Thursday, February 11, 2016

Road Trip & Disneyland Vacation Survival Tips: Part 1

Every time I get ready to go on vacation with my family I think of this clip from Modern Family:

There's so much work that goes into taking your family mobile! I mean, it's fun, but also takes a lot of planning and forethought. We've taken an almost embarrassing number of trips with our family to Disneyland over the last few years and we've learned a few things that make it go much more smoothly. 

  My kids get carsick. So books, movies, and devices aren't the best. Surprisingly the full day of driving hasn't been horrible. Yeah, there have been disasters like unexpected stomach flu (towels that were intended for the beach came in handy), and an insane number of potty training gas station breaks, but overall I've been surprised at how do-able it's been.

The first time we drove to California with our two little kids I prepared like I was gearing up for the apocalypse. I had little cheap presents wrapped to surprise them for every hour of the trip. I had treats, and special toys that would make an appearance. I had contraptions for coloring, magnets and cookie sheets, string and paper cars that went across the roof of our car to show how much longer we had. It was pretty ridiculous and I loved every minute of preparing it. I felt so domestic and fantasized about how much they were going to like it. How quiet, happy, and grateful they'd be. But... all that extra stuff was a flippin pain in the ... car. Space is always limited, and I'd maxed us out. The kids would start screaming because they lost their new little toy in the bermuda triangle. They started incessantly whining about when they were going to get another present. It had me questioning not only our vacation, but the wisdom of procreation entirely. 

I slowly realized over the next 12 hours that being in the car and going on vacation was exciting enough for those little toddlers. They didn't need to be constantly entertained. It made them crazy and insecure having all that novelty being constantly thrown at them. They really just needed things to be simple and predictable. They wanted to talk, sing, hear stories, and ask questions. Road trips can really be a great opportunity for family bonding!

So now we do things a little differently. Here are some tips and ideas to help keep things smooth sailing:

1. Individual Survival Packs. 
They each have a backpack and a stuffed animal waiting for them in the car. 

Inside the backpack are a few of their favorite books. a couple little snacks, water bottle, chapstick, a couple of their favorite small toys, and a small coloring book of some kind (Dollar Store Play Packs are great). They really like knowing what they have, and planning for themselves accordingly. They pace themselves out surprisingly well. Other ideas: matchbox cars, small princess figurines, Lalaloopsy, stickers, etc. Whatever your kid likes that isn't messy.

2. Hoping for Naps. 
These blanket pillow combos are always in the back of the car, and they've been awesome. They're simple to put together, and the kids use them all the time. (tutorial here)

3. Good Sounds to cover up the Bad Sounds. 
People in enclosed places start to get annoying. It's only a matter of time before you start to wonder if your spouse has always breathed like that, not to mention the snorting yet adorable kids in the back. We make sure to have ipods loaded with lots of great music, family friendly comedy sketches, and audio books. Then we have old cd's to use as a backup. There have been a couple times where we accidentally didn't download the right playlists or forgot the charging cable. Luckily we have a glove compartment full of loose mix cd's from high school.

4. Good Smells to cover up the Bad Smells.
An air freshener is a good idea. And for the love of all that's good - please don't drop your banana under your carseat. Get rid of your trash at every stop and don't forget to clear it all out at your destination. We've been unpleasantly surprised by a car full of funkiness after a week in a hotel.

5. Lots of Books. 
I always keep some interesting non-fiction or I Spy books in the car that they can fall back on and switch with each other. I look for books with lots of detailed drawings and not too many words. These are a few of our favorites: Calvin and Hobbes (they're all amazing obviously), Mary Engelbreit book full of colorful illustrations, Inside a Castle or any architectural/historical books, I Spy Books, Richard Scarry Books, Any Let's Spy books like Where's Waldo (I just bought a travel version that I've had my eye on) or this Pokemon version, and one of my very favorites Children Just Like Me.

6. FOOOD. 
The surest way to have a bad trip is to be hungry. Avoid this at all costs. Now is not the time to be dainty. I'll always have a gallon ziploc bag filled with snacks that I keep in the front to get us through. And then a little cooler with fresh fruit, vegetables, and water to ward off inevitable stomach aches. I've started a myth in our family that eating raw carrots fixes an upset stomach. It's probably placebo, but when they're crying for a carrot because they feel nauseous it seems to help.

7. Emergency Backup. 
We have a car bag and a jug of water that we always have in the car for emergencies.

 This bag is a parent's best friend. It's filled with all kinds of things that come in handy continuously.

Here's what's in ours:
Bags with clothes and underwear for each kid, diapers and wipes for babies.
Bag with food, doggie bags, leash for our dog Molly.
Poncho and umbrella.
Water Bottles.
First Aid Kit with extra bandaids.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray.
A fun game (we have this one that's been a lot of fun at impromptu picnics and trips to the canyon).
An Entertainment bag for the kids with colored pencils, little folded coloring booklets, handheld microscope and scissors.
A bag with paper plates, napkins, cups and utensils.
Small Blanket.
A Mom and Dad bag for everything else - tampons, toilet paper, tissues, fingernail clippers, etc.
And Cash. That's been a lifesaver a couple of times.
You have jumper cables right? If you don't - get some.

8. Pee and Poop, folks. 
You don't wanna hear about it - I don't wanna talk about it. But if you have little kids in a car for hours you'd better plan for it. If you have a small-bladdered potty trainer consider a cheap little potty chair to keep in the back with you for emergencies. Once we were stuck in back to back traffic in the middle of the nevada desert for hours and... yeah. A diaper in the bottom does a pretty good job in such a scenario. Yuck I know. It's not pretty. 

9. There Will be Trash. 
Lots of wet wipes and grocery bags for unforeseeable yet unavoidable messes. We've long kept a grocery bag in a cereal dispenser to keep the crazy contained. Perfect for road trips! I keep the extra bags underneath the current liner in the container. If you don't have a spare cereal container - or can't bear to dump out the last of the captain crunch you could use an empty Oats container:

Using garbage to hold garbage. This is quite the elegant solution. Russell came up with this one. Even Mr Quaker himself looks impressed. 

I like folding the bags into triangles so that they'll fit into purses and the glove box. I pretend that I'm Martha Stewart while I do this, realizing full well that she's probably much too tidy for the need of a garbage bag.

10. Games and Conversations Starters. 
Having some simple games up your sleeve is a must. I've liked this box of family questions, we've had the large version, but the mini would be perfect for a road trip. Similarly this game Loaded Questions helps to get the conversation going. We gave Jonas this joke book last time we went and he loved loved loved it. We eventually became a little less than thrilled with the puns, but it was worth it for all the giggles coming out of the back. ABC Game - spotting all the letters of the alphabet in order. Would You Rather. Twenty Questions. I Spy (admittedly, not awesome driving through Utah. "I spy something brown!" ugh.). Making up a Story - Each person makes up one sentence at a time around and around. Sing Camp Songs (teenage me is cringing at this, but little kids love it.). People Watching Game - Take turns making up stories, lives, backgrounds for people in the cars around you and the weirder the better. Scary Stories. My kids love this. It's also a good chance to hear what the neighbor boys have been spouting off during play time.

11. Never Surrender. 
Keep in mind that there's going to be low points in any trip. Especially when you're with kids. There will be meltdowns. You will get annoyed. There will be things overlooked. Beloved stuffed animals forgotten. Allow yourself time to deal with the hard stuff. Vacations don't have to be fun all the time to be successful. Life is hard sometimes whether you're on a beach, on the way to the beach, or sitting at home dreaming of the beach. Allow room for error - then you won't be undone when it shows up.

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