As you may have read on my other blog, we've been on a family vacation to Philadelphia this last week. There are a few things we did that worked... and a few things that didn't. For the sake of future family trips (both yours and mine), I thought a quick recap might be in order.
Things that worked:
Play License Plate Bingo
The night before we left, I created three license plate bingo sheets for our daughters. Each was different, with some states that overlapped and some that were unique to their sheet. The rules were similar to traditional bingo - when they saw the license plate from one of their states, they marked it off on their sheet. When they got a bingo, they got a prize (in our case, one piece of Rollo candy). A super bingo (all 25 squares) yielded a bigger prize (which I never had to decide since no one achieved it).
The girls loved this game. It made them engaged instead of bored, helped them see and enjoy the scenery instead of staying stuck in a book and made the time pass quickly. Even after days of travel, they were still looking for that elusive Washington, DC plate. For another trip, I might do a Car Make and Model Bingo or a Businesses Bingo.
Pack Snack Bags
I packed each girl's lunch box with a variety of snacks and treats before we left Nashville. If your children are like mine, they require regular snacks and there's no way we're pulling over every time they get a hunger pain. So I filled their bags with granola bars, baggies of dried fruit, peanut butter crackers, fruit strips, jolly ranchers and sprees. When they asked for a snack, I almost always said yes, unless we were stopping imminently for a meal.
Each girl was allowed to bring their iPod and we gave about an hour of iPad time to each girl over the course of the drive up and back. But there were no movies, no DSIs. Just License Plate Bingo, books, music, Mad Libs, graphic novels, taking photos of the scenery and talking. Since we limit electronics at home, this method works much better for our children than spending a long ride watching movies. TV tends to wind them up and make them restless, whereas these activities engage their minds.
Do What Your Kids Love
Before we left home, I checked reciprocity with some of our favorite Nashville memberships. Cheekwod's website listed botanical gardens by state that offered reciprocity and when I went to the Morris Arboretum website, I knew it was a place we would love to visit. I also checked for what our zoo membership and museum membership offered, but I think it works well to prioritize. My girls would choose Cheekwood over the Nashville Zoo or the Frist Center most days, so it seemed right to me to make a comparable place a top priority. This is not only good financial sense (since reciprocity normally offers a discount or free entrance), it's a wise use of your time.
Philadelphia is a long way from Nashville. Had we pressed on, packed lunches and driven through the night, we might have taken an hour or more off our drive. But I don't think it would have been worth it in the long run. Instead, we stopped for lunch and ate at a hole-in-the wall local place, picnicked at a rest area, took a driving tour of a college campus and visited a Tractor Supply Co. store or two (for Jason, of course). These stops made Virginia more than just a state we drove through to get to Pennsylvania, let the girls burn a bit of energy and kept everyone relatively interested and engaged on the ride. As someone who grew up in a family that stopped only for fuel and restroom breaks, this is something I've had to learn works best for my family. The quickest drive is not always the best one for us.
What Didn't Work:
I have a tendency when traveling to want to be efficient in our sightseeing. We'll be downtown? Let's see Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross House before we go to dinner with friends and after we've attended service at Christ Church. This does. not. work. Children get tired. They get cranky. Then everyone is unhappy. I needed to remember that vacations are not about efficiency so much as enjoying yourself. For the record, we never did make it to the Betsy Ross House...
Eating Out Three Meals Per Day
Thankfully we rented a town home via VRBO, so once we got to Philadelphia we were able to have breakfast and some dinners at home - and even pack our lunch a few times. This certainly helps your vacation budget, but it's also simply what our family prefers. We don't eat out a lot, so by the time we were on day 2 on the way up to Philadelphia, we ate a picnic of hummus, carrots, apples, etc. instead of having sandwiches or burgers. This may not work for the drive home since a week of vacation left me tired and not in the mood to pack a lunch for the drive back.
For Next Time:
Our girls don't get a lot of junk food, so when we stop at gas stations on road trips, they are in awe of the assortment of candy available. This time around, Jason and I made a stop-by-stop decision about whether to let them each select something. Next time, I'd like to give them each $5 at the start of the trip and let them decide how and when to spend it. This gives them more control while simultaneously limiting the amount of junk food they can consume to $5 worth of gas station items.