Before You Hit the Road This Summer

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A part of me wonders if perhaps I should’ve been a travel agent. For me, planning a trip is as much fun as actually going on a trip. It’s one of the few areas in my life where I am completely organized. My meticulous planning is based, at least in part, on nervousness. Since I’m often traveling on my own with four kids, I gain a sense of security knowing that all has been planned out ahead of time.

The first thing is to decide where you’re going. For last summer’s road trip, we had planned to see family in Rehoboth Beach and Cape Cod, so that’s where I started. Both destinations are popular summer beach venues, so I booked our rooms early. A little tip for those of you wanting to visit the Northeast – most schools don’t let out until mid-late June. Why does this matter? Lower rates. Also, smaller crowds, which means shorter lines and wait times at parks and restaurants.

Once I locked in our reservations for Rehoboth and the Cape, I got my maps out. For me, a personal goal is to explore all fifty states. Since I grew up in New England and have travelled there frequently, we’ve checked several of those states off our list. Still, there were other sites that we’d missed. Acadia National Park was a bucket list item, and since we’d be so far north, it made sense to venture into Canada. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island all made our itinerary.

In my experience, driving into Canada hasn’t been a problem; it’s getting back into the USA that gets tricky. The summer we returned from Niagara Falls, we were interrogated extensively. In fact, the guard zeroed in on my autistic son, who can admittedly look suspicious, and kept asking him his name. I stared at the border officer like, seriously? My first Canadian crossing was made on my own, so I was nervous. To get across, you need an ID that proves you’re an American citizen. A passport will suffice, obviously, or you can have a government issued ID card and your birth certificate. For my kids, I decided to get passports. Passports are expensive, but there’s an economic option. The children have “mini-passports” the shape of a credit card, which can be used when crossing the border by car. If you’re flying internationally, you’ll need a regular passport. Four years ago, the “mini-passport” was $40.

Once I mapped out the trip, I calculated the miles between each destination. I try to limit the drive time to four hours a day between cities. We travel in the morning, usually getting to our destination in time for lunch, and then spend the afternoon sightseeing. If we have a big driving day, I’ll plan to stay at a hotel with a nice pool to keep my little ones happy.

As for hotels, I take full advantage of the membership rewards programs. If you’re going to use points – book early! They only reserve so many rooms for those purposes. When choosing a hotel, I always check out reviews on TripAdvisor. The site has never failed me. The few times I’ve gone rogue and ignored a bad rating, I’ve been burned. I also try to include stops to see family and friends, who often invite us to stay with them. I always take advantage of their hospitality and their washing machines. Laundry rooms are available at some hotel chains. It’s a good idea to investigate so you can plan your laundry days in advance (which helps when packing).

When traveling with children, especially growing teenage boys, it’s ideal to stay at hotels that offer free breakfast. The food isn’t always the best, but it’ll save money. Some chains also offer complementary family style meals during the week. When on the road with the kids, I often dine early (yes, early bird and happy hour specials), and frequent restaurants with good children’s menus.

When it’s the five of us, we squeeze into one room, but that’s our secret. For years, my little one was quite happy sleeping in a pack-n-play. Not sure how this is going to fly this summer, as he’s now seven, but we’ll find out. Sometimes we have to enter the hotel in shifts, so we don’t alert the front desk that we’re over capacity (and/or incur an extra charge). When Dad is with us, we splurge for an extra room. I call ahead the day before and ask to be “pre-blocked” into connecting rooms.

I’m frequently asked how I decide what to explore when we’re in a new city. I have a variety of methods and resources. Last summer, on Prince Edward Island, I had to see the home from Anne of Green Gables, a favorite childhood book. Anne is a fictional character, but the author grew up on PEI. No one in my crew was interested – so Dad and the kids watched a movie in the car while I revisited my childhood. I love to visit National Historic Sites, because I’m a history buff – and they’re usually pretty affordable. Big ticket items are the amusement parks, aquariums, and tall buildings! You don’t even want to know what I paid for the five of us to go to the top of the Sears Towers (excuse me, Willis Tower) in Chicago.

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For sightseeing, once again TripAdvisor is a great place to start. Also ask family and friends for input. Sometimes I’ll post an inquiry on social media and I’m rewarded with tons of suggestions. As the children have gotten older, I’ve learned to get their input about what they want to do. Every road trip usually includes a zoo, a beach, some sort of boat ride, and an amusement park. It buys me some good will for the presidential libraries, art museums, state capitols, and sites that mean nothing to them – like the Mary Tyler Moore statue in downtown Minneapolis.

