When we moved to Georgia from Texas, I decided to quit my part-time job and stay home full-time. My husband was betting against me lasting more than six months, and my stubbornness kept me from admitting the same thing to myself. However, here we are more than a year and a half later with Mom home full-time and no plan to end any time soon.
God’s plans are better than our own!
While we love being close to the mountains and new areas to explore, we are at least a twelve our drive from grandparents, cousins, and Texas. The option was to wait for Dad’s weeks of vacation from work, or we must learn to take on travel by ourselves. If we wanted to be able to spend more time with family other than two weeks a year, this would be the only way.
Let’s Get the Obvious Concerns Out of the Way…
The kids won’t see their dad for a long time! True. Originally, I felt guilty like we were abandoning Dad for a month, but like so much else in marriage, it seems a little communication was the solution. After a couple of my solo trips, we actually talked about it. Genius! It seems that while he does miss us, he also really looks forward to the time by himself as well. He also really wants his kids to have these adventures and is thankful that we have the opportunity to do them. Also, talk to Dad because it’s just possible that he would rather you go back to Williamsburg without him so he can save vacation time for somewhere new-to-him.
That just doesn’t seem safe! Just use some common sense. Stay on the main highways. Let the husband track your phone so he knows where you are and make sure he knows your loose itinerary. Make sure your phone is charged. Make sure the car maintenance has been done and that your tires are good. Research the hotel you are planning on staying at. For the vast majority of time on your trip, you will be able to call anyone you need on your cellphone at any time if an emergency arises.
Plan ahead but also be flexible! When we are all together, I tend to do a lot of hotel reservations from the passenger seat. However, when you’re alone, you can’t do that. While I don’t always complete the reservation, I have a couple of hotels in mind depending on how far we get that day. As long as your route is not completely rural, you will be able to find a hotel for the night! Also, don’t hesitate to cancel an outing. You just can’t do it all.
Put aside what you think “everyone else” does on their trips and do what works for your family. You most likely won’t be riding along singing Kumbaya while all the kids have big, happy, never-ending smiles. And we aren’t packing all our own homemade, gluten-free food.
Just. Be. You. Here’s what works for us.
Tip #10: Have the Conversation
No, not that one…! Make sure the kids understand that solo travel is more stressful. It’s a fact. Mom will be frazzled more. At the start of the trip when you are still calm and collected, sit them down to have a real conversation. If the talk comes out in the spur of the moment, it will be more aggressive than they deserve. Tell them that you will need their help with keeping the car tidy, that you can’t focus on driving if they’re bickering over the next movie, and that this is a team vacation – not just Mom here to serve and do everything. Honestly, travel like this just won’t be happening if it isn’t cooperation. It’s hard. You don’t have to be the martyr and bear all the weight alone.
Tip #9: Allow the Personal Electronics
I admit that we probably watch more TV at home than many homeschooling people. It’s a constant battle to figure out. While Minecraft has become a more regular aspect of our homeschooling, it is still limited on a regular basis and the kids share old phones. I’ve had some families tell me they will never have TVs in the car. If it works for you, good. However, the kids watch movies for many hours in the car and share phone time to listen to their own audiobooks and play Minecraft. Pack lots of movies.
As a caveat, I will point out that this has come to bite us in the butt before. When too many electronics are allowed on trips, that becomes all they want to do. When that happens, the limits go up or the phones do. Once we get to a destination, they no longer get them.
Tip #8: Take the Coziness of Home with You
Make the kids as comfortable in the car as physically possible, and there will be fewer complaints. Small pillows and light blankets make sleep a lot more likely. Wear cozy clothes – or pajamas if it’s a full-day of sitting! Pack plenty of water and snacks within arm reach of a big kid who can hand them out.
Bonus Tip: Kids won’t sleep if the TV is on because they have their priorities. Turn it off after lunch, and just see if a small nap will happen!
Tip #7: Claim This Land for Mom
Take your own bed! This is not about Mom being selfish while the kids double up on the sofa bed. This is called Mom doing what she needs for her sanity and safety. You will not be able to drive as well the next day if you’ve been kicked by the six-year old all night because he wanted cuddles. The afternoon rest time at the rental house will be a lot more restorative for you if you too can take a nap or have your own room to find some peace and quiet. Dare I say that you might even claim your own bathroom, so you don’t have to wade over their detritus to get to your toothbrush?
