Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Elegant Mommy Holiday Travel Survival Guide

Traveling does not have to end like this.
Let me take you back to the first time I had to travel with a baby, say, five years ago.  This was when my precocious Eva wailed her lungs out for the ‘what was supposed to be 6 hour but turned into 10’ journey to my mama’s house in the Hills.  See, I was silly and had read somewhere that babies LOVE car rides! I had also thought that Eva would be fine with pumped breast milk in a bottle, wouldn’t have blowout diapers in gas station bathrooms, or that I wouldn’t practically have a nervous breakdown every hour of that trip.

I think I also believed that, post pregnancy, I could hop back into size 4 clothes and be good to go.  Oh, the reality checks that new parenthood brings.  So, going on about 4 hours of sleep, off we went to go visit my mama.  I learned a few things then.  Mostly that time management flies out the window when you’ve got little ones in tow.  I can’t say that things got easier when my young son came into the picture, but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves by that point.

If you’re traveling 6 hours, 10, by train, plane, or bus, there’s ways you can manage this without begging someone for an Ativan.  Trust me.  I learned and it’s all a big measure of give and take.  With no further ado, let’s talk Elegant Mommy’s travel guide for the Holidays, 2010 style.

We travel comfy.  Namely, wearing our pajamas.

1.  PLAN AHEAD.  Seriously, make lists, pack suitcases and coolers, and plan the entire thing ahead by about two days.  Then go back through your plan and prepare for the unexpected.  Extra clothes, diapers, and rags for unexpected blow outs, throw ups, or spills.  Extra snacks in case people get picky about what they want to eat.  Extra time for about a hundred trips to the potty or to stand behind the car and silently scream so you can get back in and be sane again.

2.  DO NOT LEAVE HUNGRY.  This is especially true in my household.  All of us suffer from what I call “low blood sugar means excessively cranky syndrome’.  I get it set up the night before.  Plates and silverware out, coffee stuff ready, breakfast food as prepped as possible.  Breakfast on the road never goes as well as intended.  I remember when I was a kiddo, my parents made a point of our trips starting with breakfast at a cool local diner or IHOP, but we haven’t got the budget for that in my household.  Plus, breakfast keeps the kiddos occupied while you do a last minute check of everything.

3.  PACK TOYS, GAMES, BOOKS, AND ACTIVITIES FOR BOTH YOU & THE KIDS.  At some point, someone will whine “I’m bored.”  It’s inevitable.  There’s only so many rounds of car songs or license plate games that we can all stand.  Each of my kids has a little backpack and there’s a box of stuff we keep in the van.  I usually put five small items that they adore in their backpacks and help them whip it out at the first signs of boredom. 

Story time, with a cow and a snack.
We read books to them (the husband or I), tell stories, and when all else fails, use the portable dvd player.  We didn’t ALWAYS have a DVD player for a vehicle, when we bought our van, it came with one and it’s been a lifesaver.  We always pick a special few movies to save for when everybody needs a break.  If Owen needs a nap and Eva needs to stop asking “When will we GET THERE?” this is fail safe.  You and your travel companion need stuff too!  Books on cd, knitting, magazines, whatever you need to make your time in the passenger seat more relaxing.

4. DO NOT BE AFRAID OF ACTING LIKE A LUNATIC.  If I burst into a silly song or tell an outlandish story or start talking in pig Latin, this usually turns my kids’ attentions away from whining or arguing pretty darned quick.  Constant entertainment is the name of the game with long trips.

5.  TAKE BREAKS.  Aside from the million and one potty breaks, I do mean.  Stop and get everyone out of the car at a rest stop or other cool place to see neat stuff.  Everybody stretches, everybody yawns, everybody takes five minutes to walk around, and then we all plop back into the van and carry on.  If you can, plan your trip route so that there are a few fun places to visit on the way.

Smothee King.

 I like to stop at the Badlands to show the kiddos the neat geography and tell stories of how grandma and grandpa got lost when they were young and had to camp out with one windbreaker to sleep on, and then woke up with a rattlesnake next to them.  We also like to stop other places to act like tourists, Wall Drug, where Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up, etc.  Use our states vast natural history and show your kids!

6.  EAT REGULAR MEALS TOO.  Aside from mindless road munchies, stop off and have everyone eat something with some nutritional value.  Bags of carrots, a Tupperware of dip, apples, sandwiches, water bottles all travel well.  They also lead to a content tummy and blood sugar level.  If you’ve got the budget, stop somewhere yummy for a special burger and fries.  It is a vacation, after all.

7.  EXPECT INSANITY WHEN YOU FINALLY ARRIVE.  Take five minutes when you finally get to where you went to.  Sit down, have a mug of tea, and let the kiddos run around like crazy.  Trust me, they need it.  If you’re sick of sitting, stretch it out, take a short walk, or just hang out for a few before hauling your car load in. 

8.  FINALLY, TRY TO DO A NORMAL NIGHT TIME ROUTINE.  Yes, it is vacation but this will help everyone wind down for a relaxing night.  Eat a great meal, chat a lot, have the kiddos take a bath, read some stories, and head to bed.  You may do the same when you’re done too.  It has been a long day, after all.

**As an aside for our holiday travelers, heading places on planes or other modes of transportation.  You can fairly easily adapt a lot of this to however you are traveling.  Allow for slip ups, delays, lost luggage, etc., by planning ahead and then going with the flow.  So long as we all get there in one piece, that’s what really matters, right? 

One other thing I might mention about the planning ahead thing though is to check EXACTLY what needs to be carry-on stuff for flights with kids in tow.  Trust me, knowing ahead of time saves you major headaches and lowers stress for everyone.  Plus, having an extra set of clothes, etc, in a carry on can save you if your luggage goes to Rwanda while you head to Alaska.  Keeping everyone's appetites sated with normal food instead of airplane food helps too.

There’s this whole stigma that people hate being stuck next to kids on flights. (I’ve never been one of these people and actually always delighted when a kid got to sit next to me.)  This can be true but you must take it with a grain of salt.  How likely is it that you’ll ever see that person again?  Shrug the small stuff off, ignore them, and enjoy the trip.  It’s the holidays!**

***One last aside.  Travel safely.  As part of your planning ahead stage, please check the weather religiously.  If your car needs new tires or an oil change and there's blizzard warnings, take extra precautions.  Wait an extra day if you have to.  There's nothing that makes stress worse than traveling during bad weather.  Be safe and merry!***

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