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Let's Talk Family Travel.

Updated: 6 days ago

The ups and downs of traveling as a family, and how to realistically approach the goals we have to make more quality time with our kids.


Kids on top of the boulders of Joshua Tree
Successful travel feels like bouldering! In Joshua Tree National Park

I have found adventuring with my kids to be extremely rewarding, especially because traveling with kids is no easy feat. It does get easier, or more easy to get in the car and get going, with practice. Piling into the car successfully can morph into packing and boarding a plane when you start building this practice into your life. Momentum is a real thing and finding your rhythm is the hard part.


I often rediscover that family road trips are more often about the journey than the destination itself. This includes both joyful and difficult moments in between. And remember, a good family trip does not have to be a cross-country or globe-trotting affair. A day trip or road trip can be just as enjoyable, and this how we found our rhythm to travel as a family.

 


Baby on the side of Volusia Blue Springs
When the Florida Springs are 68 degrees on a hot summer day!

Anyone can do it.

As a single mother of four now grown kids and a fabulous 2-year-old grand baby I made the art of the day trip a part time job for myself when my kids were little. We perfected the theme park and beach days before I ever attempted a solo road trip. But I’ll never forget that first decision to go, and the months leading up to actually going. I asked myself many times “am I really going to do this?”

I refer to myself as a single mom to emphasize the point that if I can do this – travel alone with four – anyone can. On a teacher budget we made the fun our reward for everything. But life in my house was structured and crazy as there was always soooo much to do. Later I was able to make cross country flights and bigger adventures a success because of these steps.

 

My advice is always start where you at. Look and see what’s close to you and in your comfort range. Start with a park, a museum, local hot spot – whatever you got and build your ability to stay and find your rhythm. Develop a sense of what you need to make it seamless and what your go to items are, then grow with them.


Kid jumping in the air over jetty
On a jetty overlooking the Long Island Sound

Growing with them: 

Once you have it all figured out i.e.: the right snacks and fidget toys, books and stroller – they outgrow those favorites, and you need new features! This is an ongoing process that will depend on personalities and the connection you have. You'll uncover new challenges in each stage of their growing. Wait till they are teenagers and don’t want to talk to you!! The biggest part of this is the message to the parents – the secret to BE CONSISTENT. Hang in there. They will thank you later. Much later. Most of the time with most of the kids it’s a thankless job (being a parent) however, creating these family quality experiences will outlast the various growing pains.


Account for their interests: If they love animals, more zoos and petting farms, throw in an aquarium. If they love fish, snorkeling is a great extension. For children who like trucks, find some monster truck shows or displays! My son who loved money (I mean they all do but this one had a brief obsession) loved the Bureau of Printing and Engraving in Washington DC learning about the Mint and how they make and design money. My oldest always loved to learn about local water sources, like how the water gets there. He is now a plumber.


Schedules:

To keep it totally real, I didn’t plan around my kids naps or sleep. They slept around my plans. There is a rhythm you develop to be in sync. I know some children need more sleep than others but I absolutely took the approach of they will sleep eventually. (As I was taught by my first two who had TOTALLY different sleep patterns and needs). Once you have more than one child it’s impossible to work around all of the preferences and still salvage a plan.


That being said, a routine is important. It helps a child know what to expect. Children who know what to expect have less worry and anxiety, yes children feel these emotions too they often just don't have the words to communicate, so it may look like fussing or crying. More confidence leads to higher self-esteem and success. Any routines that are imperative to your child need to be considered in your planning. But I strongly encourage you to build flexible people, as children who don't know how to be flexible have difficulty adapting in many areas of life. You can make this easier by telling them what will happen ahead of time and even showing visuals.



For example, in Horseshoe Bend, Arizona I planned a sunrise hike to see the gorgeous view of the Virgin River curving around the Canyon, knowing it would be some effort to get everyone awake that early. I planned this not just because it would be beautiful but honestly, it's a very crowded place and I wanted photos without all of the people. So, we discussed it a few times prior, and I even promised them a free breakfast back at the hotel after we went to catch the sunrise. They knew I planned a trip that would be a great adventure and they trusted me. And humored me. And that morning I still had to convince them to get up and move. But they did!


Don't forget sometimes you just have to be the family cheerleader, encouraging everyone to keep it going and cheering for everyone making it into the car at 6am!


child snorkeling in the Keys
Josh, snorkeling the reef off Marathon, Florida

Some children are get up and go while others are slow to transition from activities. In my family we have different extremes of this preference, and we agree to "stick together" in the coming and going, however inside of the day there is room for some to rest while others dive into the ocean and don't want to come out.


I did schedule around school breaks. We would sometimes take off a day for adventure, however I made sure that day wasn’t missing a field trip or exam. If it meant a price difference or huge crowd shift, I had no problem using PTO/ sick days as travel really is educational. See more on this below. I love to turn a three-day weekend into a 5-day vacation when possible.


