If you are planning a family trip during school vacation week expect to pay a premium to fly. I knew this when I checked into airfare for our recent trip to Florida for my sister’s wedding but I was shocked at how sizable that premium would be! It was going to cost over $3000 for our family of 4 for airfare alone! For a little less than that we could rent a nice minivan from Priceline, drive down, stay in a nice hotel along the way, and tack on a two day Disney Resort Package!
So that is what we decided to do although it was not exactly an easy decision. After all there are some major down sides to driving. We know from experience. This is our fifth time driving down, second time with kids.
- It will eat up two days at the beginning of your trip and two days at the end. And traffic and other unforeseen events can create delays.
- It is a TON of driving that at points can seem never ending. The drive home can be especially hard since it marks the end of your vacation.
- All those hours in the car can be really boring for kids especially if they get motion sickness from certain activities like reading, watching movies, and/or playing games. And worse, a side effect of that boredom can be behaviors that drive parents crazy!
We chose to drive for the cost savings and bonus Disney experience. We chose to drive despite the down sides with a plan to mitigate them through planning, effort, and attitude.
It can be done. You can almost simplify like this… a top notch copilot + a well stocked vehicle = a successful family road trip
- Know where you are going. Have your route mapped out. We used a GPS app on my husbands phone plus driving from New England to Florida is usually as simple as following I95 south.
- Travel on weekends if possible and leave super early. This will help you avoid getting stuck in rush hour traffic. And by being on the early schedule it will ensure your choice of hotel rooms for the night.
- In addition to packing for your vacation, pack a bag for your overnight stops on route. Let me tell you, it it no fun digging out your big suitcase that is under the golf clubs to to get at a change of underwear and your toothbrush.
- Pack a bag of snacks and a cooler with ice packs, cold drinks, and sandwiches. Don’t forget fiber rich foods. All that sitting in the car and slow things down a bit. Bring paper towels and if you can stick to water you can worry less about spills.
- Also pack a bag of activities for the ride. For kids, a journal and markers, books, and a tablet. don’t forget to charge all devices, download any movies you plan to watch, and bring along car chargers. If you have a tendency towards motion sickness don’t forget music and audio books which can really be fun! We made a library request the week before our trip. It was a great way to catch up on books we have been meaning to read.
- Bring pillows and blankets to make naps in the car more comfortable and hopefully last longer for your kids. You may be tempted to leave your jackets behind but resist. You are going to need them at that rest stop in New Jersey!
- As copilot, most of the time my primary job was assisting the pilot with things he might need like finding sun glass, plugging something in, getting snacks, or looking out for signs. My second job was to keep the kids calm and content. This means changing out activities, providing snacks, keeping them comfortable, and coaching them through boredom, discomforts, and disagreements.
- When driving use cruise control. It reduces some driver fatigue and helps keep your speed in check.
- It helps to think of the road trip as an adventure. It can be an opportunities to see the country, spend time together as a family, and maybe even have a few laughs. If someone is having a hard time it helps to be patient. I took a lot of pictures and created a travel log to pass the time. My husband and I had fun thinking up clever photo captions together. It may not be easy but try and make it fun.
- North Carolina is a good midway point to stop for the night and there are lots of nice and affordable hotel choices but don’t wait too late to stop. The nice rooms go fast.
- Watch your speed especially through Virginia.
- Be prepared for and have cash or EZ pass ready for all the tolls in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania/Delaware. I can’t remember exactly but it is around $30 total.
- Make all your stops count. Everybody should use the facilities, gas up, and get food.
- If you are used to good coffee, be prepared, you will not see it again until you return home.
- Be realistic with your expectations. Expect something’s to not go as planned and moods and behavior to be less than perfect.
- If your final destination is southern Florida don’t get too excited when you see that Welcome to Florida sign. You still have quite a ways to go. Florida is huge state!
It would be impossible to plan for everything, for example even though we made a point to make the most out of all our stops, there was a emergency restroom stop in central Florida that turned into two stops at two separate Kangaroos. We gave up waiting at the first one because the one restroom was still occupied after nearly ten minutes. We also got lucky in a lot of ways through like not running into ANY traffic on the way home even though we ended up traveling on a Monday. No traffic through New York and Connecticut, it was like a miracle!
- It is fun watching the landscape change as you head south. The grass gradually gets greener and you will start seeing palm trees in Georgia!
- It is also kind of neat to keep seeing the same families doing the same drive at rest stops and on route! You will also keep seeing the same truckers making the long haul.
- At the end of YOUR long haul you will really feel a sense of accomplishment!
You know, when I reflect back, a long family road trip is really like a microcosm of family/home life itself. Everyone does their part but mom or the copilot is the real hero! And as with any part of life it is always better when you try and enjoy it versus just trying to survive it! I hope I have convinced you to consider a family road trip for what it might afford you in more ways than one!