Early on in our marriage, Francis and I took a break from real life and drove a tractor trailer all around the US and into Canada. Trucking is pockets high stress surrounded by seriously boring down time. During all of this, we observed families on car trips—and not always in the happiest of situations. Here are some of our tips (in no particular order) for traveling with your family, based on our experience sharing truck stops, theme parks, and rest areas over eight years of traveling.
1)Each mode of travel offers its own stress and advantages. Cars and vans let you spend more time together. (Downside: Cars and vans force you to spend more time together.) P lanes are a hassle these days even without the addition of children in the mix, but at least you can get places faster. Trains offer time together while still keeping travel time at a minimum, but it’s pretty expensive. At least there is the opportunity to move around while bypassing highway traffic jams and long hours of wait time in airports. So don’t just assume there is only one way to get from point A to point B. Check into various methods of transport and choose which best suits your needs.Another tip from a professional driver should you choose a car vacation, is to allow enough time to drive just below the speed limit. Let others pass you by. Wave to them as they speed past and again when you see them stopped by the police on the side of the road later. You might be surprised at what good time you make (a few miles per hour makes very little difference in several hours’ driving) and how much more rested you are when you arrive at your day’s destination.
2) If possible, don’t travel with pets. While having Rover along seems idyllic for the kids, bringing your family dog or cat with you on vacation adds another level of stress. They have to be walked, watered, and fed during the day. Leaving them in the car while you’re walking, watering, and feeding yourself and your children can be problematic. And finding pet-friendly motels is not always easy.
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3) Be flexible with your plans. One thing you can be sure of when traveling is that crap is going to happen. Sites you wanted to visit may be closed unexpectedly or weather might force your plans to change. Try to keep alternative sites or activities in mind for those occasions. Relatives who came to visit this past summer had all kinds of places in California they’d planned to see but the massive wildfires that erupted while they were in route meant they had to make other plans. There is so much to see and do in our great country that alternatives shouldn’t be too hard. That is, unless you’re someplace like Wyoming where viable alternatives might be a hundred miles off. In that case…
4) Have alternative activities with you. Sometimes, waiting an extra day to view an attraction you really, really want to see means an unplanned night in a motel room or tent. Board games the family can enjoy will make the time go faster and provide those all-important family moments. And they don’t have to be large, bulky games. A pair of dice for Yahtzee will do, or a deck of cards for War, Go Fish, or whatever, depending on the age of your children. (If it’s just adults, strip poker can also be a pleasant way to pass an evening, but you didn’t hear it from me.)
5) Give up electronic devices—or at least schedule and limit their use. This goes for the grownups as well as the kids. If not for vacations, I know many parents who spend little time with their children except during meals (maybe). When on vacation, you’re not only forced to spend time together, it’s removed from the everyday world of chores, work, kids’ activities, etc. This should be a special time to explore and refresh your knowledge of each other, and that can’t be accomplished with one or more family member glued to video games or Facebook, or email. Set aside a couple of hours each day for device time and everyone will end up appreciating the freedom. Eventually.
6) Remember that comment that crap happens? Well, also remember that kids will pick up on the attitudes and moods of parents, especially in the hyper-close environment of a family vacation. If the car breaks down and dad is yelling and kicking things and mom is responding back in kind, don’t be surprised if the kids are tense and likely to react to anything you say or do in like fashion. Do your best to stay calm and you’ll inspire calmness in your children.Surprisingly, this works at home, too! Go figure.
7) Bring snacks but not those full of sugar. You know better than I what happens when children get on a sugar high. They come down at some point, but is it before you’re ready to jump from the moving train or after
8) Control expectations. Years ago, Francis and I went to Disney World. I was so excited I could hardly see straight. However, once we arrived, lines were long, the day was blisteringly hot, and a couple of the rides I’d looked forward to weren’t open. I was disappointed. And I wasn’t even a ten-year-old. But Francis encouraged me into It’s a Small World (air conditioned), fed me a hot dog, and distracted my loss of Pirates of the Caribbean with Space Mountain (the distraction worked—never again!). During a romantic dinner in one of the hotels, we recapped all we’d seen and I realized that if I had just ventured to Orlando looking for a nice day I would have been better off. As it was, we did have a great day. But even the Happiest Place on Earth can’t promise that no crap will happen. Managing expectations will ensure a better outcome than expecting everything to be perfect.
9) Related to the last point, vacation is meant to be fun. Relax and let the fun happen.
10) Instead of planning a week or two for vacation, plan mini-vacations by visiting places closer to home. Our parents were in the military and our dads didn’t always have leave when our schools were out for summer or spring breaks. In my case, we went to the mountains a couple of hours away from home, or to the coast for two-three days. We lived in a state where such trips were possible, but most states have interesting places to visit fairly close by. Don’t think of the city as a place to go shopping. Take a weekend and see a play or visit the museums. Drive to a waterfall in a state or national park and hotel it or camp overnight. Explore what’s in your area by computer and then explore it together as a family.
11) Finally, overriding all of the tips above, if you remember one last thing your family vacations will be great. Time away isn’t just for the parents and not only for the kids. Time away is for the family. If each member of the family thinks more of the other members than for themselves, your time is bound to be special—even when crap happens. You will build memories to be treasured for lifetimes.
Dee S. Knight and Francis Drake are husband/wife erotic romance writers. They have been married for nearly fifty years and know all about the stress of traveling and how to alleviate the worst of it. Visit them at their website for sweet (Ann Krist), historical (Amber Carlton), and erotic romance (everyone else).