Friday, September 28, 2012

Travel Tips

Vacations are awesome!!! Mostly.

There are highs and lows when it comes to traveling with a family. The vacation spots can be incredible. The driving to get there can be tedious and tiresome. And living in a motel room for a week can be an interesting mix of relaxing and infuriating.

Earlier this month we went to Disneyland with The Wife's family. We had six adults and four children. We drove from Utah in two vehicles. We stayed in California in three motel rooms. Through our travels and travails we learned a few things. I'm going to pass some of that knowledge on to you now:

*Plan travel time around children's sleep time. This is a great idea. Except when it doesn't work. We decided to leave at 3:30 AM. The thinking was that we would get the kids out of bed, throw them in their car seats, and then they would sleep half of the way to Disneyland. It was a nice theory. But, the kids slept about a half an hour each the whole way down. (Luckily, they were very well behaved.)

*Have plenty of new toys and snacks for the kids while driving. This is a great idea. And, it actually worked! The Wife and her family have a tradition on long drives called "The 100 Mile Toy." Every 100 miles (or so) each kid gets to unwrap a new toy. This may sound expensive, or seem like we are spoiling the kids, but that's not the case. The "100 Mile Toy" is usually something small and cheap from the dollar store. And they only get the toy if they are being good. This worked quite well with our kids on this trip, with the exception that many times when we reached a 100 mile milestone, the only ones awake were me (the driver) and the kids (who refused sleep for fear they might miss some sagebrush scenery.) So we would have to wait until one of the adult passengers would wake up for the kids to get their toys. (But, it was okay because my kids are little enough they can't/don't keep track of every 100 miles.)

*Be sure to have an abundance of "stay awake" foods and beverages for the long drive. Those sugar-coated candy orange slices? Reprehensible at all other times, but indespensible on a long drive! Also necessary: a big bag of licorice to gnaw on. (The gnawing is essential for "stay awake" purposes.)  Of course, some kind of chips are then needed for textural change of pace from all the sugary stuff. And don't forget the caffeinated beverages. My preference is Mountain Dew LiveWire, although I will settle for Vanilla Coke, Cherry Coke, regular Coke, or, basically, anything fizzy.

*Let the music play! The driver on a long trip gets to control the music. When we're driving around locally, I'm often forced to play kid music to placate the kids. Or the soundtrack to Wicked to placate The Wife. (The Wife, her sisters, and her mother went to see the play Wicked this summer. Ever since, the soundtrack has been in heavy rotation in the van.) (You could say it's been "Popular.") (Lar.) But, when I'm driving on a long trip, I get to choose the music! Singing along is a great "stay awake" tool. And, if anyone complains about my choice in music, or about my singing, I tell them it's better than me falling asleep and driving off the road. (They usually agree.)

*Have luggage with wheels. I know this is pretty redundant at this point in time. All luggage has wheels, right? Well, it didn't used to be that way. I don't know how the people of the 1960s and 1970s lugged all that wheelless luggage up to their third floor motel room. I can understand why that Samsonite suitcase had to be tough enough to withstand the monkey-in-a-cage test. Without wheels, I'd be tempted to slide the suitcase down the stairs, or just throw it over the ledge down to the car.

*Don't fill your cooler with ice from the ice machine. Don't be that guy. Just don't.

*Make sure your motel has good, working WiFi. Becasue no one ever has trouble getting connected to the motel-provided WiFi. (By the way, that's sarcasm.) I took my laptop, and every time I tried to log on to catch some scores on ESPN, or see the latest Zynga Slingo request  posted by my Facebook friends, it would be a 25 minute fight to get connected. (I bristle when I think of how many "cute kitty photos with bad grammar captions" I missed out on while on vacation.) At least I didn't have any problems connecting my phone to the internet. That's because my phone doesn't connect to the internet. It's not what you'd call a "smart" phone. It's what you'd call a "flip" phone. (On the plus side, all I need is a tricorder and a phaser and I'll be ready for an away mission with Bones and Spock.)

*Take advanrage of the continental breakfast. There are times when I think they call it "continental" breakfast because half of the continent is trying to cram into the small room provided to get their "free" stale danishes and watered-down apple juice. It's amazing that, for a motel with over 300 rooms, they provide eight tables for breakfast, three of which will actually seat more than two people. Sometimes they market it as a "warm" continental breakfast, then provide a waffle maker. That's all good and well, but usually there are 11 people in line for the waffle maker, three of whom actually know how to use it. (I should mention that we recently stayed at a motel with a "warm" continental breakfast that provided a bowl full of bacon! Yes, a bowl full of bacon! (Or was it a bowlful of bacon?) Unlimited bacon!!! Needless to say, I will be staying at that motel the next time I am in that town. Or anywhere near that town.)

* Have fun at the pool! The swimming pool is a nice relaxing diversion at the motel. The kids can splash out some of that pent up energy from the long ride. And the adults can take a nice soak in the whirlpool. If they can get to it. There always seems to be that one group of people who seems to think the whirlpool (or hot tub, or spa) is their own private club, and they monopolize it. I've found that one of the best ways to clear out the whirlpool is to bring your two-year-old over, talk loudly about how he "hasn't pooped all day," then dip his toes in, with the threat of putting his whole body into the pool. The whirlpool hoarders will usually get out and find another place to loiter.

*If you go to the beach, you might get wet. And, there will be sand. Seems pretty obvious, doesn't it. But, having lived my whole life in land-locked Idaho and Utah, I was stupid enough to wear jeans and tennis shoes to the beach. Needless to say, I got wet. And, there was sand. (Lots and lots of sand.)

And here's a couple of Disneyland-specific tips:

*Bring lots of ice and water. As the day goes on, you will get thirsty. Fortunately, Disneyland provides lots and lots of water fountains. Unfortunately, all Disneyland water fountains have two problems: 1) high temperature, and B) low volume. I don't know about you, but when I go to get a drink from a water fountain, I like the water to be cold, or at least cold-ish. Also, no one wants to have to bend down so far that their lips have to touch the actual fountain in order to get to the water. Who knows whose lips have touched that fountain before? Why would all of Disneyland's water fountains be so high temperature/low volume? It wouldn't be that they want to sell those $4 bottles of water, would it? So, bring plenty of ice and water. (Or, if you are Mr. Moneybags, just fork out the big bucks for the bottles.)

*Eat plenty of churros. At Disneyland, there are churro carts around every corner. In the real world, there are not churro carts around every corner. There should be. The world would be a better place if there were churro carts around every corner. So, when you are at Disneyland, enjoy the churro flow while you have access to it.

In the end, the vacation was definitely worth it. We survived the drive down, we had lots and lots of fun, and we survived the drive back! But, it's good to be back. It's nice to be at my own home, where there isn't a line for the waffle machine and I have easy access to all the "cute kitty photos with bad grammar captions" that I could possibly want.

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