As a full-time traveling mom of 12 … yes, I have 12 children, all mine, no twins, I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to limiting the amount of screaming and crying and headbanging and resulting increased alcohol intake when traveling with children. It can be an amazing experience, with just a little planning and some attitude adjustment on the part of the adults, that you will remember forever and ever! I can’t imagine traveling EVER without our kids, they keep it real, they keep us focused on the experience and ensure that we have a blast!!! So here are 10 Life Hacks that we’ve discovered after 2 full years of full time travel!
Play it Safe and Make Reservations!
In the 9 months of married life without kids, Dan and I never, and I mean NEVER made reservations. Partly because all our trips were spontaneous, let’s go now mini adventures and partly because we never had the money to really plan a vacation, so our trips were the “hey I got a great tip, let’s go to the beach for the weekend” type excursions. The problem we always encountered were those “other” people who made reservations and were to blame for the No Vacancy signs we kept running in to resulting in super cozy nights spent sleeping in our car
And so, fast forward 20 years and now we are traveling full-time in an RV and the same darn thing applies. You just can’t show up to a beach that day and hope for a campsite, just like you can’t show up at a hotel and hope for a room. So … plan ahead because spending the night in a Walmart parking lot with your kids in your minivan sucks way worse than doing so in an RV and it really really suck in the RV!
Load Up Your Tablet
I never ever would have ever thought that I would ever recommend tablets for kids, but as a full-time traveling mom, I tell you they are the holy grail of peace! We can’t leave home without them. In fact, after one excessively grueling trip before the RV, one where I was eyeing acreage for sale for like $20,000 on the side of the road in Kansas, we bought every single child (that was 11 then) a Kindle Tablet. Literally, I was bribing the kids with $100 bills. We didn’t think we’d ever make it home! Living in a tent in Kansas was better than driving one more mile. And so, everyone has some sort of tablet with a gazillion FREE educational games and we travel with a few laptops which double as mini movie theaters. When things go south, we pull these babies out and instant quiet. A few words of wisdom, if I may, the tablets and their games are never ever pulled out unless the RV is moving and so they hold a somewhat magical feeling for the kids. They are special and not something they are ever allowed to play when the sun is shining and they could be outside!
Make it About the Journey, Not the Destination
The greatest lesson we have learned from traveling in our RV is to live in the moment. Life is about the little things, take time to smell the roses, to see what surrounds you. If you are traveling by car, which most budget travelers do, incorporate some cool stops along the way that will allow both you and your kiddos to get out and run around. Some of our favorites were a stop at FoxHole Paintball in Kansas, an impromptu stop to swim for hours in Lake Michigan, a 3-week stop at the Beach instead of the planned 3 days, and a day at a waterpark in the heat of the summer!
Our kids love to map out our travels, they love to watch our progress on Google Maps or on the iphone and even on a traditional old school atlas! We often tell them our route and let them pick the stops, which is how we end up in some of the most random places ever!! This gets them involved in the trip, involved in the bonding and the fun as well as their education! Travel, like life, is all about the journey, so make sure that you make the most out of those little moments, slow down, take a lesson out of your kids’ playbook. They are not task driven maniacs, they enjoy everything. Take it from me, the years go by so fast, make sure to live them the absolute best you can. Don’t be in a rush to get anywhere. Relax, have fun and make awesome memories!!
Consider Renting an RV
RV’s have come a long long way … not ours necessarily, but, like, modern RV’s have all the luxuries of home. Full kitchens, bathrooms, climate control, TV’s, comfortable sofas, washers and dryers, tons of storage for clothing and games and toys and books and fireplaces. If it’s in your home, chances are there is an RV with the same amenities!
RV’ing makes a family vacation more about the family than the travel. You are all together for the entirety of the trip, experiencing the same adventure, the same excitement. What’s more, you have total control of your vacation. No racing to make flights and standing in long lines and trying to placate your kids because they are tired and exhausted and starving. RV travel is so relaxing and stress free that there’s no need for a vacation after you vacation!
There’s no denying that an RV feels so much more like home than a hotel, plus you can keep your costs down and stay health focused by cooking your own meals while vacationing! Not to mention by traveling in an RV you don’t have to fork out $180/nt for that beach front hotel … instead you pay $65 for an RV spot on the sand! RV’ing is how we can afford luxury vacations without forking out the cash for a luxury vacation.
And finally, RV’ing allows you to bring your bikes, your surf boards, your kayaks, your snowboards and even your pets! No bag limits, no cramped quarters, no bored and overtired little travelers.
