If you have ever traveled with kids you know it doesn’t take long to lose your sanity. You know the all too familiar whine of “Are we there yet?”, request for frequent bathroom breaks and the never ending fries on the floor of the car from fast food joints. We recently traveled to Washington D.C with our three kids during spring break. Not only was I nervous about the long car ride there but also navigating being in a big city with our three kids!
Here is how I prepared our family to travel to Washington D.C. We were able to navigate the city without losing children or our minds! You will find out how to plan your trip, how to pack for your trip, how to survive the car ride there and back as well as how to enjoy the trip while you are there.
How to Plan your Trip.
Where will you stay?
The one thing I had on my mind when trying to find somewhere to stay with our kids was convenience. Some things to ask yourself are:
- How close are the activities we have planned? Could we walk?
- Does it have a shuttle? Is it free? Is there a cost associated with it?
- Is it close to reliable transportation if they do not have a shuttle?
- Do they offer breakfast in the morning? Is there an extra cost for this?
- Do they offer roll away beds or cribs?
- Can I book an adjoining room or suite if my family needs a little more space to spread out?
- Is there complimentary WIFI?
- Do they have a pool? Indoor/Outdoor?
All of these questions were a factor for my family. While staying in D.C. I knew that we would spend the majority of our time sight seeing and wanted to be close to the hub of the activity. For us that was the National Mall area. Our hotel offered a free shuttle service to Union Station. From there you could take the Metro, a Circulator bus or grab a taxi. It was very convenient having all of these in one area and made navigating transportation with kids easier.
We were also on a tight budget for this trip. I wanted to make sure our stay included a free breakfast every morning to cut down on the amount of money we spent eating out. It was convenient to be able to take the kids downstairs for breakfast and head out for our planned activities each day. I know that’s one of the most stressful times of the day for this mama. This cut down on the amount of anxiety I had about getting everyone ready knowing that our breakfast was prepared, waiting on us and in a convenient location.
We didn’t require any rollaway beds or cribs this time around. It is nice to have that option if you have a little one that still needs a crib instead of having to cart a pack n play around with you.
For my bigger kids WIFI was a MUST. Most hotels offer it for free. Some will charge you for upgraded/faster service.
The last question is HUGE! Especially if you are travelling in a big city. Some days my kids did a lot of walking to different locations and through various museums but did they get to play? At the end of a long day we brought them back and let them swim, getting all that extra energy out and let them just be kids.
MOM TIP: On our last day there we got up early to let the kids swim before we put them in the car for ten hours. It was genius!! I have never done that before, it took a little planning ahead of time but helped them tremendously on the long car ride home!
Where will you eat?
This is huge! Like I said before we were on a tight budget. I planned all of our breakfasts at the hotel but what about lunches and dinner?
I made our lunches everyday and packed them to go. We are talking sandwiches, chips, cookies and a piece of fruit. Nothing fancy. I took a large book bag with us to store our lunches in until it was time to eat. I packed Capri Suns for the littlest and the rest of us had water bottles in an insulated lunch bag. There were plenty of places in D.C. that were outdoors for us to eat in between activities. I checked ahead of time to make sure the places we were going allowed food and drinks to be taken in. While most of the museum’s had signs saying NO food/drink, they were OK with it as long as everything was sealed and put away. Most every place we went allowed water but no other drinks inside.
I budgeted for us to be able to eat out every night. With kids you definitely want to plan ahead!! Check out different places to eat. Look at their menus and pricing before you show up. We have all been there before with our kids whining at the dinner table because there were no chicken fingers on the menu . . . or maybe that’s just my family!
MOM TIP: Try to eat dinner around 5-6. Allow for any delays you may experience by taking public transportation or wait times at the restaurants. There were a few times we left to go to dinner at a decent hour, but due to delays in traffic, frequent stops, getting lost or long wait times we had miserable kids by the time dinner was served.
What is your budget?
I made a budget for this trip before we ever left and made sure we stuck to it. I prepared for several things such as:
- Lodging: Make sure to account for total cost as well as taxes and fees. Some places factor that into the initial estimate, however some do not.
- Gas: I estimated how many miles the trip would be there and back, how much we would be driving in the city and how much it took to fill my gas tank up on average.
- Food: This included the food I bought prior to leaving for our lunches and snacks as well as money for eating out.
MOM TIP: Pack lunches for the trip there and back. You can also stop at a rest area and make lunches there. This will dramatically cut down on the cost of fast food and be much healthier.
- Entertainment: I estimated an amount I though was reasonable for all of the activities I had planned to do with our kids. A lot of the places in D.C. are free to the public, but for example, in the Natural History Musuem you could go through the living butterfly exhibit or the Air and Space Museum you could visit the planetarium, these all had extra cost associated with them.
- Fees: This was just miscellaneous really. This accounted for any toll bridges we may cross, bus fares or unexpected costs along the way.
By sticking to my budget I was able to come in 200-300 under what I anticipated for our trip!!
How to Pack for your Trip.
When you have kids you basically have to pack everything you own to go on a trip . . . or do you? This time around I was determined to be a minimalist when it came to packing.
