“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…”
It seems strange to realize that we have truly entered a season of traveling with children, not traveling with babies and toddlers. There is a pretty vast difference. I did not realize how much of a difference until this trip!
We’ve been making roughly the same eight hour drive from one state to another for going on fourteen years now- we have the main route memorized plus three or four scenic byways. Most of the time we’re making an end run, driving straight through; this trip is the first time we are wandering our way up and wandering our way back. Honestly, it’s the first real vacation we’ve had in years- the last one was before we moved almost three years ago. It certainly hasn’t been feasible since with the all the hospitalizations for both Ellianna and Josiah. It was only a month ago that Josiah was given the okay to travel (with precautions).
(Can you believe that sunflower? It was bigger than my head! It was at a rest stop and I loved the silhouette of the mountains behind it.)
I feel like I’ve gotten packing down to a fine art, even with the additional twist of taking our camping gear. If you look at the back of the van (which is a fifteen passenger), all of our stuff is stored in a space which is about four feet wide and three feet deep. To the left is the camping supplies (tent, camp stove, chairs, first aid kit, camp supplies). In the middle, the clothing tubs. To the right, our food storage, including our cooler, plus most of the pillows and sleeping bags. If we weren’t camping on this trip, we’d need less than half of what you see.
I’ve gotten pretty rigid about clothing for trips (while we haven’t been on vacation in a while, we do make the holiday runs between grandparents). In this transitional season, they took one short sleeve and one long sleeve shirt, one pair of shorts and one pair of pants, one Sunday shirt (for boys) or dress (for girls), one pair of shoes, one sweatshirt, a pair of pajamas and socks and underwear. James and I take very similar clothes. Our clothing usually fits into just one tub- with this camping trip, we took two, the second of which has mostly kitchen items (pans, cutting boards, knives, etc) and our adult clothing was tucked around it to keep it from knocking about.
The reason we can get away with this is mostly because we are a large family. We don’t stay in hotels, as they would be uncomfortably expensive; instead we often stay with family or search out house rental options via AirBnB, which almost always have laundry facilities. I can run a load or five. If you were traveling from place to place in hotels our rather stoic packing might not work.
This vacation was truly a gift from many people involved in the planning and preparation- the cabin we are staying in for most of it was a joint gift both from a family friend and my husband’s parents. So many people were adamant that it was time for us to rest and recuperate, which we are deeply grateful for. This trip wouldn’t have happened without them!
We’ve also leaned a few tricks for the road. We can’t eat fast food anymore due to the Celiacs, but we know to find certain grocery stores: our favorite mid-way stop is a Whole Foods, which has an amazing salad bar, hot bar, sushi, and the like. We often eat for much cheaper that way than we would eating on the road, with the added advantage that we don’t have to carry the food with us but still eat mighty healthy, which I used to think was impossible.
Our newest trick, besides the ever present book basket (yes, we are that family- happily guilty!) is to reserve a stack of audio-books from the library especially for the trip. We used to have portable dvd players and the like (our car does not come equipped with such) but over the years we’ve felt that unlimited tech on road trips causes more problems than it solves. This was our first tech-free road trip and it went far better than the similar trip we took at Christmas, and I earnestly believe it was due to the audio-book we choose: The Penderwicks at Port Mouette. As you can see from the stack, we have plenty more: lots of Lemony Snicket and some Harry Potter. We’ve become connoisseurs enough to tell you that the narrator is important. We love The Mysterious Benedict Society but the audio-book for it was not especially good because the narrator had a deep, gruff voice, making the dubbing difficult- it is often hard to hear and understand. The Penderwicks narrator is fantastic- such an incredible voice actor- she really sucks you into the story. The whole series, whether in book or audio-book form, is wonderful for the whole family. We’ve all laughed and cried our way together through the first three books and we will eagerly look for the next one when we get home.
What I particularly like about our packing now is that our children are not stuffed into the car with lots of things about them; all of our traveling requirements fit in the back space, leaving lots of room between kids. Everyone can spread out. I know that if we were still in a minivan, for example, we would easily fit our stuff in the back cargo area. (If we weren’t camping. I imagine in a smaller car + camping we’d have to use a roof rack carrier.) We don’t have to carry a stroller anymore, which I think is a huge part of it too. I’m not saying that traveling in tubs or laundry baskets is always feasible, but for us, we’ve found it far preferable to lots of bags and luggage pieces.
So there you have it- road tripping with children edition!