Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Overnight Trip Alone with Three Kids

A view this morning on our trip
A good friend of mine who live hours away from me reached an important milestone in her life and was throwing a party in honor of it. I wanted to be there to celebrate with her, wanted to make the long bus trip to join her in this momentous occasion.
My husband, Mike, hates traveling, especially far- he's the stay at home type of guy- so I knew making the trip would be too stressful for him. I knew that if I wanted to go, it would be me, 4.5 year old Lee, 2.5 year old Ike, and 6 month old Anneilese traveling alone, by bus, for almost 5 hours each way.
I'm adventurous and all, but there's no way on earth I would plan on traveling 10 hours in one day with kids; if I'd go, it would mean an overnight trip. Using my networking skills (Facebook to the rescue!) I found a place to stay overnight with my kids at the neighbor of a friend of mine. When people saw that I was asking on Facebook, some thought that there'd be no chance of my finding a place to stay without paying for a guest house or a hotel room, as I was going to a prime touristy area. Fortunately there are some really wonderful and generous hearted people out there who opened their home to me and my kids and gave us a place to stay, which was great, because if going away would have entailed paying for lodging on top of paying the bus fare, the trip never would have happened. (In case you were wondering if I "paid" anything for my lodging, I heard that our hostess had a bunch of kids, so I picked up a cheaper fun multi-age toy from a toy store before I went.)

When people heard about my trip, when they saw me embarking on our journey without an adult's company and with three young children, they thought I was CRAZY that I was even considering it, let alone actually doing it. I didn't think I was crazy. In fact, we had a really wonderful, stress free time, and still kept it pretty frugal.
Of course, part of what made my trip doable is my kids' temperament, but I decided to share the things I did, the measures I took, to make the trip run as smoothly and as stress free as possible.

The first thing I did to make the trip less stressful was to make a decision to not stress out over anything. Sounds simple, I know, but it really works. I decided to take everything as it comes, to not have any expectations, and to just "go with the flow".
My next door neighbor was also traveling to the same event, but we specifically didn't travel together. She timed it so that she'd get there right as the event started in the evening, and would leave again first thing in the morning. Knowing myself and my kids, I thought the biggest stress would be rushing to get places, worrying that we wouldn't be making it there in time, pushing the kids, making them walk faster, eat faster, dress faster, so that we could make the bus, etc...
I decided to leave lots of free time on the trip. We specifically took a bus that arrived 3 hours earlier than the event started so we could settle down in our sleeping accommodations, and only took a bus home at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. This made our trip quite a few hours longer than it could have been otherwise, but it also meant that my kids were able to sleep in in the morning, we could dilly dally and hunt for treasures around the city, and that we had more fun.

The hardest part about traveling with kids a far distance, especially on a bus, is keeping them from getting too bored on the bus; sitting in one place for many hours straight is difficult for everyone, but especially for kids. To help with this issue, to make sure the bus ride wasn't stressful, I came prepared. I made sure my kids didn't nap before we got on the bus and encouraged my kids to sleep on the bus. They slept at least an hour and a half each way, which meant that I needed to entertain them on the bus for less time.
Coming prepared when going on the bus helped a lot. My husband likes to pack light, but my rule of thumb is- better pack heavy and bring things you don't need, than to pack light and not have stuff that you could use. I made sure to bring plenty of food and drinks. I bought the boys new notebooks and pens, which they used to color pretty pictures while traveling- much easier than trying to deal with fly-away loose papers.
I limited my kids' water a little before we got on the bus, had them use the toilet a few minutes before we got on, took them to the bathroom again when it stopped at a rest stop, and brought a diaper for Ike just in case he would need the bathroom when there wasn't one available, which fortunately wasn't an issue.
In addition to that, I entertained my kids on the bus by telling them stories, playing games with them like who can find x first (x can be a certain color car, a certain type of animal, etc), talking to them about what we see out the window, etc...
Maybe its just that my kids are angels, or that I was incredibly lucky, but in the over 10 hours of total travel time, I still didn't have crankiness or stress from the kids...

Because we're gluten free/dairy free, I knew that bringing along our own food was even more important than it would be if we were "just" trying to be frugal. I brought along rice, chicken breast, hard boiled eggs, and peppers, enough for at least 3 meals. I brought along 3 ice packs as well to help keep the food cold and to stop it from spoiling, which it fortunately did.
Stupidly, though, I forgot to bring along anything for breakfast; as soon as we woke up, we asked directions to the nearest supermarket, and walked there to buy breakfast- a large package of rice cakes, a package of humus, and some fruit. While we were at the store, I spotted rice on sale for 30 cents a pound (when it usually is at least twice that), so I bought some and put some in my bag to take home. Yes, even when on vacation, I take advantage of sales.

The majority of our trip was spent just wandering around, following my kids' pace, and taking a lot of pictures so that Mike could vicariously enjoy our trip when we'd get home. Stress free, and very enjoyable.

Anyhow, despite being a nice trip, I'm very tired, so I can't write any more about our trip. But oh boy, I certainly don't regret it. My kids had a blast. They asked if we could please do this again. I certainly would!

Have you ever taken a vacation or an overnight trip with your kids but without a spouse? Would you ever do such a thing? Would you ever do such a thing without a car?
What are your techniques for making your trips with kids less stressful?

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