have your sh.., err stuff together. Even if your trunk is usually a wreck, make sure it is pristine before you hit a border, this goes for all bags and compartments inside the car too. It will be easy to search and easy to put back together so you can get on your way. Yup, we’ve had the car searched too. Trust me, this is the way to go.
*Also note that PIT BULLS, dogs with pit bull lineage, and any dog that may be mistaken for one, are NOT allowed into Ontario and many other places in Canada. They will turn you around at the border no matter your paperwork. Please read up on this before you go! I’m refraining from adding links to this post as this is an ongoing discussion and I want you to research it for yourself instead of relying on what might be an outdated link that I have posted here.
It’s like this folks, on road trips my husband loves to drive and hates to be a passenger. I, on the other hand, prefer not to drive and rather enjoy being a passenger. A match made in heaven I tell you. In our more than 18 years together and 70,000+ miles of road trips I have driven for exactly 3 hours. Yes, a scant 200 miles or so. Wanna know why I drove those? For 2 hours my husband was still recovering from food poisoning and if it weren’t for the lake-effect snow we were trying to stay ahead of, we would have camped out at the hotel for another day. The other hour was because he was so tired he couldn’t keep his eyes open. Kansas is kind of boring to drive through folks, even if the reward at the end is Colorado. I swear I-70 is basically just 450 miles of grain. Many thanks for feeding the country though, we genuinely appreciate your hard work!
Therefore I am the best darn road trip passenger you have ever seen. It works out for us. I essentially wait on him hand and foot which he loves because I never do so at home, unless he is just this side of hospital sick. In return he drives me all over the place to visit friends and family and go on adventures.
While he drives I navigate, reroute us around traffic jams, get snacks, open water and soda, manage the music, manage our munchkin (though she is pretty self sufficient now and almost as tall as me at 11 years old), answer the phone, text responses for him, call for reservations or with travel updates to our family members or Airbnb hosts. I’ve even listened to audiobooks (reading in the car makes me ill) and worked on craft projects to occupy myself in city traffic so he can concentrate and I can keep from looking for the brake on my side of the car every 30 seconds. (I never said I didn’t have control issues, people, just that I am better at being a passenger than my partner in crime.) At least once during each trip I sing loudly and purposefully off-key which he doesn’t like to admit he finds funny. Lately our munchkin does too. It’s hysterical. (In case you are wondering, we sing “On the Road Again.”)
Mainly we talk, a lot. We plan for the trip, for life after the trip and we catch up on all of the funny little things that have happened over the last few months that our over-scheduled lives have kept us from mentioning to each other. My goal is to keep him well-fed, entertained and awake. Such people are better and safer drivers. That’s good for me, him, our daughter and anyone who happens to be on the road with us.
As you know, I have a very scientific way of choosing vacation spots. 😉 Even so, we happened upon a perfect spot for our family to unwind and enjoy time together, Door County, WI.
It took a little longer to get there than we planned as we hit some VERY strong storms on our way up but we made it in one piece. Our cottage was just south of the town of Sturgeon Bay and was on Green Bay itself. The views were gorgeous.
We happened to visit the first week of June when the weather was perfect by my standards – sunny and mild. Also, everything was open but there were very few other vacationers as most schools in the state were still in session.
We had a wonderful time meeting new people in the area. Some places not to be missed:
Cave Point County Park
Peninsula State Park
Patawatomi State Park
Downtown Sturgeon Bay
Hands On Art
Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant
Sunsets over Green Bay in general – chase them people!
I’ve mentioned this interaction at least twice on this website so I might as well tell the story.
First things first, don’t mess with border patrol. They have power you cannot fathom. Regardless of how cool these people may be in real life (and I do have the pleasure of knowing one) you may not joke with them on the job. This is hard for my husband and I since we tend to joke with everyone.
We have had many interactions with border patrol agents but this is the most memorable. Let me walk you through it.
When they stop your car at the border and run your plates like they do for everyone, you think nothing of it.
