I packed up the GMC Yukon with my hubby, belted my 2 kids (ages 9 and 6) in and off we went 3,000 miles from Milwaukee to Florida and back. On a 13-day trek, we planned little, packed a lot, drove through seven states and created fabulous family memories!
My iPad was my map. I always travel with a traditional atlas because it is so much easier to see a large visual and have quick access to a state-by-state guide. It helps locate smaller highways, track shortcuts and find national landmarks.
I always pack too much and I know it. But, honestly, 17 pairs of shoes for four people!? Yes, I counted that once I unpacked and I have no idea why I did that. Usually, I pack with everything ironed, perfect and come home with everything washed and rolled, but we all know that everything goes in the wash again anyway so I wonder, why bother?
Last minute essentials of what not to forget to pack:
- 1 box of freeze-sized Ziplocs for shells, wet swimsuits and the unexpected.
- Tide Bleach Pen. I brought the Dryel one and it was not as good.
- Extra Sunscreen
- CVS card in case you need last minute things (get those extra bucks on vacation).
- First-aid Kit. The kids and I made our own and that made for a fun and educating safety lesson.
- Cash. You never know if your car will break down in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Be prepared for anything.
- Cell phone car adapter
- Toy Tips Toy Cleaner. Keep a bottle in the car for those baby toys that drop on the ground, get chewed and tossed on hotel room floors. Available on Totsy now: http://bit.ly/m4HP06.
In the car entertainment:
- Movies: We packed many but the kids watched about six. The most popular was the sitcom series of Full House and The Brady Bunch. Those had appropriate language and created a lot of laughter on the trip. Headphones are a must. A must!
- A “Look What’s FUN” Bag: This idea comes from my mom who always had one packed away when we were little. Whatever she put in there was a newfound treasure; even things as simple as a yo-yo or a piece of bubble gum made my day.
My version is a backpack and included:
- Color Wonder Metallic Paper: (No mess and no crayons) http://bit.ly/kP0eB7
- Leapfrog Leapster: Both my kids love match and love to challenge each other so this was perfect for my 6 year old. http://bit.ly/lqloYd
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book (one for each child and the SAME one for each child) I know you understand why. http://www.wimpykid.com/
- Nintendo DS: With mom and dad approved games. My 9-year-old was only allowed a set limit of time. Otherwise he would have played most of the trip. These choices kept their attention between nap time, chat time and movie time and I never heard, “I’m bored” once!
Best family together time: We are not a family that blares the radio or sings long songs while we travel, but we are a family that makes up our own driving games. I found this great wooden version of the famous license plate game that we all played as kids and let me tell you… BIG HIT!
Melissa and Doug License Plate game: http://amzn.to/kba8cr. We found all but Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Washington DC! I’m still looking in the grocery store parking lot just in case.. We can’t start another game until we find them all!
Building sand castles at the beach: You can usually buy buckets and shovels anywhere but stay away from hotel gift shops and on the beach. You’ll pay more than triple for them. We took a sand castle making class on the beach and had a blast making own own.
Our TOP 10 list of the best things we did:
- Shelling on the beach in front of the Hyatt Hotel in Clearwater Beach, FL
- Surfing lessons at Typhoon Lagoon at Walt Disney World (Orlando, FL)
- Nature Wonders Program at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, FL
- Caving in Mammoth Cave, KY
- Taste-testing 45 flavors at the World of Coca Cola, Atlanta GA (try the Beverly if you are daring)
- Hyatt Toy Box Program- free toy rental for families
- Sitting on the benches sipping ice tea and watching cars fly by underneath us at The Illinois Tollway
- Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World (Orlando, FL)
- Water slides at Key Lime Cove (Gurnee, IL)
- Cracker Barrel meal stops along with Highway 65
- Schedule stops. While we didn’t know where they would be, we only stopped at signaged REST stops along the Interstate. For safety reasons and not being familiar with our surroundings, this was the safest way to go.
- Trail Mixes in a baggie. Trader Joe has the best nut and trail mixes and great prices on them. Pick ones your kids will eat and put them in snack size baggies for when they get the munchies.
- Water. We packed 24 bottles of frozen water bottles which worked out perfect. At hotel stops, we kept them in the fridge so we always had cold water.
- Juice. None. Who wants a sticky mess?
- Fast food stops, soda and fries were outlawed on this trip and guess what? No one missed the fries.. Really! My kids started ordering the fruit option for the kids meals and I think the warm sun helped with getting them over the french fry craze. Big win for mom. A big parenting moment and I can’t even take the credit!
- Candy. Our trip fell over Easter so the Easter Bunny stopped by and left a trail of treats in our hotel.
- Fruit. Cutie oranges make a great snack and make the car smell good.
Toys to pack: I find it best to pack only a few favorites per child. Otherwise, your car becomes a playroom.
- Frisbee time. We packed a glow in the dark frisbee for a quick workout. A jump rope works well, too.
- Boogie Board. You never know when you will come across a great beach.
- Kite. We didn’t get any great kite flying weather so that ended up coming home with us but it was great to have just in case.
* Marianne Szymanski is founder and president of toytips.com and author of Toy Tips: A Parent’s Essential Guide to Smart Toy Choices: http://bit.ly/k6DT3G.