Thursday, May 21, 2009

I'm Leaving... On a Jet Plane....

Yippee.... I am taking a {family} vacation for the first time in a long time!

Unfortunately, Texan Papa will not be accompanying us. He has to stay in Texas so he can bring home the bacon, you know.

I am leaving with the kids right after school gets out in June. We are driving up to St. Louis, then flying out of St. Louis to go to Florida for a week! My kids are TOTALLY PSYCHED to say the least.

We don't take trips too often, as me staying home with the kids and relying on one income for 6-almost-7 people means making sacrifices. But, I've been planning this trip for a long time, and here's how we're making it happen:
1. We are flying out of St. Louis, which is a little bit cheaper. YES it is quite a drive, but after we return from Florida we are going to stay in St. Louis to visit friends and family for about 2 weeks, so it makes sense to fly out of a cheaper destination anyway.
2. I have been saving my Reward Points from Capitol One ("What's in Your Wallet?") for about 10 years. Seriously. So, I finally have enough points that I was able to purchase 4 round-trip tickets from St. Louis to Florida (the baby will sit on my lap. Not fun, but at least it's free).
3. We are staying at my parents' house in Florida. Free food, free lodging, pool on location, the beach is free, etc. Not EVERYTHING will be free (I'm sure I'll have to purchase some aloe for our sunburns) but it will be really really cheap.

Now, for the trip up to St. Louis. Yes: me, 4 kids, the open road, and no adult helper. God is my co-pilot.

1. I got a dual-screen DVD player for the car for only $80 on clearance at Target. Texan Papa is adamantly opposed to DVD players for the van, but in this situation I neither told him nor plan to. Personally, I am extremely opposed to losing my marbles before we even getting outside the borders of Texas from listening to 4 kids scream at each other. Plus, it's not like they're going to watch movies non-stop. They will probably watch 1-2 per day (considering it's about a 12-hour drive - including breaks and time for kids to stretch their legs - I don't think that's too much).
2. I have prepared some homemade activity books. On our last trip to St. Louis in January, these were a HUGE hit with my kids. Have you ever tried to find activity books that are actually FUN for kids? Those "coloring and activity" books stink. None of my kids like to color, so they do all the dot-to-dots in about 5 minutes, then want to throw the book away. Plus, my younger son, Linus, isn't a strong reader yet so he can't spend his time reading books. But the internet is such an awesome source of free EVERYTHING. I was able to find games and activities that suit each one of their tastes and challenge levels. So, here are some of the activities I included in their books (and links, in case you want to make an activity book of your own for your family vacation):
Travel Battleship - plays just like the regular game for 2 people, only on paper
Fill-Ins - like a crossword puzzle, but you just fill in the words from a word list. No clues. The first word is given for you to get you started.
Match-Up games - You can pick one of their pre-made match-ups, or you can create your own.
License Plate Game - use this map of the United States to color in each state and learn geography as you find a license plate from that state
Scavenger Hunt - keep your eyes peeled for things like school bus, baby, dog, or flag pole
Mazes (also here and here)- You can find them with varying degrees of difficulty. Good for readers AND non-readers.
Dot-to-dot (and here and here)
Word Scramble
tic-tac-toe, close-the-box and hangman - fun, classic games
Car Trip Bingo
Word Search Puzzles
Easy Kids Sudoku - seriously, these are beginner puzzles. Your kids can always get harder puzzles but these teach them how to play. Here's another site to check out too.
Hidden Picture Search - from Highlights magazine. This is a GREAT activity for non-readers. Kinda like I-Spy but they provide the pictures to search for. There are dozens to choose from.
Wordoku - Just like Sudoku, but with letters instead. Go to this site, it is so cool. The game is played just like Sudoku but you can create your own games using letters, numbers, shapes, colors, or even Sesame Street Characters!
Kakuro - a little bit tougher, but will be great for that kid who wants a challenge! Also helps with adding skills. You can pick the difficulty level and size of the puzzle, and it comes with a solution guide.

I found ALL these activities just using Google. Whatever I wanted to find, I ususally typed that in along with "free" or "printable" or "Easy" or "kids". This is going to save me a ton of money on buying books retail. Plus, half-a-dozen or so of each activity is enough to keep the kids interested. Too much, and you'd have a library of activity books in your backseat!

