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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Travel Tips for Surviving the Family Road Trip

We've got a road trip planned next week.  We're cheap/frugal/poor, so we don't usually fly anywhere, we just go places within driving distance.  We do road trips more often than anything.  We also don't have a TV/DVD in the car and our kids don't have Nintendo DS's, mp3's, or anything electronic.  And usually we all arrive unscathed.  Well, at least we're all still alive when we get there.  So before we leave, here's a few tips to help your family survive those long road trips.

Here are a couple of ways to save some cash on your trip:

1. Stay with family or friends.  We'll be gone 7 days and only one night is in a hotel.  Hotels aren't cheap.  Even cheap hotels aren't cheap.  Especially when you have to leave in the middle of the night after finding bed bugs crawling on your pillows and check into a nicer hotel.  Yep, done it.

Family or friends are usually glad to offer you a place to stay if they know you're coming through town, and sometimes they'll even feed you!  And even if they can't have you stay, it's a good idea to stop and visit with them so they don't hear on Facebook that you came through their town and didn't even call!  Don't be totally cheap here, do offer to pay for food, help with chores, or whatever they might need while you are there.  And of course offer to return the favor if they're ever in your area.

2. Pack food and snacks.  Make some cookies before you go.  Or rice crispy treats.  Or muffins.  Try to avoid foods that get smashed or melt easily.  Taking the family out to eat three times a day for a week will add a TON of money to your travel costs.  Plan on eating out a few times, but pack some sandwich stuff, bagels and yogurt for breakfast, and snacks so you don't have to buy everything on the road.  You might even pack a camp stove and some Mountain House meals.  If it's a long trip, usually half way through you can hit a grocery store for more bread, fruit, etc.  You'll want to re-stock the ice in the cooler anyway, and it's still cheaper than eating out.

3. Don't drive the gas guzzler.  This may sound like a given, but if you're taking a camping trip, maybe the roads are good enough to drive your car instead of your suburban.  Give it a thought before loading up the big ol' beast and spending three times as much for gas.

And now for some ideas to keep the kids from killing each other in the car.

1.  Play classic games like I Spy, 20 Questions, etc.  One we like is "I'm going on a picnic" where we take turns saying things we'll take on our picnic--one for each letter of the alphabet.  Then each turn you have to remember everybody else's picnic items before adding the next letter item.  Fun.  With smaller kids you can do this one and skip having to recite all the other letter items.  You can twist up I Spy by using colors, "starts with" some letter, or using things inside or outside the vehicle (I Spy outside in a Wyoming snowstorm using colors is pretty limited, but add the inside of the car and things get a bit better).

2.  Write every passenger's name on one car tire with sidewalk chalk before you leave.  Every time you stop, see whose name is on the top of the tire.  Celebrate with a treat or something or just keep a count of who ends up on the top the most.

3.  Play telephone.  Or have one person write a word with their finger on the next person's arm and pass the word that way across the seat.  Have the last person guess what the original word was.  OR write letters on each other's backs and guess what they are.  It's harder than it sounds.

4. Get a map of where you are going.  If you're ahead of the game, you can order maps from each state's tourism department.  Otherwise, buy a map.  If you've got an "Are we there yet?" kid, this is $5 well spent.  Mark your route.  Have them navigate or count towns or answer questions about where we are.

5.  Plan some surprises.  My mom would circle random towns on the trip and when we got to that town she'd pull a "Razzle Dazzle Travel Gift" out of the trunk.  These were things like a treat, or a small toy, lego kit, something to keep us busy for a while and break up the monotony.  A couple of my favorites were plastic army men and rubber bands so we could set them up and shoot them down (in a van before the days of seatbelt laws) and bubbles we could use with the air conditioner vents.  Total driver distractions, but SO fun as a kid.  You can probably come up with things that aren't so dangerous ;)

5.  Stop at rest stops and let the kids run around.  Yes, this adds time to your trip, but kids need exercise!  You can read the Historical marker while they run around the car 29 times.

6.   Take some magazines.  Crossword puzzles or word searches for the older kids.  Other game magazines are good also.  Magazines and books to read are also good if your kids don't get carsick.  One game that kept our kids busy for hours used a magazine and a sticker.  Stick the sticker somewhere in the magazine and have the kid find it.  They might want to place the sticker somewhere else and have you find it (if you're not driving) or you can just re-stick it somewhere different for them to find or have them hide it for each other.

7.  Sing songs.  Get a handful of CD's or load up your ipod with music you all can enjoy and sing away.  The people driving next to you won't notice, I promise.  Well, unless you have your windows down.

8.  Give the kids a pencil and paper and let them draw what they see or write notes or draw monsters or whatever.  As simple as this is, it has been a lifesaver on some of our trips.  One paper game we played was where one person drew the head of a monster and folded the paper over, then the next person drew a body and they got to open it and look at their creation and laugh.  Kept them busy for quite a while.

9.  Do some research about where you are traveling, or have the kids do some and be the tour guide.

10.  Play license plate games.  Find a license plate from as many states as possible and keep a list.  Make words from the letters on a license plate.  So if the plate is 142MNY, you could use MNY to make a word like MoNeY or you could use MNY to make a phrase like My New Yucca.

11.  Let the kids take their pillows, stuffed animals, etc. and have blankets available for enforced quiet time in the car.  You'll probably need some.  We usually offer some reward for so many minutes of silence.  It's totally worth it.

Just so you know, these are not fail proof.  We still have the "she's touching me" and "he's breathing my air" times.  But we're a lot better equipped to handle them if we've got an arsenal of activities and ideas to keep boredom at bay in the car.

I will be gone next week celebrating 15 sweet years with my hubby and a couple of birthdays and the end of summer break, but still have posts scheduled that I'm sure you'll enjoy, so be sure to check back in.  We'll be playing I Spy.  :)

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