Recently, I took the kids down to Washington DC over spring break sans my husband (who was working) and several of my friends looked at me like I had four heads. Drive five plus hours in the car with children? Stay at a hotel with them alone? All four kids?? Yes, yes and yes! And you know what…it really wasn’t that big of a deal. We take several road trips each year (emphasis here on road trip because as a family of six, flying is out of the question) and while some of our friends and family think we’re completely off our rocker, we don’t even bat an eye because we have a system we strongly adhere to and it works! I’ll also share how we plan things out once we reach our destination to ensure it’s a relaxing and stress free trip for all. Don’t get me wrong. It definitely takes lots of organizing and planning but it’s all worth it in the end.
- Pack Strategically: I spend a lot of time packing because I pack one bag per child plus I pack a car bag. That’s the bag with an extra change of clothes for the kids in case of spills or accidents, a first aid kit (you never know…I do have three boys), Tylenol and wipes. I also pack a separate DVD bag for movies for the car, an electronics bag with their kindles and chargers, and then I allow them to pack one small bag each that will be next to them for the ride (they usually pack a deck of cards, books, small toys and a blanket). In addition, we have a snack bag which is major….I’ve realized you can never have enough snacks for kids! I try to pack non-messy things like bananas, apples, pretzels, fruit snacks, and some form of candy when the going gets tough. As for drinks, it’s strictly water because anything else would leave the car sticky and smelly. Last but not least, I bring a bunch of plastic bags for consolidating garbage.
- Leave Early: When we drive to Hilton Head, we leave in the middle of the night. Trust me…this is the best way! We stick them in the car in their pj’s and a half hour into the ride, they fall fast asleep. It makes for a very peaceful ride for the first leg of the trip. They typically wake up when we’re half way there which is just in time for breakfast. So, we stop at McDonald’s (I usually order the oatmeal which is pretty good and fairly healthy fyi), they change in the car, use the restroom, we eat and then continue on. They usually watch movies until we stop for lunch (we like Subway on the go) and then after that we allow them to use their kindles to play games or watch movies they have downloaded.
- Prepare for Meltdowns: Meltdowns are inevitable especially the last hour hour of the trip. That’s when I pull out that bag of candy or a new DVD I stashed in the glove compartment. Sometimes, we stop again for a treat and to stretch our legs. It’s to be expected with children so we try to take it in stride and go with the flow.
- Accommodations: We usually book our trips through VRBO and we’ve had great luck with it so far. It just makes sense as a family of six to rent a condo or townhouse for the week versus a hotel because we end up saving so much money. We try to rent a three bedroom so the boys share one room, our daughter gets her own, and then one for my husband and I. Other amenities we look for are a pool, a big kitchen, a washer/dryer, two bathrooms, a deck with a grill/outdoor seating and a location close to the beach. If we’re booking a trip for a long weekend, then we typically stay in a Residence Inn or a Homewood Suites with 2 bedrooms and two bathrooms. For hotels, we make sure there is a pool, convenient parking and breakfast which is included in the rate. When I went down to Washington the other week, I stayed at the Renaissance hotel in Arlington. Although it wasn’t a suite, I liked the proximity to the city, the convenient parking, the indoor pool, and the cafe in the lobby where we were able to get breakfast.
- Eating: Once we get to our location, we only eat out once which is a big treat for our kids and a huge money saver for us! On the first day, we go to the supermarket and stock up for the week. I personally prefer this because eating at home is healthier and more enjoyable in my opinion. Yes, you have to do dishes but my husband and I do them together and they’re done in no time. When we do go out, I always make sure the restaurant is family friendly and has a kids’ menu. In Hilton Head, we always go to the Salty Dog which is perfect because they play live music outside while you’re waiting for a table so the kids are entertained and my husband and I can enjoy a cocktail. Be sure to read reviews of restaurants before you go so you know what to expect!
- Things to Do: I highly recommend Groupon when you’re looking to book different activities. On our recent trip to DC, I booked a bus tour of the city for all five of us and it was the highlight of our trip! (Navigating through DC with small kids is a challenge so a bus tour is perfect because it makes 20 stops and you can hop on /hop off at the location of your choice and another bus will come along within twenty minutes). We’ve also done a similar trolley tour in Savannah and my kids loved it! Definitely plan ahead before you leave for your trip so you know what you’re doing day to day and have all your tickets printed and ready to go! It saves time and aggravation! Another piece of advice: have a backup plan due to weather, sick kids, etc.
- Be Flexible: I’m definitely compelled to be flexible with four kids. It doesn’t come naturally for me but I’m learning that you can’t anticipate everything! A lot of trips, we’ve ended up at the Urgent Care for pink eye, fevers, you name it! Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate which can be a total bummer but it’s the perfect excuse for a movie day, bowling, or a museum. I try to remind myself when things don’t go according to plan that we’re all together and we’re so blessed to take a vacation as a family. So focus on the positive!
I’m sure I’m forgetting something so if you have any questions, please feel free to email me. We have a few small trips planned in the next couple of months and then we’re heading down to Hilton Head at the end of August for a week long vacation. I cannot wait!
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