Also, in each binder, I put some blank paper (for freehand drawing) and some notebook paper (for journaling). I also bought some pencil pouches that go inside the binder rings to keep crayons, pens, pencils, small pencil sharpener, and erasers. I also put a few sheets of stickers in the pencil pouch, just for fun.

Another bit of advice I read somewhere is to give kids an allowance every day to choose how they want to spend it. Now, I won't be doing this EVERY day, but probably I'll give them $2 each day we're travelling to choose to spend on a soda or chips or whatever when we make our rest stops. Of course, I'll have healthy snacks that will be FREE, so it will be their choice if they want to save their money and have healthy snacks, or spend it to get junk food. But they won't get enough to rot their teeth!

On past road trips, and also this one, I bring a CD player and I try to find some books on CD for the kids to listen to. Sometimes the CD's have the accompanying book, sometimes not. But it's a good alternative to listening to the radio and reading a book, which sometimes makes my kids sick and my younger son can't read too well yet either. Remember to bring extra batteries! Also, I take all the CD's out of their cases before we leave and put them in a cd-holder that is as slim as possible. If the CD case only holds 10 CD's, then that's all they can take! I'm doing the same with the DVD's. That way, we dont' have a zillion cases floating around the car, waiting to get stepped on.

One last thing: I am going to print a map of our trip for each child to put in their binders, so when the kids ask where we are I can tell them and refer to their map. I think kids appreciate knowing where in the world they are, how close they are to the rest stop, how far they've travelled, etc. And I can mark stops on the map, like where we'll stop for the night at the hotel, favorite restaurants, exciting landmarks, parks, etc.

I am on my knees praying that this trip doesn't send me over the edge. Texan Papa thinks I am totally nuts, but I am looking forward to seeing my kids' expressions when their toes hit the sand on the beach for the first time. That will be all worth it!


Scary Mommy said...

Oh, good Lord. I'm exhausted just reading that. GOOD LUCK!!!!!! Have fun and I look forward to reading about your adventures. :)

Debbi said...

wow. I wanna go on a trip with YOU!! This sounds AWESOME!!!

Wendy said...

I love it!

I made a 10-hour drive on my own with the kids as toddlers and hubby said, "DVD players are stoopid." He made the next trip with us, which was 14 hours. We didn't get out of the city limits without a DVD player.

Even if they watch movies THE WHOLE TIME, it's not like they do it every danged day. So you put them in stasis for the sake of your own sanity. Mom being sane = no wrecked car with pieces of kidlet all over the highway. This goes for the games, too. If you find yourself turning around or reaching to help them with games the whole way - PUT IN A DAMNED MOVIE. It's far preferable to wrecking the car.

And I hope your trip is awesome!

sassy stephanie said...

You are one organized momma! Have a GREAT and SAFE trip!

Hair Bows & Guitar Picks said...

It will be awesome! I am in south florida...where will you be coming too?

Jennifer said...

You are totally freaking awesome. Those are like the best ideas ever. Don't forget to take the activity book on the plane because the airport and flight can be kind of boring. And depending on who you are flying, a bottle of water and a snack for the plane. Just check and see if that is provided or not.

And my kids watch Elmo on the way to daycare every morning. I wouldn't sweat the DVD play at all.

Jen said...

I have said it before and I am going to say it again. You are truly amazing. Your kids are going to have the best time! This trip sounds like so much fun that I want to come and I think that once you hit St. Louis you should just keep heading north to MI so that you can visit me. We have beaches not the ocean but pretty close. ;)

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

I am very impressed. When we did road trips when I was pregnant, the kids were lucky to get a book from me :0

Mama Kat said...

May God be with you on your voyage. I will not call you crazy to your face. That's not how I roll. BUT! The dvd players are magic in my car...have a safe trip and have FUN!!!!

Anna See said...

wow, i'm impressed! we do the portable dvd thing on trips. as long as we're on a highway, we let them watch. i prefer this to the built in dvd players-- it's a special trip privilege.

Christine said...

I have a post somewhere in the beginning of my archives about games to play on car trips....I will email it to you later. Have a fabulous time You deserve it!

Sturgmom said...

WOW! That's a great list of resources for your activity books. We'll be driving to Gulf Shores this summer, so I'll definitely look into some of those links!

By the way, do you remember giving me a little tutorial on how to put my email in blogger so that people can reply to my comments through email? Well, I want to tell someone ELSE about that, but I can't remember what I did. Can you remind me? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great resources and awesome post. Good luck!