I also planned what made the most sense. As a worrier and single mom, I had the luxury of it all being on my shoulders as a win or a loss and I take safety very seriously. Therefore, a good itinerary and preplanning make my anxiety lessen, and I had to learn to follow my own plan for comfort.


In the planning process I account for my older kids wandering a bit. If we do get separated, how does that look? In a new place or city this can be something else to plan for – meet up points. My oldest was always a wonderer and loved to be just outside of my comfort zone. I had to plan parameters for this or my whole trip would be worrying about his location.


Family lounging outside of the Washington Monument
And some of our trips were like moving a small army!

Taking Breaks:

I mentioned above that I did not revolve my itinerary planning around my children’s sleep schedules, as it might be impossible with many children to ever get anywhere, however, I am not opposed to taking (scheduling) a break when needed!


Sometimes we schedule an afternoon break on purpose. Sometimes we schedule some “down time” into the day. This looks different to each family, but I encourage you in the planning process to consider how to keep a while day fun for everyone. This sometimes means a little time to sit and relax, and take it all in.


Ideas for break time: Bring your favorite book. Read for 30 minutes after lunch.

Schedule some earned screen time after a snack. Plan for some yoga/ meditation or deep breath stretching in connection with a certain time of day. I love a scavenger hunt or trivia. Another way to spend down time well is if your children have their own devices everyone share the best photos you took of the day in a shared folder. Take a little time to laugh and connect.

 

Washington DC with 8 Kids who ALL had fun! Whew!! Good Moms and Great kids.

8 children on the wall outside of the Washington Monument, DC
2 Families of friends, at the Washington Monument, DC

How to choose your adventure:

What do you need right now? Something to help you relax or something to excite you?

When planning a longer trip, look at places that offer the right amount of engagement/ adventure and rest to best suit your soul. As a business woman who has helped planned and facilitate art and yoga retreats, I feel like all travel is meant to be a refuel to your personal battery.


While many venture outside of the US for learning new cultures or being in an exotic place, I have found exploring our big back yard to be extremely rewarding. When had started family travels, I wanted to go to Egypt and Greece and decided I should first visit the places here people come from all over the world to see. High on my list was the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. Both are so much more amazing in real life than any picture can portray. I began to discover things about myself when I would go exploring that I never knew, and the more I explored canyons and hiked waterfalls, the stronger and lighter I felt. While my children are much more athletic, I have greatly enjoyed pushing myself beyond my own comfort zone to experience the beauty of this land. Our travels have blessed my being and made our best memories.


Friends in the Blue Mountains, North Carolina
Parents organized around the kids by this senior trip to Lake Lure

Friends: We sometimes travel ourselves, and sometimes with friends! The friends we’ve traveled with have fortunately been a wonderful influence on our overall experiences. They have helped us discover and adventure even beyond what we may have planned. Going with people more adventurous than I am has definitely rubbed off on me and helped me to grow as a traveler. One such location where this can be seen was in Lake Lure. We’ve been there a few times and found that house sharing an Airbnb created amazing opportunities for friendship and memories to multiply greatly.


Travel locations can definitely impact your mood. I love to explore but not all days can be museum days. When I am in a museum for the first time I browse it quickly, then go back to my favorite places and dive deeper. My kids have learned that I will join a museum talk or ranger hike with out planning if I get excited. They are old enough now to laugh and keep moving and let me be happy about it.


Kids, voguing on some street posts
New Hampshire, the White Mountains

Save Money:

Is it really saving or is it just not using it all?

I am the queen of free or budget style making it happen. While in the planning process I put my budget first, in the moment I put the people first.


Here’s what that looks like: I plan to eat sandwiches picnic style for lunch that I’ve packed. However, my kids eat these early and at lunch we need something I didn’t bring. It’s fine, we eat. However, I’m not taking us to any pricy food venues if it wasn’t in the plan. I will stop at a grocery store before I go through a fast-food line. My kids know I haven’t pulled through a fast-food line in like 8 years, with a few exceptions for In and Out and once or a few times Chik Fil A, and usually that is planned!

.

Here’s some real ways we save:

With 4 kids this is a constant consideration!!

1.       I have an electric kettle I bring everywhere. No purchases of fancy tea or coffee, we make our own. I also bring a bag full of all things hot water can make like our favorite teas, instant oatmeal and hot cocoa. Soup in a cup are also a good snack when in a colder location.

2.       Stay in places with a refrigerator and microwave. Leftovers are a great option later.

3.       Small compact first aid kit. I make it myself and have a little of everything we might need including cortisone cream, a couple band aids, Benadryl, Motrin, alcohol wipes... This keeps us from paying way more for something we need due to an ant bite or other quick fixable issue.

4.       Cook your own meals and pack your food when you can. A great collapsable cooler goes a long way.

5.       Bring refillable cups/ travel mug. Grab ice from your Hotel before leaving. No ice? Make ice bring some freezer safe bags make some, don' buy it.

