You guys, the road is calling me and if I know him as well as I think I do, I’m pretty sure it’s calling my husband, too.
While the sun is currently shining – and thank the Universe for that! – I’m so sick of the grey skies that shroud the Ohio River Valley from about November through the end of March that I feel like I might explode. The road is calling.
And we will answer that call soon, I’m sure.
It gets me thinking about traveling with children and how much more fun travels are with kids in tow. I probably wouldn’t have said that when my sons were teens and it was so easy to tell them to pack their things and they occupied themselves in the backseat with music and headphones, and word searches, or a book. Then, I’d probably have thought traveling with little ones would be difficult, tiresome, and just not worth it, because I was out of practice. I mean, teens are basically just adults with mood swings and higher energy levels.
Kids, I thought – now they take so much more energy.
Then my husband and I had our big surprise-we’re-pregnant moment and our plans to ride off on the Harley into the sunset changed….a lot.
We had all these plans to travel, maybe even to live on the road. He could guest spot in tattoo shops and I could be a substitute teacher in the various places we decided to settle in temporarily. We’d go home to visit the grown kids and our families often, and life would just be easy.
With our daughter coming, we discussed our plans and how they’d have to change, but we were set on traveling. Instead of being on the road a lot, we’d keep a place locally and just travel often.
We crossed our fingers that our daughter would be a good little traveler.
The kid screamed any time we put her in the car seat. Not just in the beginning, while getting strapped in, but the entire time she was in the car seat. From the time we buckled her in until we parked our car.
Let’s just say, except for well checks at the pediatrician, she and I didn’t leave the house for four months.
Then, she slowly began to do better and by the age of ten months, we planned a drive down to Miami Beach for our first family beach vacation and our little girl did beautifully. She never complained. She played happily in her seat while we played her favorite song at that time, You Could Be Queen, by a local band called The Great Depression. We literally played that song on repeat all the way to Miami Beach and home, because for whatever reason, if she happened to get fussy, it worked like a charm and made her smile instantly.
Perhaps it was because I listened to it a lot when I was pregnant. I don’t know, but whatever. When something works, you do it. Call it Parental Desperation.
For the record, neither of us has listened to that song since. We don’t need to. It’s permanently ingrained in my brain along with other songs like The Bare Necessities, and You’ve got a Friend in Me, and Double Your Pleasure with Doublemint Gum.
Are they playing in your head now?
My apologies…..but, welcome to my world.
Since the trip to Miami Beach, our little girl has traveled the entire state of Florida and she’s also been to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, California, and Nevada.
She’s six years old and she’s almost caught up with the traveling it took me forty-three years to do.
While I cannot speak for those who have children who utterly despise travel, I can speak to those who have children who don’t mind being in the car, but after a few hours, they’re stir crazy and just need a break.
Advice for Traveling with Children
- Pack snacks. There is something about getting in a car for a long drive that makes even the adults want to munch. Could this be and instinctual thing from our Nomadic days? I don’t know, but my husband and I tend to snack just as much as our daughter when we’re on the road. Here are a few of our favorites. Remember, if you have young children, you may want to avoid giving them nuts while they’re in the backseat and not in eye view.
- Trail mix
- Fresh fruit
- Squeeze pouches of applesauce
- Cheese and crackers
- Protein bars
- Let them lead. It’s my educational philosophy and it’s the same for travel. Let them choose some of the destinations along the way. This will help them learn to use maps, plan ahead, and it’ll make them more interested in the actual time on the road and the trip itself.
- Make frequent stops. Encourage your children to try to use the bathroom at each and every stop. Don’t get frustrated if they need to stop while on the road, as this may make them hesitate to tell you when they need to go to the bathroom. This can lead to bladder problems and accidents. Just stop, let them do their business and get back on the road. During your planned stops, let the children exercise a little and do this with them, if you want. My daughter and I like to do cart wheels on the lawns in the picnic area, or “big steps” (lunges) up the sidewalks to the rest area buildings, and often we race up and down the sidewalks. Their little bodies aren’t meant to be sitting for hours, so this exercise really helps them be able to feel more relaxed in the car. It’ll help you too.
