First of all, let me say Happy Fourth of July to those who celebrate the Fourth. We are “fireworks-upped” for today, and after I post this post, I will begin the day’s food preparations in earnest. Hamburger bar, ice cream bar, potato salad, baked beans, cheese cake, and a surprise pie. Yum!
Recently, we completed a trip to Canada and back that was roughly 1500 miles one way. We’ve completed this trip together several times (in fact, this is Muffin’s third trip). All of my trips to Canada save two have been driven.
My first was by plane which was the first time I had ever been on a plane, not to mention through airplane customs and airport security. On a red eye flight to Toronto by myself on a morning after a huge storm hit Dallas. Flying over said storm again in a very turbulent path. Dealing with Pearson International by myself. Deciding right then and there that flying is not worth the time, cost, or indignity involved. (And this was before the invasive body scans) After one flight, I have learned: I hate flying. I would rather drive, walk, go by train, cruise, swim, or crawl (on my belly over broken glass) than fly. All of the “security” checks do not make me feel safer, they just make me feel harassed and dehumanized. So, airplane industry and government agencies involved in flying (especially international flying): you’ve lost a customer with your ham-handed procedures. The only thing that would cause me to fly would be an emergency situation.
The only other time we have not driven is when we went by train last year. We liked it enough to plan to do it again this year, but I guess Josh thought there were a few cons that I tried to gloss over. 1) The seven-hour Chicago layover. 2) Luggage hauling/storage issues—While Amtrak is very generous with the carryon allotment, you have to stow it (at steep prices) or carry it around with you during said 7-hour layover. 3) If you are on a busy train and there are three of you, more than likely you will be separated and have to sleep by a creepy someone of the opposite gender. Even if you beg otherwise. As I did. Repeatedly.
Basically, we like going by vehicle of our own locomotion (in this case the Journey) because we can be (sort of) on our own schedule. I guess both Josh and me are independent-minded like that. Plus, it allows us the freedom to explore and deviate from our path (somewhat judiciously).
Now, for what we learned on this trip.
Save more than you expect to need for the trip. Things tend to be more expensive than you think they will be. Fact. Guarantee. Such as gas costing more than $2 more a gallon in your destination. Surprise expenditures.
Rest. Some days of vacation require rest. If your vacation is jam-packed of things to do every minute of every day, more than one member of the trip will reach burnout by day four. This is one of the reasons (and there are several) that I have never planned a Disney World trip (I’ve heard burnout is common).
Make limits and stick to them. When we go to Canada, the trip isn’t simply, “Let’s go to Canada to see the sights.” It’s a family-seeing trip. In a previous trip, we went several places in Ontario to visit various family members. With Josh extremely tired (possibly exhaustion level) from work and recovering from a bout of pneumonia, neither of us felt as if going all over Ontario would be possible. We decided to stop at his mom’s and his sister’s. Anyone wanting to visit us there was welcome to.
The last two seem a bit harsh, I know. But trips of this magnitude take a lot out of people. And you really don’t need to be more tired after a vacation than when you started.
That being said, next vacation we plan to spend more time traveling, stopping in to see other relatives.
DO NOT TEACH YOUR FOUR-YEAR-OLD THE DARTH VADER SONG JUST BEFORE TRAVELING! This led to several arguments in the car. And headaches. Especially since Muffin tended to “donh donh donh” at the top of his lungs.
Bring electronics. Trust me. If you plan to survive the trip, even a busy book will only keep them busy and entertained so long. Bring electronics.
Bring food and beverages. We started out with a variety of food (healthy and unhealthy). Just remember that the border crossing guards (especially if you are going into the U.S.) tend to confiscate fresh produce, such as grapes. Also, fill up with ice for your coolers at hotels that you stop at. Usually, that’s the only time we use the hotel ice machine. Use tight-fitting plastic containers for cooler items that you don’t wish to become water-logged. We’ve found that baggies become water-logged.
Pack a “hotel bag” and make sure you have enough clothes to cover the traveling part of the trip.