When they size you up through the window and ask if you own the car and then ask if you always have, you get a little nervous.
When they insist you produce the car’s registration to prove it, you start to get a bit more nervous.
When they tell you to get out of the car and go into the building to wait while they investigate, you begin to sweat.
When they tell you your license plates have been reported stolen and you can’t leave until they get it figured out, you start to wish you had brought a blanket for your 4 year old because the air conditioning in those offices is really well used!
When you spend the LONGEST 90 minutes of your life waiting for your state Bureau of Motor Vehicles to open and hoping they can confirm that you are in fact the owner of your vehicle (which you have owned and licensed for 8 years), you try to keep yourself and your child calm so as not to cause an international incident.
When the agents come back to you and explain that the people who set up your state’s license plate system think that it is OK to issue the same plate number for different classes of vehicles (in this case a truck plate – ours and a trailer plate – stolen) you wonder where exactly your tax dollars go… and so do the agents.
When you are released with your car, your cold child and (finally) your car keys, YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY TO SEE THE “WELCOME TO BUFFALO” SIGN IN YOUR LIFE!
When 1 year later the licensing rules are changed as your entire state gets new license plates, you think your little run in at the Canadian border might have had something to do with it.
When you start a travel website, you tell the story. It’s funny at dinner parties too. Weird stuff happens on vacation folks.
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!
When we travel my husband usually carries all of our passports. However, when we go through checkpoints everyone needs to have his or her own passport and ticket. Since all of our passports look exactly the same from the outside I used washi tape to differentiate them to make passing them out a little easier. I left my husband’s blank, I taped mine near the top and my daughter’s near the bottom. We happened to have different patterns of tape but if you don’t just vary the position and it will work just as well. I wish you happy travels and fast-moving customs lines!
When I go on vacation, I am kind of like Superman. I just need to get into a car or a plane and quick as a blink Everyday Mom turns into Fun Mom like Clark Kent turns into Superman in a phone booth. (Where does Superman change these days?) Everyday Mom is concerned about homework, deadlines, schedules and clean dishes, you know the sexy stuff. Fun Mom says “I wonder what’s over there”, “Let’s try that out” and “Let’s go adventuring” far more often than “Where are your shoes?”
This transformation is clearly one of the reasons that my child LOVES vacations. She gets to see lots of things and have lots of new adventures even if it means walking 11 miles in a day on her 9 year old legs. Nary a complaint on vacation! Everyday kiddo would be quite upset with that mileage. We as a family are far more open to new experiences while we are on a trip. Do you want to meet a penguin? Yes! Do you want to ride a horse? Sure! How about a hike up that mountain? Why not! Do you want to climb to the top of the tallest thing in this city and look all the way down? Absolutely! Do you want to order that thing that all the locals are eating but you can’t quite identify? Yup! Do you want to go to a country where you don’t speak the language at all? Oui! Do you want to go into the monkey infested jungle and explore ancient ruins? You bet! Do you want to drive a tiny car, on the wrong side of the road, down narrow lanes? Of course!
Everyday Family contains a person who has issues with animals (ME! Seriously, I’m terrified.), someone who doesn’t care for heights (hubby) and a very picky eater (kiddo). Vacation Fun Family will try just about anything we come across. If we, among the most straight laced, rule following, over-scheduled families you will ever meet can get out of our shell on a trip, you can too! Try it, you’ll like it. After all, you got time off from work, saved your money, got on a plane (or in a car) and came all this way. I’m sure your hotel room, cabin, tent or camper is lovely but you need to GET OUTSIDE and DO STUFF!
Do you want to know the secret of Fun Mom? She gets off the couch and out of her comfort zone, embraces her sense of adventure and dreams big! When deciding if I should try something I always think about what 80 year old me will say. Usually I hear her saying, “Do it now because you may never have the chance again and I don’t want to miss out!” Eighty year old me likes to tell her stories of her adventures, it is my job to collect them.
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.”
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.