For our family one of the best ways to create positive, bonding moments is to get out of the house and experience something new together, just the eight of us (yes, I said eight of us).
Over the last few years we have taken many one-day road trips. Why not overnight? Initially, as foster parents, overnights presented extra hoops to jump through, so we avoided them. Additionally there’s the question of where everyone is going to sleep, and take a bath, and the space to put the extra clothes.
Now that we are out of the foster system, overnights have become easier. But from our location on the East Coast, drawing a radius of two hours drive time around our house presents us with a myriad of day trip options.
Here are a few tips from our travels that might help your getting-out-with-littles go easier:
- Set up a plan, then improvise. Anyone with kids, especially littles, understands this concept. Your day will never go the way your planned it, so don’t stress it. We usually view our day in chunks of time and approximations; drive time, potty time, eating time, actual visit-the-museum time (which probably includes some eating time and several potty times). In general, we overestimate how long these items will take in order to get an accurate timeframe.
- Maximize your rest stops. When having to shuffle six kids to the bathroom (most of them still needing assistance), a simple potty break at Sheetz can easily cost us 30 minutes. To save time, we systematize by gender. While Austin takes the boys to the bathroom, the girls and I have a snack at the van and unbuckle seatbelts, then we switch. While I have the girls at the bathroom, Austin works on buckling the boys back in (while they snack). If we need gas, we juggle that in as well.
- Use one water bottle. Ok, this might (will) gross you out, but this is how we manage it. Truth be told, I often hide a bottle up by the driver’s seat for myself and Austin on the road, but while out and about, we only use one water bottle at a time; finish off one, leave it in a recycling bin, then start another and share around. I’ll make an exception for the youngest, who is still learning the art of not backwashing – sometimes he gets his own. Our brains have so many things to manage while we are traveling (like making sure no one is drowning in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool). Remembering which of the eight water bottles is whose is not an efficient use of our short term memory. Additionally, with so many people packed tightly in a van, whatever germs one has will inevitably get spread around anyway. One water bottle.
- Everyone ‘water’ and ‘potty’ together! And while I’m on the water topic, if one child says, “I’m thirsty!” and we stop our ventures to drink water, I’ll often suggest passing it around so everyone can have a drink. Otherwise, in two minutes, brother will be asking, and two minutes later, the other brother, and then…The same holds true for bathroom breaks. When one has to go, we have all the kids at least ‘try,’ otherwise our entire day would be shuffling to and from the restroom.
- Keep water in your vehicle. One more on water. I always have a case of bottled water in the back of our van. I can’t even tell you how many times that has saved us from grumpy, thirsty children.
- Save money on food by packing. Pack a lunch. Make extra and eat it for supper on the way home! Do some research ahead of time and find out if you can bring your own food into your destination. When in D.C. we cannot take food into the Smithsonian Museums, but can eat on the National Mall. Many zoos and even children’s museums (both Philly and Pittsburgh at the time of this writing) allow you to bring in your own food. We know! We were there, we asked, and we did it! For a family our size, each meal packed saves us $20 – $40. In a pinch, you can simply eat in your vehicle.
- Break up the nap with a playground stop. Our littles usually get a little sleep on the way to our destination, have a long day, then crash on the way home. The problem is, as soon as we get home, it’s bedtime, and who wants to go to bed right after nap time? Our way of managing is to stop at a playground on the way back, usually a little over halfway home. We take the rest of our packed food for supper, get a potty break, and let the kids run for 30 – 60 minutes. How do you know local playground locations? Google from your phone, allowing it to use your current location. Tip: Look at Google’s images of the location to assess if/what bathroom is available. Winter day trips for us are more complicated as we often end up eating in our van and doing rest stops at Sheetz.
- Bring the toothbrushes (and sleepers for the littles). Sound silly? This is a new addition for us, and I always love when I remember to bring these along. During our supper playground stop, we also try to brush teeth. No running water at the playground? Use a water bottle, just like camping. Spit in the sink or trashcan – not on the playground (still teaching the kids this one)! Even though our kids are usually awake when we get home, they are also getting drowsy. The worst thing to do is re-energize them with our bright bathroom lights and the undesired toothbrush time. If we get toothbrushing in at our rest stop, we can usually get them into bed easier upon arriving home. We skip the bath on road-trip days anyway.
- Utilize ACCESS cards. If you or any children in your care have an ACCESS card (PA), or its equivalent in your home state, check your destination to find out if you can get a discounted entry. In and around Philadelphia, many museums and arboretums give discounted rates for four family members per one PA ACCESS card.
- Embrace spontaneity; enjoy each other’s presence. There’s a high likelihood that many of your days out with kids will not go quite as planned. Embrace it, be willing to adjust on the fly. Enjoy the time you have with each other. In just a few, short years, they will be out on their own. Make the most of your time together right now.