We ended up taking one large suitcase with our clothes and shoes, one bag with toiletries, 2 grocery bags with our lunch/snack items, a cooler, a bookbag, our stroller and each child had their own bag with items for the road trip.
Some of the things that helped me pack minimally were:
- Taking travel size toiletries. This included: Soap, shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, lotion ect…Normally I am too frugal to spend money on this stuff but I really didn’t want to take such large containers this time. It really helped us pack light and was worth the extra cost!
- Only taking the exact change of clothes we needed for the days we were up there. Normally I would bring everyone a change of clothes just in case but every trip we came home from in the past I found no one had used them. I figured if it was necessary the hotel did have a free washer and dryer I could use. ** Doesn’t apply to the littles**
- Packing clothes in the suitcase horizontally not vertically!! This allowed me to pack for 5 PEOPLE in ONE bag!!
MOM TIP: Use dryer sheets throughout your suitcase to keep clothes smelling fresh and clean from start to finish.
- Cutting down on the pairs of shoes we brought. I made sure everyone had only 1 pair of shoes and that every outfit packed could go with it.
- The kids could only bring the items for entertainment I knew they would need and actually use or be useful to them. Not the 43 mini stuffed animals our daughter thought she needed to bring!
How to Survive the Trip There.
One of the biggest headaches we have as parents when it comes to road trips is how will you keep the kids occupied in the car?
For the littlest travelers here are some ideas to keep them occupied until you reach your destination:
- A magnetic doodle board. This kept my son busy for at least 30 min to 1 hour and they are pretty cheap!
- You can visit your local library before your trip and check out several audiobooks for little ones! That’s sure to keep them interested for 30 min – 1 hour!
- The good old fashioned coloring book and crayons!
- You can also bring along a sheet pan with magnets to let them build words/sentences/numbers! Just give them a few magnets at the time to prevent them from being in every nook and cranny of the car!
- If all else fails, movies or an ipad comes in handy! If you don’t have a built in DVD player you can try downloading movies beforehand on your device or streaming them!
For bigger kids:
- The Dollar Store has tons of word searches, crossword puzzles, and even coloring books for adults which my big kids LOVE!
- Visit the local library to have them find a chapter book or two to take on the trip!
- Create a road trip scavenger hunt!
- Bring small card games like Uno and crazy eights!
How to Enjoy your Stay with Kids.
Have a plan!!! I repeat. . . HAVE A PLAN! This is not the time to wing it!
Every day I made sure that I knew exactly what museum/monument we would be visiting. I also made sure to check the weather report daily as it was prone to changing quickly. I didn’t want to plan a day visiting outdoor monuments and be drenched in an afternoon shower!
Make sure to not plan too much in one day, kids can get overstimulated and overtired very quickly. Plan for frequent breaks. We tried to plan to find areas each day that the kids could run/play and be wild to get their extra built up energy out.
Bring extra snacks and drinks for in between meals . . .because . . .well . . .kids.
If you have little ones that are used to napping during the day try to plan lighter activities for this time. They may or may not nap, at least ours didn’t. He was too fascinated by all that was going on around him. We did make sure to bring his favorite items (pacifier and lovey) for the times he needed breaks to help him through it without having meltdowns.
Let go of your expectations . . . Don’t go into any situation thinking your kids will be perfect angels or you’ll have great conversations about the origins and true meaning behind a monument or relic in a museum. You might even think your kids are going to be so excited by some of the things planned, they are just SURE to love it, aannnnddd they are unimpressed. This happened when we took our daughter to the Natural History Museum because she LOVES animals, bugs and nature. She actually really didn’t enjoy it much and my husband and I were pretty bummed anticipating it would be a sure hit with her.
Try to live in the moment. . . If you are like me I want to make sure each person in my family is having a blast! These moments of vacation have been dreamed abought and highly anticipated for weeks or even months!
I feel a personal obligation to make sure everyone is having the time of their lives. Well my name is not Walt Disney and I can’t do that.
I have learned to live in the moment on vacation and take each thing as it comes at me. There are sure to be unhappy tears, meltdowns and moments of disappointment. WHEN these things happen, not IF, I chose to deal with what is in front of me and move on quickly. I try not to dwell in it and let one bad moment or lost temper ruin a whole day or experience.
How to Survive the Trip Home.
Its so bittersweet for me. I get sad at the end of a trip, any trip really because I know this time is coming to an end and I have to return to the daily grind and hustle.
The kids are exhausted, I’m exhausted and tempers are short. I acknowledge this and try to have more patience than I normally would.
The trip there everyone is excited and anticipation is high. It’s the exact opposite coming home. Some things you can do to survive the road trip home are :
- Let them swim in the hotel pool before you leave if one is available. (See mom tip above.)
- Plan a fun stop on the way home to keep them excited for new possibilities.
- Plan to stop for lunch where a playground is available.
- Stop for a sweet treat in the middle or towards the end of the trip.
- Movies, Movies, Movies.
Traveling with kids has its challenges but I believe it can be absolutely enjoyable with a little planning and ALOT of patience. I would love to hear about your experiences traveling with your kids! What have been your favorite destinations? What are your biggest challenges? Any tips to make the trip easier? I would love for you to leave a comment here!