Bring the meds that your family uses most often, including prescription and non-prescription ones. We bought all of our scripts, plus adult and children ibuprofen (in case Muffin had a fever spike), Muffin’s cold meds, sunscreen, bug spray, antihistamine (cream and pills), and our first-aid kit for the car. On this trip, only the children’s ibuprofen and antihistamine pills weren’t used. And we had to procure Pepto Bismol once we arrived in Canada. (I had vacillated over putting that one in, and it turns out that I should have added it) Both Josh and I used the ibuprofen, Muffin needed his cold meds, we all used the bug spray and the sunscreen, and we had to use band-aids and Neosporin from the first-aid kit. Make sure they are climate-controlled. Josh really thought we wouldn’t need them, and it turned out that we did.
Take a GPS. We would probably still be trying to figure out how to navigate the construction nightmare in Columbus, OH (on the way up) had we not had Josh’s GPS. This is my first time to travel with one, and I found it to be indispensable. By the way, if you are traveling north through Columbus in the near future, be aware that the Interstate is completely closed for one section and to follow the “suggested detour” signs. Most detour signs we have become blasé about because they appear to be suggestions; these detour signs were not.
Stop. Rest. Stop again. Sometimes this can mean a brief stop such as a restroom and/or gas stop, but sometimes you need to escape the confines of the car for a bit (and Muffin needs to get out and run). Or you need to stop for the evening earlier than you had planned. This happened to us the last night of the trip. I was becoming super crabby and extremely tired of the Darth Vader song (see above). We ended up stopping earlier rather than closer to Jackson, TN, or Memphis, TN.
Stop for the fun stuff, too. Yes, that might mean that you see your second (unplanned) train museum in one trip, but it saves trip exhaustion (and you create memories, too).
If you are traveling internationally, keep at least one cell phone active for the duration of the trip. We paid AT&T for the basic US/Canada minutes plan and went with it. My in-laws have a special trucker’s plan that allows them bi-border calls. After we hydroplaned in Alabama the last time we drove, we saw the necessity of having our phones while traveling. Just be aware that while roaming call prices are ridiculous, roaming data prices are beyond insane. Seriously.
Remember to not be judgmental of fellow travelers or people living at points along your travels or destination. Don’t be the ignorant, bigoted tourist, in other words. Be aware that people do things differently in different places. Don’t stereotype. Acclimate. Assimilate. I’ve learned to check my disbelief at the door to the point that entering Canada is second nature now. Of all of us, Josh, the Canadian citizen, had the hardest time adjusting to Canada than any of us this time. We’ve gone from American Walmart being the half-price store to “I’m not paying that for a bottle of pop.” And it took eight years. Whereas I simply think, “Okay, this is the price we pay for pop at a convenience store in the U.S., and this is the price we pay in Canada.” It’s a trade-off. A lot of produce prices and drink prices tend to be cheaper in Canada (of the frozen concentrate variety). And, ginger ale is on the tap at restaurants.
Realize that your child’s schedule will be blown by traveling. If this is a problem for you, don’t travel. Sorry, but there is really no other way to put this. If you have put your child on a schedule that you don’t feel comfortable deviating from, you are going to be a nervous wreck while traveling. If your child is on a particular schedule because of a medical reason, keeping to that schedule will make you a wreck and be extremely difficult while traveling. Muffin completed maybe two full naps during the entire trip (as in waking up without an external influence such as getting out of the car). Just have your child return to his schedule as soon as you return home.
Fiber and water. If you are traveling by car (or by train) and have limited mobility for several days, make sure you eat plenty of fiber and drink plenty of water during your eating and drinking times. You’ll thank me later.
If you tend to be snarky with authority, let someone else deal with the border crossing agents and you stay mute. In my family, I am not allowed to talk to the border crossing agents. I might end up channeling my inner Oscar Leroy and say, “My taxes pay your salary.” That probably wouldn’t go well.
Tomorrow, I will begin going over the trip, day by day, with more tips and destination suggestions.
What are your favorite traveling tips?