As my kids get older and my status as single mom changing with the blending of my family with my fiancé and his pug (Hi Audrey!), I decided I wanted to start a new yearly tradition: a solo road trip, just me and my kids. Alone. Gulp.
This year, I had my geography-loving 10-year old son pick three places within reasonable driving distance from our home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and then the rest of us would vote. And so, after his fabulous PowerPoint presentation (his idea, not mine) to help ensure his sisters were making informed choices with their vote, we landed on Burlington, Vermont.
I’m pleased to tell you that not only did we all survive the week long trip to beautiful New England, we all still like each other.
I am even counting down the days to our family vacation next year.
If you’ve been thinking about taking a solo road trip with your kids, or you’re curious to see how it went for me, here are 5 things I learned along the way.
Related: 5 of the very best road trip tips, from a mom of 4
We spent hours at Shelburne Farms chasing chickens.
Kids are really awesome trip planners.
I enlisted the help of my 10-year old to plan this trip and it was the smartest thing I did. (Well, other than pack a ton of quarters in my bag for laundry machines.) Don’t you love when stuff like that works out?
My son created a schedule for every single one of our days, based very much on suggestions from our Cool Mom Picks Facebook fans (thank you!), and then followed up on it each night, even checking the weather to make sure we were planning the indoor activities for the bad weather days.
Thanks to my son, I was able to relax more than I usually have on vacations with my kids, and I didn’t have to worry about taking any of the blame if something wasn’t super fun. Am I right, parents?
So if you’ve got older kids, put them to work! Not only does it make them more invested in your destination but you might end up doing activities or seeing sights you might have otherwise skipped, like that super cool free playground that you thought was “just a playground.”
Turns out, it’s quite the opposite through kids’ eyes.
Speaking of which, planning everything is important.
I am not kidding when I say that we planned pretty much every single moment on this trip, including downtime. And wow, what a huge difference it made.
I didn’t have to think about where we were stopping on the drive up and back, when we’d be eating lunch, that sort of thing, because it was all pre-set.
Sure, it’s good to have some flexibility, and I might not want to be so rigid if I were vacationing with more than one adult. But we all know kids love schedules and routine, and psst…adults do too. Plus, I find that when you’re alone with your kids — whether you have one child, or four like I do — the less energy you need spend worrying about where you’re going next, the better.
Turns out that because because we had planned everything up front, I had more energy to spend on just hanging out and engaging with them.
Related: 10 cool nighttime things to do with kids that let you be the fun parent
Downtime is as important as anything else.
The built-in downtime in our schedule was an extremely important part of our vacation. And yes, we planned it.
Of course, downtime for kids doesn’t necessarily mean napping (darn!). Thanks to our friends at Best Western who hosted us for the entire week, downtime meant a lot of things: relaxing on one of the four beds; watching one of the two televisions in our two adjoining rooms (wow, so affordable and so worth it for the much-needed adult sanity!); swimming in the indoor or outdoor pool; even playing hide-and-seek.
I know, I know, it doesn’t really sound like downtime, but with four kids, that’s about as slow as I get.
Then again, the times I spent sitting by the pool reading a book, or watching a movie while the kids “hid” in the bathroom was pretty darn relaxing.
It also helped that our rooms at the Best Western were equipped with refrigerators and microwaves so we didn’t have to go anywhere to get a snack or eat lunch on some days. There was also free breakfast and wow, that was so convenient.
Unplugging may seem obvious…but do it.
I can’t remember the last time I was nearly totally unplugged for an entire week. Yes, I did hop on my computer in the late evenings when my kids were asleep, but other than that, I was offline. And for the most part, I was off my phone too.
Before I left, I turned off all my notifications so that I wasn’t getting pings and dings about stuff that really didn’t require my immediate attention. And I have to say, I was able to really enjoy the time with my kids because I was able to focus all my attention on them — as opposed some email that needed to go out.
So, yes, take lots of photos and videos on your phone. But other than that, try and keep it in your pocket or your bag.
Related: 5 important safety checks you should do before you hit the road
Let’s go Monsters!
Saying yes a lot felt really good.
Even though I was on a strict budget, I made sure I had enough money that I was able to “yes” my kids a whole lot on this trip.
That meant everyone got a Vermont Teddy Bear, that huge bag of popcorn at the Vermont Monsters game, and that ice cream right before dinner, just to name a few.
But the best part were the yesses that weren’t about buying anything at all. Like letting them stay up later than they would at home, or swimming a little longer in the pool than than I would ordinarily. And skipping the shower after a long day? Yep, go for it.
As parents, there’s a lot of times we have to say “no” and for good reason. So, it was really nice to be able to just say “yes” to my kids for a whole week. And it actually made the vacation feel even more special than it would have if we were away from home, living by the same rules.
The bottom line
This was hands-down my favorite vacation I’ve ever taken, with or without my kids. In fact, I was super bummed to come home at the end.
A lot of this had to do with being pretty much completely off work for an entire week, something I can’t say I’ve ever really done since having kids. But it also had to do with the fact that we planned ahead, taking a lot of the burden off me — and off my kids, because they always knew what to expect.
If you haven’t taken a road trip alone with your kids, plan it now. Whether it’s a weeklong trip, an extended Labor Day weekend jaunt or whatever you can swing. My recommendation is go go go!
Everything about this road trip was on my dime, except the complimentary rooms courtesy of Best Western. The staff also hooked us up with free Vermont Monsters tickets. Thank you, Best Western! I ended up joining their Rewards program because it’s pretty sweet: points never expire, lots of ways to redeem, and so much more. Seriously, if you travel, sign up for it. It’s free!
All photos © Kristen Chase 2017.