Is it wrong that I’m already thinking about vacation a couple days after Labor Day?
Yes, I’ve already had my fill of signing forms, packing lunches and making sure everyone’s got clean socks and underwear for school. (But in my defense, we started four weeks ago, so the novelty of a new school year has definitely worn off. Like, three weeks ago.) While I can’t just up and take off right now (unless you offered me a free, four-day stay at a spa–in which case, my kids are on their own with the forms, lunches and clean socks/underwear), I can look back fondly on my vacations of this past summer. And no summer is complete without the road trip.
Doesn’t that look so peaceful, so relaxing–nothing but empty road stretching out for miles under the blue sky? Now imagine, out of the frame, kids whining because they have to go to the bathroom/need to eat/are bored/are driving each other crazy because one of them WILL NOT STOP TOUCHING the other’s arm rest and suddenly that peaceful stretch of road is your own personal highway of hell with no exit (and no fast-food joint or clean 7-11 bathroom). We’ve all been there, but this year, our semi-regular trip to Bass Lake, thanks to the generosity of friends who have a cabin hook-up there, was not too hellacious. How did I do it?
- Leave like a thief in the night. Yes, the exhaustion will hit you at about 7:45 a.m., but leaving before sun up has its benefits. First, the kids love it–it’s an adventure. Up in the middle of the night? Cool! They may even wake up before you and get all dressed and ready ALL BY THEMSELVES, they are that excited. Plus, there’s no time to do any last-minute scrambling for toys or books they forgot to pack, so everything is organized and packed in the car the night before. And once the excitement wears off, they can go back to sleep in an hour and buy you some peace on the road.
- Take the tech old school. Unlike my generation, kids today do not have to pass hours on the road trying to find all the letters of the alphabet on billboards and license plates. They can watch videos on their in-seat DVD players or TVs, or play games on their DS or tablets. But this year, we relied on the relatively ancient technology of the audio book. The audio book is, quite simply, magical, and I didn’t realize it’s magical properties until I was on the road for almost five hours. Each kid downloaded a few titles on their tablets, got their headphones and listened to their books–they worked through all the titles by the time the trip was done. Plus, no one got carsick from staring at a screen too long and no fights broke out over whether they should watch “Cars” or “Frozen” for the umpteenth time.
- Cut the drive time. Usually Bass Lake is a good six hours from our house. This year, we split the drive by staying at my dad’s house in Orange County the weekend before and leaving for the lake from there. Cutting an hour and a half from that drive turned what usually seems like a mammoth trek into a fun little jaunt.
- Snacks are a lifesaver. You wouldn’t like my kids when they’re hangry. (Or me for that matter.) The kids went to the store with me prior to the trip to load up on Trader Joe’s Inner Beans and trail mix granola bars and popcorn. And regular eating rules go out the window. You want to eat Annie’s White Cheddar Bunnies at 5 a.m.? There’s the bag, knock yourself out. If you have a new car or have “rules” about not eating in your car, well, forget it–the extra 15 minutes it will take to vacuum the crumbs out of the car seat crevices when you get home are worth avoiding the agony of cranky, hungry kids wondering when you’ll pull over for food. (Before we left I found our “breakfast” pit stop on Google Maps and told the kids exactly where we were going, thus eliminating the inevitable mid-trip battle over McDonald’s vs. Carl’s Jr.) (Hint: the winner should always be Starbucks, where you can get an ice-cold/piping-hot grande of whatever your preferred caffeine is to get you through the rest of the trip.)
- Seat the kids in an orderly fashion. In the immortal words of Offspring, when it comes to kids on road trips, you’ve got to keep them separated. I am lucky in that my oldest is now big enough to sit up front with me, which means my daughter had the middle row all to herself. When my son needed to stretch out, he hit the very back row. Keeping the distance means keeping the peace.
And there it is–our successful summer road trip. Though next vacation, we are traveling by plane…