When traveling with younger kids, it’s imperative that you choose your toys and books wisely! While they may play undistracted for hours with Lego’s at home, they are not the best toy to bring on a trip … for obvious reasons. The best items to pack are crayons, markers, colored pencils along with some coloring books, activity books and paper, stickers, a deck of cards even clay! These things literally keep our kids entertained for extended periods of time. Always have easy snacks on hand to keep energy levels and mood at their best and be sure to not pack anything that can get squished, like bananas or are choking hazards like grapes. Have plenty of refillable water bottles on hand and of course some kid friendly, fun CD’s!
When packing for the actual vacation, travel not withstanding, my rule of thumb is as follows: Never pack white clothes or anything that wrinkles and needs to be ironed. This, my friends, is my life hack, to tell you the truth. I buy neither of these two things anyway, regardless of whether we are traveling or not … in fact, I don’t even own an iron! Jeans, plaid shorts & skirts & dark shirts are our staple wardrobe as they hide dirt and mess and don’t wrinkle! 🙂 At least one pair of long sleeved PJ’s are always packed as even if it’s hot as Haiti where we are going, we love air conditioning … kids get cold. I also am sure to bring one pair of good shoes for hikes, biking, caving and any other adventure, in addition to easy flip flops and sandals! And on the same note, always always bring a sweatshirt for those cool evenings that bless the high deserts and the mountains! And bring plenty of underwear and socks, so that even if your kids are wearing the same clothing, they can change into nice clean socks and undies every day. Sounds obvious? You’d be surprised!
And be sure never to leave home without your camera!
Notify Your Credit Card Company BEFORE You Leave!
I can’t express enough how crazy careful banks are about fraud! Nor, how no matter how many times you notify them you will find yourself on the phone explaining that you are standing in line at the grocery store with a frozen card. And that you already told them you’d be traveling through Kansas and Missouri and Indiana and Ohio and no, you don’t know when and what the last deposit into your account was because your husband handles of of that and no, the husband is in the car with the screaming toddlers and I can’t call and ask him because I’m ON MY PHONE WITH YOU.
Call your bank before you leave and apprise them of your travel plans! So much easier than after the card has been frozen!
Documents: Medical Records, Insurance, etc.
Thankfully, my husband is a planner and an organizer … I am neither, so while I’m the fun spontaneous one, he’s the glue that keeps us alive in the free world. If it weren’t for him, we’d all perish! He packs the kids medical records, including vaccinations, all our insurance cards, our Passports (he even has photocopies of our passports and ID’s, just in case we are robbed or they are stolen), and all kids meds like Tylenol and Advil, thermometers, bandaids, Hydrogen Peroxide, Neosporin, allergy meds, vitamins and such. And, FYI, all our bills are on auto-pay and he has set up direct deposit for all jobs he is currently working on as a contractor. All I can say is WOW!
I don’t know how we survived any form of travel before we had Solar devices to charge our electronic devices. Everyone must have at least one! I mean seriously. If your GPS or your phone dies, you are pretty much dead as well … be smart, carry a portable solar device with you when you are off on family adventures so you can stay connected and never ever miss that epic photo because your camera died! Check out Enerplex and Goal Zero for some reliable options!!
Involve Older Kids
Just as with involving them in the trip planning, giving your older kids a camera and a journal to document their trip is pretty baller for any adolescent teen!! Encourage them to write down anything they think is cool and to photograph it. New foods, new adventures, new places, cool people, sick cars, funny signs, they all combine to make a pretty amazing personalized travelogue! Not to mention, you are engaging your child’s brain, encouraging them to truly see all the while making the trip All About Them!
We also have a tradition where we purchase one small (read cheap) cool souvenir from the places we like best and a postcard. For instance, from St Andrew, NB we have a little ship to remind us of our whale watching excursion and a postcard. We put the ship in a glass case in our home and the postcard on the wall in our RV. Encourage the kids to get involved in this as well, they can place the postcard in their journal and write a few words about the experience!
Once the trip has begun, the hardest part is behind you — the figuring out what to bring, the tedious task of packing everything and all the worry and stress that goes into the days preceding the actual departure date – and all that is left is the adventure before you.
If you’re flying, know that your kids have the same right to be on the plane as all the other passengers. Obviously the goal is to keep them entertained and as quiet as possible, but when that inevitable fails, chill out, tend to your child and ignore the stares.
If you’re driving, you are the captain of your ship. Stop when you need to, take advantage of nap time and above all relax, have fun and tap into that youthful exuberance that kids are so very good at drawing out!
Once you get to your destination, keep it simple. Do just enough that it’s fun and exciting for everyone, but not too much that by 5 pm both you and the kids are in fighting moods! Relax, let the vacay take on a life of it’s own, roll with the punches, connect with your spouse and kids and for heaven’s sake turn off the cell phones and the computer and just enjoy the moments as they come!