I keep a road trip budget. When making reservations, I record the room rate and taxes. I calculate the miles we’ll be driving and estimate the gas expenditures. I investigate the charges we’ll incur at the places we’ll visit, too. I’ve started doing preliminary research after I experienced sticker shock at a few museums. It’s easier to decide if something’s too expensive from your computer screen, than when a ticket agent informs you that it’ll be $75 dollars to visit the Clinton Presidential Library – I kid you not! Mr. Clinton has since slashed his prices. If you know you’re going to pay top dollar to see Graceland (totally worth it, btw), then you can balance it out with some free sites. You’d be surprised how many art museums let children in for free, and then charge a nominal fee for adults.

While I’m planning, I put together a road trip bible, which comes out on the road with me. It contains all our reservations, maps, and any information I’ve gathered about our venues. It’s my life line, and it also serves as a great record of what we saw. Once the trip is planned, it’s time to start making your packing list!

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As you know, I am currently on the road with the kids for our annual summer road trip. This blog is coming to you from the suburbs of Detroit! We are staying with my sister Kelly. In the last week we’ve visited friends and family in Louisville, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Toledo. We’ve ridden on roller coasters, toured the Motown Museum and seen the Detroit Tigers play. You can read recaps and see pictures at Road Warrior Momma. In a few days we’re hitting the road again and heading out west. With the exception of Chicago and Minneapolis, all destinations will be new to us. I’m getting very excited.

This article was originally publishedBlogHopButton[1] in My Foryth Magazine. I’m posting it here for the Finish the Sentence Friday link up. This week’s sentence is, “This Summer I’m going on a road trip.” I’m co-hosting this week, along with Kristi (Finding Ninee), Lisa (The Meaning of Me ), and Reta (Calculated Chaos).

Do you have any tips for road trippin’? Do you have any funny stories from the road? What are you plans for this summer?

32 thoughts on “Before You Hit the Road This Summer”

  1. I’m both jealous and horrified by your road trips, my sweet friend!! They sound delicious but the planning? OMG the planning sounds too hard for me. I can’t wait to hear more about it though and thank you so much for hosting FTSF while on the road with spotty wifi and all the rest!!! Also Cam was still cool with the pack n play when I met you? YOU OBVIOUSLY ROCK.

  2. Wait! You were in COLUMBUS???!!! Aw man!! I’m HERE!!! I would have LOVED to see you!! I’m sure your itinerary was packed full and you were on the move to the next destination, but it just grips my heart to think you were so close!!

    Allie, you are amazing. Seriously. You put so much time and effort into organizing and planning your trips- your family will SO appreciate all of these experiences and the memories you are making with them!! I want to travel with you. Can I? Please?

    Who knew it would be so hard to come back from Canada? Interesting.

    Have a blast on the road, and be safe!! I can’t wait to see all the pics and live vicariously through you! :)

    1. Chris! I did not know you lived in Columbus!? I was there for one night, on the 4th, to see a girl friend. We’ve visited Columbus a few times, so we don’t do the tourist thing anymore, just visit. I would have LOVED to have met you and chatted. Where do you live? My friend lives in Gahana, and we usually hang out in Easton. And the Canada thing is ridiculous. I understand the need for security, but I’m driving a gas guzzling oversized SUV, with Georgia plates, and have FOUR kids in the car – as American looking as you can get, with fast food wrappers on the floor, and packed to the rim with duffle bags, backpacks and tote bags. Come on? It’s funny though, when they try to question Barrett and he won’t answer or look them in the eye.

  3. Isn’t Trip Advisor the best? I use it constantly and like you have never had a bad situation. The comments are usually spot on. I try and avoid the earlier ones as they are out of date or written by owners or competitors. At least that’s what I’m inclined to think. Love that you spend your summers providing the best of memories for your kids like this. And as with Chris, can I join you?

    1. I worship at the alter of Trip Advisor. (I seriously want to work for them – as a blogger, or whatever!) You and Chris are sweet to want to join us – but I think we would overwhelm you! It’s better for us to add you to the itinerary. Western Canada is on the bucket list. We’re doing Winnipeg this year, but I tentatively have Alberta, BC and Vancouver slated for summer 2017.