- Let them help document your travel. Give them the digital camera or a disposable camera to take pictures. Kids take pictures from a different angle and they can often get adults to be more expressive in pictures. Their photos are sure to be treasured and you may just sprout a seed for photography in one of your children.
- Take your time. Don’t over schedule your vacation. When you have children, less really is more. Spend more time exploring and less time trying to rush to the next thing. Have frequent rest periods. Take time to breathe and thing, and absorb the moment. There is nothing worse than being on a trip with someone who is looking down at their phone or an itinerary, planning the next thing, rather than being in the moment. Life happens in the moment. Pay attention to your children and their reaction to what they’re experiencing. See the world through their eyes. If they’re tired, please encourage them to rest. I cannot tell you how often on trips I’ve seen exhausted parents dragging their exhausted children to the next thing on the list. This is especially so at places like Disney World.
Which brings me to my next point – our favorite family destinations. I’ll give you a hint, it does not include Disney World, although we did enjoy visiting.
Our Top 5 Favorite Family Vacation Destinations
- Clearwater Beach, Florida. There’s a reason it’s often listed as the best beach in America. From the beautiful soft sand to pirate ship cruises, this beach has something for the entire family. You can spend more and stay in one of the beachfront hotels, or you can keep it simple and more intimate by staying in one of the funky family owned motels. We love Brightwater Suites, a neon-green motel with quaint rooms and a pool and the kindest caretakers you’ll find in Clearwater. It’s across the street from the beach, but there are plenty of cross walks to make the trek easy for the family.
- Tybee Island, GA. This is a place we return to year after year. If you’re looking for a beach vacation without the hustle and bustle of the more touristy places, Tybee may be just what you’re looking for. It’s quiet, especially during the week, it’s reasonable, and oh my goodness, breakfast at The Breakfast Club is not to be missed. We like to stay in rentals run by Tybee Vacation Rentals. They are wonderful and the property choices they offer are varied based on your budget, from apartments and condominiums, to full houses. You can choose from beachfront to marsh front and everything in between. Be sure to rent a bike at Tim’s while you’re on the island, it’s the best way to see everything. They even rent bike attachments for your babies and toddlers, as well as strollers, and umbrellas.
- Las Vegas, NV. Are you surprised to see this one on the list? Las Vegas is an amazing place to enjoy a family vacation, because while you can enjoy a show, like one of the famous Cirque du Soleil shows, visit the enormous Hershey store, and ride a roller coaster or play arcades at the New York New York casino, you can also drive twenty-minutes and be away from it all, hiking the trails near Mount Charleston, in Red Rock Canyon. When we were out hiking, we saw a wild ram grazing just a few feet away. It is a spectacular experience all around.
- Harper’s Ferry, WV. History, architecture, and nature converge in this beautiful, friendly town. If you enjoy historic places, with locally owned restaurants and unique shopping, you’ll love Harper’s Ferry. Definitely stop in True Treats Historic Candy shop and find a favorite from your childhood to share with your children. The Appalachian Trail runs right through his beautiful town too, so you can take the kids on a fun family hike through the forest as far or as close as you wish. I encourage you to cross the Potomac via the old railroad bridge and explore the other side of the river and to take in the view.
- Chicago, Il. Our daughter absolutely loved the weekend we spent in Chicago. Maybe it was the two feet of snow that fell the night we drove up there, and walking next to mounds of snow that were taller than her, or maybe it was the famous mouth-watering Nutella filled donuts from Stan’s, or the giant Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier, but our daughter loved Chicago and often asks to go back. She meandered her way down the streets like a local, sloshing through puddles in her wellies, and window shopped as well as anyone. We only stayed for the weekend, so I can’t speak for anything too far beyond walking distance from our hotel near the Navy Pier, but I can tell you our then five-year old loved every minute of or visit there. We will be going back.
If any of these seem too daunting, explore places near your home. Every state has amazing attractions and things to do. Explore like you’re a tourist. You never know what you might discover.
Traveling with children really is my most favorite way to travel.
Don’t be afraid to pack your young kids into the car for an adventure. Just keep the tips I’ve offered in mind and remember – it’s okay to let children know when you’re feeling frustrated. Communicate with them before you’re feeling exasperated.
And when all else fails, stop the car, have everyone get out, move your body, let them play, and just breathe for a moment, knowing that the memories you’re making are worth every single second.