You deserve your own space after being in the car all day.
Tip #6: Listen and Learn
Audiobooks and educational podcasts totally count as learning! They are working on their auditory comprehension, attention spans, and meeting new books. Not to mention, they will associate certain books with certain trips. Want them to look out the window at the beautiful countryside? Turn off all electronics other than the radio.
On a long-haul day, I try to start each day with an audiobook; make them listen an hour or until I can tell they are restless. Depending on the day, there have been hours that passed without complaint. Sometimes, we will listen to a science podcast or review some memory work songs. I suggest you start the day with this or do it after a lunch break. No kid wants you to tell them to turn off Star Wars in order to recite the parts of an animal cell.
Tip #5: Allow for Natural Learning
Although you may have grand ideas that your homeschooling kids are all going to bring their math books with them, they really will be okay without math worksheets for a month. I’ve packed the morning time binder – never used it. Took bags of workbooks that we never took out of the car. Instead, bring some games, lots of books, and movies. Many, many movies.
Our travel route is built around national parks, museums, and learning opportunities. At NPS, we do Junior Ranger if time allows. We travel to historical sites and talk about them. Spend a day at a science museum. Go on a hike in the mountains while searching for geocaches. I have no hesitation counting all this as learning! It’s just a matter of how you look at it!
Tip #4: Turn Off Mommy-Mode
Obviously, don’t be irresponsible and leave them to fend for themselves — but don’t be afraid to tell them no or not right now. Being in constant mommy-mode is exhausting and tends to make you feel pulled in every direction. Don’t forget that you aren’t just Mommy!
Take a stack of books you’ve been wanting to read. Call the husband. Allow yourself a bit more Facebook chatter. Watch what you want on your phone with headphones while the kids are asleep in the hotel. Call your parents. Text the friend you haven’t talk to in a while and give the kids some time without you!
Tip #3: Plan the Packing
Look at the overall schedule of your trip and plan out the packing. As an overall travel rule, we only pack enough for four or five days and then plan to do washing. The kids each have their own bag that they are responsible to carry now that the youngest is six. This way, if we have to take everything into the hotel, we can do it in one trip. However, I do try to not take everything into the hotel. If I know we have two nights back to back in different hotels, I will rearrange the clothes for each person to have one outfit each all in one bag. This way we don’t have to take in every bag. When we get to a longer-term destination, we do the washing, and we are ready to go again.
Tip #2: Eat the Food
A word of advice. Going on vacation with the kids is not the time to try to go on a diet or give up sodas or try to limit snacking. Do what you need to survive.
This is not the time to worry about home-cooked meals from scratch. Let yourself buy the packages of frozen Chinese food. Fix their favorites: spaghetti, tacos, and macaroni and cheese with hot dogs. Eat the fruits and veggies when available but don’t let this add another level of stress to your road-tripping life.
I recommend that you stop at McDonalds for a playground break, buy them a one-dollar ice cream, and treat yourself to a much-deserved Coke. Buy Mommy snacks that only you are allowed to have to keep you awake while driving – I can drive a really long time with a good Coke, M&Ms, and my headphones.
My Favorite Tip… #1: Bluetooth Headphones!
Not only is this my “how to survive homeschool” tip, but also my “how to survive road trip” numero uno. When the kids all have on their headphones with a movie in the car, I have one ear bud plugged in my ear with the other open to listen. Podcasts and audiobooks allow me for being in my own world while physically present with the kids. If they need me, I’m there. If not, I may be in 17th century Scotland or in the middle of a crime-scene investigation or learning about the Reformation. I have also learned that I should put on my headphones when we get to a hotel room – the kids automatically going into crazy with thirty minutes of hyperactivity and needing to settle!? Am I the only one?!
PS: Nerd Mom. This is also how I learn some information to share which relates to where we’re going. Heading to Jamestown? Search for Jamestown in your podcast app and brush up on your history. This way, you have more to add while you walk around. Learning a little ahead of time, makes on-site learning so much easier for me.