  4. I am so bad at travelling – in the organization department as well as the being a good sport about travelling department. I’m kind of a pill. Ask my Husband! 😀
    There is so much great info here, Allie, and I ‘m saving this for our next trip because it’s just so smart! And this – When traveling with children, especially growing teenage boys, it’s ideal to stay at hotels that offer free breakfast. Well that’s just plain old common sense and while I only have one small girl, some days she eats like a teenage boy! So noted.
    Great post!

    1. Thanks Lisa. Why/what are you bad at in regards to traveling? I’m curious. I just love it. My in-laws don’t really like traveling and one time I asked why and one of them said they don’t like worrying about where they’re going to eat. I though that was funny, it’s one of my favorite things – discovering the unknown!

  5. I love to travel and was excited by *your* enthusiasm for travel! A road trip with 4 seems more ambitious than I can handle. After years of going on road trips with my family as a child, it is ironic that my preferred vacation as an adult is now going someplace for a week and staying there. Gasp!

    I’m outside Detroit so I hope you had good weather and a good time during your stay. Crossing back into the US from Canada is a nightmare, too. I recently did it with my son’s 6th grade field trip that had visited Toronto and it was an intense process. Sigh.

    1. I’d actually look forward to staying somewhere for a week – if it was the beach! Where in Detroit? We’re in Commerce Township right now, but heading to the west side of the state tomorrow. The weather has been awful, which is so sad, because I normally love being up here in the summer. We have family with a boat and that’s usually the highlight of our visit, but not his year.

      1. I’m near Ann Arbor, so a ways from Commerce. If you drive by on I-94 going west, wave!

        I’ve never lived someplace like Michigan where it can actually be too cold to go swimming, go to the beach, etc.! The California girl in me is still in shock sometimes. :)

  6. Oh my gosh the last time we went to Canada we walked over the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. Getting to Canada, a quick walk and so pleasant. Getting back? First we had to find a quarter because apparently there is a toll. Who ever has change? No handicap access, so we (ahem) crossed illegally by just putting Bridget’s wheelchair over the gate and having Abby duck under it. I thought for sure we were going to be arrested!

    1. OH Kerri! What if you were just strolling and didn’t have your wallet with you? That’s so funny, yikes! And I understand your nerves. As I wrote to Chris, they are so intense at the border. One year they were questioning Bear and he (obviously) wouldn’t answer them or look the guard in the eye! It was kind of funny, but of course wouldn’t have been if they made him get out of the car and walk a straight line…

  7. Wow, this is loaded with great stuff! Thank you for sharing it here. Oh my gosh, the sneaking extra kids into the hotel room brought back so many memories. I have eight siblings all super close in age, and my Dad would sneak us all into ONE room if you can believe it. My vacations were always just one big slumber party sleeping on a blanket on a hard floor or squished in a bed with three other sisters when out bodies were little enough to manage that. I also love the Mary Tyler reference since I’m a Minneapolis girl and that was my favorite show back when.

  8. This looks like so much fun!! I’d love to do that kind of road tripping during the summer, but don’t have enough vacation time to do it. I’ll have live vicariously through you. I use TripAdvisor all the time; it’s a great resource. Enjoy yourselves, and I’m sending you wishes for a great time this summer!

    1. Thanks Anna. I feel so fortunate that all my freelance jobs afford me the ability to be on the road during the summer. It’s be a very sad day when I finally return to the real workforce, like a grown-up.

  9. Love these tips Allue! You are so organized! Totally impressed! When are you heading to Chicago? Any chance we can meet up? Would love to see you and your family IRL. Xoxo

  10. Yay. Enjoy Minneapolis. Yes, there’s the MOA and over 10,000 lakes, but so much more. Art Fairs, the Science Museum and plenty of outdoor recreational fun.

    1. I love Minneapolis and we did all the major sites a few summers ago. We are returning, because my children have nagged me for three years to go back to the Mall of America! Can you imagine? They love the Nickelodeon World. Weirdos:)!

  11. We don’t roadtrip often. I can’t convince my husband too. He thinks I can’t handle the drive. Oh well. Great tips. I didn’t know about the mini-passport.

  12. Omg, I love you Allie. You are a girl after my own heart, with all the trip planning and research and organization. I’m just sad I missed you last year when you were in my neck of the woods.

    Safe travels!

    1. I am too! But I think we may be passing through in September. We have a fall break this year (which irks me, to be honest), and I’m going to see my Aunt in Rehoboth. SO you never know…

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