Anticipation and Planning.

We are always planning our next trip. And the one after that. And the one after that. Part of the fun is dreaming about when we get to visit each destination … and what we will do along the way.

Orange Beach, AL
Walking on the beach in Orange Beach, AL in winter.

We typically don’t stay in one place for an entire trip, unless it’s for a long weekend. We keep things moving, yet we like to be thorough in our visit and explore as much as possible. This takes a lot of planning, organizing, and prioritizing. Especially with young kids. This is a delicate task, because we don’t want to have everything planned out and feel like we are on a rigid schedule. We need to relax and allow for changes in plans, depending on weather, moods, diaper changes, etc. So, planning is key so we know what our options are at any point during our trip – or at least have a general idea.

How do we plan? We read … a lot. Travel guide books, visitors guides, magazine articles, and anything we can find on the Internet. We go to the library or bookstore to check out guidebooks appropriate for our destination(s) (but before we go, we have a short list of books after reading book reviews on Amazon). We typically buy books that we think are great because our planning lasts for months. We also order visitors guides from the destinations we want to visit. One of my favorite places to check out is http://familyfun.go.com/vacations/ … for ideas of destinations to visit, and also to see if there are any stories about places we are headed.

TV shows on the Travel Channel and Food Network also help us sometimes, and our kids love watching them too, especially Samantha Brown- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgSXPxUZHCs.

All of our research leads us to making wish lists (the kids help us with these in a general sense). Wish lists usually lead to planning spreadsheets (more often than not, especially on driving trips) to track mileage goals, ideal hotel stops/resting points, and attractions or parks we don’t want to miss (with our ideal amount of time spent at each place noted). It also may include some highly anticipated meals. This may sound rigid, but it helps us relax once we’re there, because we have a plan and we know what we want to accomplish. We also allow ourselves flexibility to fill in time when we get there.

When on the road, a key tool for us in the car is a book called The Next Exit (http://amzn.to/ievbib). This book lists restaurants, coffee shops and gas stations at each Interstate exit in the U.S.  You can see how far you have to go to get to your favorite road trip fast food joint and can then sweet talk the kids in the backseat to hold on just a few more miles to avoid major meltdowns. Another great tool, especially when looking for local restaurants, is www.yelp.com, because you can search by your location and type of desired food – and see reviews.

There are so many tools out there, and so many ways to plan, but these are definitely some of our favorites.

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Is It Time For Vacation Yet?

When my 4-year old son recently asked the question, “Is it time for vacation yet?” it was like music to my ears. This was the first time he showed a visible interest in going somewhere, well in advance of a trip. It’s difficult to talk him into leaving the house on the weekends … “stay home days,” as he likes to call them. “Sundays are pajama days,” he always says. And he means it. Something fantastic must be happening for him to willingly get dressed on a weekend day during the winter.

When I answered, “Not yet. Just 12 more weeks!” he groaned. I couldn’t believe it. I was practically jumping up and down with excitement – he was really ready to take a vacation! But we had to deal with his disappointment because it wasn’t happening now. So, we talked about the upcoming trip … the beach, who we were going to visit, what we were going to see … and then setting the expectation for the car ride. This is going to be a long car ride, I explained. “That’s okay,” he responded, sounding like a little adult. “I can watch movies and color.”  I was beaming. He is one of “us,” I thought. A traveler!

My oldest daughter, 6, reached this point a long time ago. Actually, it wasn’t a defining moment for her as it was for my son. She has always just gone along with our trips, no big deal. It’s something we do, and she’s in and ready. He has been like that too, when it comes to leaving … but talking about it before-hand was more of a bother. He lives much more in the moment. So the anticipation of a trip, unprompted, was new. And so exciting for me.

My husband and I have always loved to travel together. We took road trips in college, and for the six years we were married before our oldest was born, we drove or flew wherever we could, as often as we could. Six weeks after she was born, we loaded up the car, baby gear and all, and took our first family road trip to New York. It was fantastic – so much better than we anticipated – the baby slept almost the whole time we drove. So when our son was 6 weeks old, we drove to Florida. We figured we might as well get him used to traveling too. And when our youngest arrived, we did the same thing. She was 5 weeks old and making her first trip to Florida (and Disney World … which I’ll save for a future topic).

Traveling is what we love to do. We know how to stretch our weekends out as long as possible, and our weeklong trips too. Every vacation moment counts. Because it’s vacation. Our escape from our routine. Our time to focus on each other and the great places we visit. Our down time. So hearing our son ask those magical words, “Is it time for vacation yet?” confirmed we have been doing it right … for us. Vacation means something great to the kids too, even at a young age.  And the memories they have of our recent trips make them look forward to the next one. Me too.