One of the amusing things about telling people about our recent California Road Trip is their reaction when I tell them that we did the trip with a 4.5 year old and an almost 2 year old. They mostly look at me like I am crazy.
And maybe I am crazy, but I have to say- it was really a great trip. We had a lot of fun.
Which is not to say that there weren't meltdowns and moments when I wondered why on earth I had decided that we should take a road trip this year (answer: I didn't feel like messing with the airport/airplane hassle with my almost two year old).
But for the most part, the trip was really fun for the grown ups as well as the kids. Really, all of our trips with our kids have turned out pretty well, although there were some dicey moments in the Wichita trip, before we realized that we needed to back off on the potty training for the duration of the trip.
Now, a lot of this is just luck. In fact most of it is probably luck- we happen to have two good little travelers on our hands. Honestly, Pumpkin may be a more patient traveler than I am.
Perhaps a little of our traveling success might be due to things we do, though, so I thought I'd share some tips, in no particular order:
1. Plan like crazy.
Seriously. Plan the trip, then plan some more. And then some more. Know where at least one decent playground is in each city you are visiting. Google maps and Google Earth are big helps in this regard- you can even zoom in and check for swings if you happen to have a little swing addict (like we do). Have several family-friendly restaurant options identified ahead of time- you don't have to use them if you have time to stroll around and look for whatever restaurant looks best. But sometimes you just need to get to an acceptable restaurant fast, before your kids go from looking forward to lunch time to melting down due to hunger.
And speaking of restaurants....
2. Brew pubs are excellent places to take kids for meals.
I explained why we love to go to brew pubs in my last post. In short: they are generally noisy enough that my kids are not the loudest people in the restaurant, the beer mellows everyone out- us and the people around us, and they almost always have kids menus. Oh, and we like beer.
I am not a huge foodie, so we eat at chains, too. Sometimes, something familiar is what your kid needs. Chains can also usually be relied upon to have the mechanics of serving kids down- bringing the kids' food as soon as possible, for instance. The really good ones even know to let it cool in the kitchen for a bit before bringing it to the table.
3. Know which parts of your kids' routines can be messed with, and which can't.
For us, breakfast is sacrosanct. It needs to happen as soon after Petunia wakes up as possible. Almost everything else has some wiggle room, but not breakfast.
4. Try to stay in suites, if you can afford it.
The extra space is nice. And a door to close on your sleeping kids, allowing some grown up time on the vacation- even if you just use it to plan the details of the next day without a 4 year old asking "Why, Mommy?" every 20 seconds- is priceless.
5. Pack distractions for the travel time.
The magna-doodle has served us well here, as have the felt boards my Mom made for the kids for a return trip from Arizona. It is also handy to have something completely new for the trip. The night before our trip, I had to run to the drug store for some things, and on a whim, I bought a little princess coloring book on a plastic frame for Pumpkin. She loved that thing, and colored in it during most of our drives on this trip. Some of that was pure luck- but some of that was me knowing that she loves to color, loves princesses, and is always interested in something new, so there was a good chance she'd like that toy.
6. Be realistic in your expectations.
We don't try to take the kids to art museums yet, because Petunia is too little to understand how to behave in one and I am too sensitive to take her anyway, and just ignore the glares from other people. (Typing that sentence made me think that perhaps it is time I found the time for a trip to an art museum with Pumpkin, though- she is old enough to perhaps behave, and I'm curious what she'd think of it.)
We have also skipped many things we'd like to do just because the timing didn't work out. For instance, we drove through downtown San Luis Obispo on this trip and both thought it looked like a great little downtown that we would have liked to explore. Unfortunately, we were there at nap time and Petunia was snoozing happily in the back seat. We could have woken Petunia up, strapped her in her stroller, and hoped for the best- but chances are we would have gotten a meltdown, so we just made a mental note that we'd like to go back someday.
However, we know that meltdowns will sometimes happen, and we try not to let them get to us. It is unrealistic to expect the kids to behave perfectly for ten days straight. They certainly don't do that at home, so why would they do it on vacation? That is actually so important that it deserves its own list entry!
7. Remember that they meltdown at home, too.
Pumpkin threw a couple of impressive fits on this vacation around clothing. She wanted to wear shorts but it was too cold. She wanted to wear a certain shirt, but it was already filthy. Etc. But she throws fits about her outfits at home, too.
Petunia has been known to ruin a dinner time by crying loudly for a show while the rest of us try to finish our food (we have a rule: no TV while eating). So, while I would have preferred not to have to resort to tag team eating so much on the trip (one adult eats while the other walks around outside with Petunia, then we switch), I can't really say that dinner time disruptions are a unique feature of travel. They are a feature of having a two year old.
8. Plan in lots of park visits
As I said above, we always do some research and know where the local playgrounds are. We visit a playground almost every day when we're traveling, often for afternoon snack. I suspect that the play time helps the kids behave better during other times, and we've actually really enjoyed seeing the different parks in various places. I'll be writing more about the Dennis the Menace playground in Monterey. There were also some really good parks in Portland and Kaua'i (I didn't write about the Kamalani playground there, but it was pretty cool). Even better, hanging out at a playground with your kids is a great way to meet some locals, who might give you some good tips- we found both the Jamison Water Park mentioned in my blog post and the Portland brew pub run by the Deschuttes brewery (which was so great we went there twice) thanks to some advice from a friendly dad in a local playground, who struck up a conversation with Hubby while Pumpkin and his son played, and I shopped at Powell's.
Those are my tips and tricks, but I know we don't have it all figured out... so please, chime in via the comments. What are your tips and tricks for traveling with little kids, and enjoying it?