We are on vacation.
I have marveled at all of the families traveling with young children under five. They seem to be effortlessly going with the flow. They look very calm. In the hotel where we stayed, there were several little ones. Several threw fits and several did not. We moved rooms early in our stay because a baby screaming next door wouldn't stop. Please know--I love children very much, but my husband couldn't sleep. Unfortunately, hotels have thin walls. Still, I marveled at the parents' willingness and desire to travel with little ones.
My husband and I didn't travel a lot when our kids were little. We took our oldest when she was 3 months old to a wedding out of town for a very close friend. I'm so thankful we did, but that was a challenging trip. When my middle daughter was 1 year old, we tried to go to a cottage, but she woke 8 times in one night demanding to nurse. Mom--Me-- was a zombie the next day and we turned around, drove home, and I began to wean her. We didn't try to go on a vacation again until three years later, with a third child aboard.
Our first vacation to Maine was five years ago when my youngest was three years old. It was interesting to think back this week on what that was like. It was a good trip with a long, ten hour road trip attached to it on both ends. Each year it has gotten easier as my kids have been able to entertain themselves more with books and each other as company. This year was the easiest so far and I was so thankful! There were fewer "When are we going to be there?" questions from the back seats than previous years.
I enjoy the time on vacation with my kids very much. We laugh and spend time together. We go on lots of "field trips". My husband and I often talk about how to "do vacation better". Part of this is because neither of our families really took vacations.
My family went to vineyards that my dad wanted to go to. In the back seat of the car, sat my brother and I silently reading, not complaining, as we drove up and down the California and Oregon coasts. We didn't go visit sites that kids would enjoy. The part I enjoyed was eating out and staying in motels.
My husband's family didn't take many vacations either. So, we have had a lot to learn as a couple. But, we're learning.
Here are a few of the things I've learned...
1. We try to eat one meal (or two) out a day. Our stomachs are used to eating food at home and do better if we follow this pattern. It's also much easier on the finances. Breakfast is a surprisingly expensive meal to eat out in a restauarant. Bagels for my family (without drinks) cost about $25 and a sit down breakfast $50-$60. When we stay in hotels, we stay where they have a contintental breakfast which saves us some money. But, when we are in a rental house, we try to eat breakfast at home.
2. I make a plan ahead of time for meals and activities. It isn't a rigid plan. But, typically, our phones and computers don't get a lot of cell coverage in rural areas, so I write down addresses for our GPS and do research ahead of time to find things to do. I pick a variety of things that my husband and kids enjoy. Different hikes, museums (I try to look and see if there are any free hours), restaurants for the meals I think we'll eat out, and any special sites I think would be fun to visit.
3. I have forms. Last week, I had a volunteer interview for 4h and I had to answer several questions about organization. My answer to one question that I use a lot of forms. I use forms for everything. I use a form for the kids to pack their clothes (which worked well except that I need to add on a space for a belt!). I use a form for packing kitchen supplies that won't be at the house we're staying in. I use a form for general family packing. My forms have made packing so much easier for my family. It's still a ton of work to get ready for vacation, but I just go item by item down the list until everything is packed.
4. My kids have separate, color-coded LL Bean bags with wheels. This has been a huge help! We just bought a new one for my husband yesterday--in a different color, because he had one without wheels and we needed his bag to be our hotel traveling bag for the two days we stay in hotels before we get to the house we rent for a week.
5. I take coffee and a grinder and a few knives. I can do without most of my kitchen for a week, but the knives never work when we rent someone else's home and my coffee from home is one of the few things I do in the morning for me.
6. We got a box for the top of our van this year. Several of our friends had one and my husband thought it would be wise to get one this year. It hadn't occurred to me, but it has been such a help. Less stuff under the kids feet, and enough room to breathe inside our car. It was worth the investment. Our bag for the first two nights was inside the car so we didn't have to get into the box until we reached our destination.
7. Budgeting... I think that budgeting for vacation expenses is hard outside of lodging and travel. Being super concerned about finances can take away the joy from doing the things we're doing. One of the things I've really had to get myself used to is spending money on doing things. I know that sounds weird probably, but it just wasn't something that came naturally to me. I choose free concerts over expensive tickets. I choose free parks over ones that have a fee. But, sometimes the ones with a fee are so much more worth a visit. I'm learning.
8. At most meals out, my family drinks water. We don't order juice or milk unless it's included in kids' meals. My husband does order a draft beer once in a while. I realized yesterday why. I had always thought it was just about the cost--5 drinks equates to an extra $10-$15 on the tab for a meal. But, I discovered a second reason yesterday. When I sit down to a meal, I talk to each of the kids first and decide what they're going to eat before I decide for myself. I do this for two reasons--1) to help them make decisions and know what they're going to tell the waitress and 2) to help me figure out what to order as a back up in case they don't like what they order. When you add juice onto the discussion, things get noticeably longer and more complicated. For me, simpler is better and less stressful. My children know how much I try to be less stressed and for them this something desireable. In my house, the life is good saying "keep it simple" is important and helpful. I just explained this to one of my children who ordered juice twice yesterday and she understood and was fine with that. She also understood once I explained that a container of juice cost the same as the $3 that her glass of juice cost at dinner last night.
9. We don't plan on going all day. I know many high energy families that are able to go all day. My family can't. We get up in the morning and get out the door about 9 or 10 am, but we'll be home between 4 and 7 pm.
10. I save where I can so I can feel comfortable spending where we need to. Every year, I head to Ollie's to pick up cheap workbooks for the kids to do in the car and to Target for car snacks before we head on a trip. It's so much cheaper than buying something on the road. We also brought water bottles for the kids this year and even though they each cost $8, the savings in buying water bottles has been both financial and spatial. We haven't had to buy any water bottles from the grocery stores --I've spent up to $12 in the past on them. We also haven't had to store extra water bottles and take up trash space with them. Many of the homes we've rented don't have recycling, so the disposable bottles just filled up the trash when they were emptied. It's easier to have less trash.
11. Having something to do in the hotel room for the kids was something that accidentally happened this year and is something I'm going to remember. The girls wanted a new lego set. I had found a ninjago brickmaster set at Ollie's for $8 instead of the $27 that Amazon charged. The girls split the cost with me and they were all occupied all evening (1-2 hours after dinner) in the hotel after we went to the pool. The money spent on the legos was well spent. We've found that tv in the hotel rooms is tricky. One year we watched tennis, which was safe. The first night this vacation, I watched NFL football with my kids and explained the game to them. Sports are pretty safe, but outside of that, it's been tough to find things to watch.
12. I bring food from home. Food is cheaper where we live because of Aldi. I buy the refrigerated items where we stay, but I bring the basics with us. I estimate that it easily saves us about $100. We stay near a larger grocery store, but I know that in many touristy areas, the independent grocery stores are far more expensive.
13. Having a GPS is very helpful. We like having one independent of our phones. We do have car phone chargers, but the GPS has the ability to look up places and addresses when it's up to date. Unfortunately, our GPS is on its last legs with this trip and will need to be replaced this year, but it's had a good long life--about 7 years. My husband's phone does have a GPS, but isn't able to look up places while we're on the road.
I guess that's it for now. I know we still have more to learn about how to take vacations, but they go much more smoothly than they did five years ago when we took our first weeklong vacation to Maine and I'm very thankful!