Keeping Your Sanity While Traveling With Kids Part 2
Travel Survival Guide
The Meat of the Trip (and How Timeshares Help)
Ok, so we got the initial part of the trip over and some of the usual glitches that go along with traveling with 4 kids. Surviving a long drive with 4 kids is more than just perfect planning. It takes years of practice to realize that some things are just not possible as once was thought. As a result, our family has refined our method of travel to fit our newest need of having to travel with a baby.
Imagine how awful it would be to drive that long with a very active 1 year old, who does not like to sit in a vehicle very long. Yup, that's our story! Traveling with a 16 year old, 14 year old and 6 year old isn't so bad but when you add in a baby your stress just tripled. Thus, we decided it would be in our best interest to tweak our travel plans.-Insert the Timeshare.
In 2007 we bought into a timeshare, despite our knowledge on what we actually were getting into (and realizing we would add a baby to the mix). We were younger and had not researched this concept but certainly had heard of it before. Anyway, we jumped at the opportunity of Timeshare ownership not knowing just how much use we would get out of it over the next few years.
Our venture into timeshare ownership started out with a small package of points and included the ability to travel to many different destinations in and stay in 1, 2 or 3 bedroom accommodations. Are you kidding me? You mean our rooms wouldn't be as cramped as our method of travel. Sign me up now! However, what really was enticing was the fact that we could go to our beloved Florida without spending our whole life savings in one trip. Could you imagine how expensive traveling with 4 kids would get just to eat out alone? Yeah! That was our first thought too!
You see, each facility is equipped with a full kitchen and as a bonus, a FREE laundry facility as well (whether in room or on site). That's a savings of a few thousand dollars alone. Not having to eat out 3 times a day with 4 kids frees up money for other things we want to do.
Thus is was time for us to book our first trip using our timeshare and being we were novices, we didn't fully understand how to maximize the points we had. Therefore our first trip literally ate up all of our points with that one stay. However, who could say no to using all of your points at The Fountains resort in beautiful Orlando, Florida.
After this trip we were sold on Timeshare ownership and began researching our options of how to do this more effectively. That first trip changed our view of using what we had to get more of what we wanted. A year later, we were not only traveling to Florida in a cramped truck with 4 kids, but we now had perfected how to do it right. If you recall, in my last post I said the key to planning a perfect trip when driving such long distances is to plan, organize and pack snacks. While this is an important step, so much more goes into making these long trips stress free. After all, the goal is to enjoy yourselves when going on vacation and if you cannot maintain your sanity before even reaching your destination it will result in some very cranky people.
Research, Research, Research!!!!!
Almost anyone knows that people use research to learn more about a subject or topic but they do not always rely on it to change their way of life. Research is more than just collecting data and analyzing the data to understand something; It is a tool for people who want to save themselves stress and hassle. This is how I set out on a mission to travel with a big family to exotic (and oftentimes expensive destinations) on a budget and still have fun.
Determine where you want to go and how you will get there. In our family, Florida is almost always a given during the summer months, especially since we all love the beach. Of course our love for Florida started out with trips to the land of Mickey Mouse (and we all know how expensive that place can be).
Knowing that we will make our usual pilgrimage to Florida, we research timeshares on our site and determine which destinations we can get cheapest at the time of booking for that time of year. Would you believe that almost always the cheaper places end up being on a beach? Hey, isn't that where we want to go anyway? Oh yea, back to my rant. I must tell you that before booking an entire week, we analyze how many points we have and how cheap it would be to just book a stay for the week (to save us points) and use our bonus time for weekend stays. After all, who could turn down a 2 bedroom for only $69 a night? Not me! If it ends up being cheaper this way, we use a combination of points and bonus time to book our next dream vacation.
Once that is out of the way, it is time to see what other resorts are along the route we take. Generally, we prefer to stop over at least one time before reaching our destination and we have found that a stop over in Charleston, SC is the perfect place to stop. It is quite the charming city and just happens to be about halfway to our destination (it also helps that we have a timeshare resort here as well and for only $59 a night for a 1 bedroom, it ends up being cheaper than a hotel). To save ourselves some more money we also pack food in a cooler, as well as non perishables, to cook in our room. Hey, with 4 kids money saving is our thing.
Now before I continue on with stop overs, I must mention another little secret we use: Restaurant.com. If you have never heard of this, you must give it a try. You see, a few years ago our teacher union sent us an email offering $25 certificates for only $3. Who wouldn't jump at this deal; You'd be foolish if you passed this up, even if it ended up being a wash. The only catch is you must spend $35 and pay 18% gratuity when using a certificate for this denomination. Who cares! We do that anyway and with a family as big as ours, we will spend much, much more than $35. Therefore, we research restaurants that offer this in the area we will travel to and purchase them beforehand (by the way they never expire and you can always print the off again if you lose them). To date, we have saved hundreds of dollars eating out at some fancy restaurants.
Ok, back to the subject! Our stop over trips usually consist of staying one night to get our rest and also explore a new place, while also saving our sanity for the time being. If you choose to do this, it is best to pick a halfway point and stop somewhere you can spend as little money as possible.
Research your destination and any stops along the way and find out what you would like to do, where you would like to eat, and how much you are willing to spend. Once you have this narrowed down, look for deals on sites like Restaurant.com, Groupon.com, Entertainment.com and even by searching on Google. You will be surprised at what you can find on the vast WWW. A world of possibllities exist and there is much to be found if you research.
When packing for your trip, determine what you absolutely need to take and focus on that. Since we know we are staying in accommodations that are equipped with a kitchen and laundry facilities, we plan on bringing some of what I call as “staple” groceries. Things like pancake mix, sugar, coffee, ketchup, mustard, bottled water, snacks and other useful items that your family uses and most of our groceries are so much cheaper when purchased from our local discount grocery store.
We also take a cooler with some perishables that might otherwise be expensive at grocery stores in your vacation spot. We are careful to pack it with ice and re-stock with ice at our overnight, stopover accommodations (which by the way give us free ice). This allows us to save money on those items which truly are expensive at stores (things like meat, cheese, dairy, cold cuts). It also gives us some food for stops at rest areas and overnight stays.
If you have a cell phone with apps (which I'm quite sure you do since almost the entire population is with cell phone) use it to your advantage. Many cell phones have apps that can check gas prices in the area they are in and oftentimes you can find cheaper gas within a few miles of where you are. We rely on this to help save us money and plan accordingly on our long journey.
Plan on allowing your children to get out of the vehicle whenever a stop is made, even if only for gas. Although it may not seem like that much time, it helps to keep them tame for at least a few more hours. It also is a great time to satisfy those moments when you hear “I need to go to the bathroom” out of the way.
Plan on bringing many things to entertain them (or having them bring things to entertain themselves). Usually the teens bring their cell phones and text their friends, play on Facebook, etc. However, for those younger kids, coloring books and crayons, game systems, and dvd's are great entertainers for at least a few hours.
All in all, if you research and then research some more your trip will go much smoother and you will save money in the end (money that can be used on other things you would like to do).
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