6.       Decide what attractions are worth it and what you can skip ahead of time; then buy tickets online when they are offered at a discount. These few dollars here and there add up and you’re least likely to get sucked into good marketing if you already have your tickets and plans.

7.       STOP the instant gratification before it’s a formed habit. You want something we didn’t plan or budget for? The guilt free no is the answer every time. If this is the expectation, it’s never a disappointment. They never have to wonder because when they’re old enough to have their own money they can always spend, my answer will always be no. My money is better used on something that wasn’t a sudden discovery. I look at this as I am modeling how to be smart and practical.

8.       Let kids earn cash before going, so that they have some of their own cash to allow for their souvenir budgets and anything they may feel the need to splurge on, thus allowing you to keep the “no” rule in place. Also teaches them to budget.


Kid swinging from a tree
Just let them go outside and play!

Funding in advance:

Any costs you know are going to incur (hotel/ rental car/ anything not paid ahead of time) start an account for those things and divide how much you need by how much time you have. Put at least that much in

 

Unexpected things that happen:

Learn to be flexible and go with the flow.

Some of our best memories are when we needed a stretch, and the kids ran up a boulder on the side of the road to quickly break the monotony of a long drive. One of the things I was looking forward to at Bryce National Park was the astronomy nights. The Milky Way is said to be incredible in that corner of the world. By no fault of anyone anywhere it was a cloudy night and we couldn’t find the meeting place. Rather than let it spoil my mood I opted for going back to our lodge early and getting a pizza to eat in. This turned out to be what I really needed. An early night sleep had me completely restored for the next day. Not in the plan but a great alternative.


Another time my kids (who at this time) were protesting photos while on location all turned and posed and called my name to take this photo:


Kids sitting on a fountain in Maymont Gardens, Virginia
When kids pose themselves, you've won! lol, Maymont Gardens, Virginia

 I have lots of thoughts about rainy days while you are on vacation. See this blog for how to adjust your plans and keep the momentum of the trip going: https://www.savvysinglemamatravels.com/post/8-things-a-rainy-day-on-vacation-is-good-for


Packing:

The difference between a road trip and a flight is definitely how much space you have for the stuff. But remember: Everything is possible. If you need it to be successful, get it in your luggage. If you need it at your arms reach, have it in the carry on/ baby bag. If you might want it, it comes if there is space. Anything I didn’t want to buy and thought I’d hate to have to go out at midnight for a sick kid, came in my bag. This included a couple doses of allergy pills or Motrin. In the event my kid got sick I could always go get more, meaning I didn’t need space of all different medicine possibilities, just the ones I’d need to be immediate. For me this also included our Juice Plus and other herbal remedies I’d want on hand. This may be lemon grass essential oil for hiking or lavender for relaxing.


Packing for a car trip and packing for a flight may both look different. But logistically they are the same. Admittedly, when I am driving I tend to throw in everything I could possibly want. This includes coolers, beach chairs, beach towels, snorkel, and big hats! I really go to the details when driving. I bring my favorite face mask, and foot soaker I haven't used, because I'll be on vacation and may have a rainy day which is perfect for some self-care time.


Baby on blanket playing while it's raining
No rainy-day blues here, baby and I sat under the covered porch with some toys

Education: 

I am a teacher both by trade and at heart, so I view planning our excursion (whatever we are doing) with a few objectives I most want to focus on. These used to be: “Get out of the house for a day” because it was what I needed. These later they progressed into “label/ name as many items as we can touch” and “connect new vocabulary” when being intentional with my little one who was nonverbal at the time. (Early Intervention WORKS).


This amplified into understanding the difference between those in poverty and those who escape poverty have one determining factor: life experiences. When you have more experience, you make connections and understand differently. This leads to greater intelligence and processing. This leads to feeling more capable and wanting to be a bigger part in the world around you. Staying in a small circle can limit your mind and understanding to your immediate environment.

Lots of things happen in your brain when you travel.


When traveling, you gain insight about geography and history. You learn how other people look and live. You experience different food and places, and never return home the same. Your mind expands which leads to increased creativity and connection. This leads to many benefits individually.

 

In short: Take your kids with you to live more abundantly.

Magic Kingdon with a toddler
First time at Disney, total win!

In our travels we've chased waterfalls, climbed mountains, sat by the quiet Bay, and covered many miles. We've been to the Atlantic and Pacific. Hiked in the desert and climbed so many trees. We've driven, laughed, lived, and there have even been temper tantrums. (not pictured)


A few words of encouragement:

~~ Make your plans and roll with it

~~Trust yourself and teach your children trust

~~ Plan according to your interests and provide for your kids some enrichment

~~Nature is healing it, seek it out and tune in

~~Breathe fresh air, feel the flow of water, and find your own level

~~Be flexible

~~Put people above things and celebrate little successes!

~~Take the photos, and don't forget to be in them too!

~~Really think about the barriers to having fun, and remove them by planning as well as possible



 

 

 

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