Here’s some questions I’m frequently asked about traveling…hopefully it will be helpful to you, and you just might learn something about me as well 🙂 Please remember that this is what works for me, and you will have to discover what works for you, which might be something very different!
How can we take a vacation like you? Well, first, don’t try it! This is one of the questions I’ve been asked over and over, and my answer is always the same: you’d hate taking a vacation like I do. Over the years of traveling, I’ve worked out what works for me, and it almost certainly won’t work for you. Each person is made differently, and it may take some time and trial and error to figure out exactly what works for you. So, the best advice I can give is, Don’t try to be like someone else…do what works for you, and don’t copy somebody else.
Where can I find information for my trip? You could start with my blog…! Check out my Resources page.
How can I afford a trip like your’s? Well, that’s hard. It all depends on what kind of a trip you want. We cut costs by avoiding toll roads (as much as possible), packing our own food so we don’t have to eat at restaurants, checking GasBuddy.com for info on where the lest-expensive gas is and filling our tank there instead of in expensive areas (whenever possible), not visiting expensive destinations, buying an America the Beautiful Pass if we are planning on going to many national parks, and camping instead of sleeping at motels. We also cut costs by sleeping in free campgrounds whenever possible. Please see this link for ideas on free camping.
So if you don’t stay in a hotel or traditional campgrounds, how do you stay clean? Don’t ask… Really, we do better than that! Usually we wash whenever possible, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes it’s a deserted restroom, a spicket, a lake, a stream…at least we can go swimming. If we’re really desperate, we’ll do the backpacker trick of using hand sanitizer. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing… Most people would probably want to find some alternatives to this answer!
What kind of tent do you use? I get this question quite often. Unfortunately, the answer is, we don’t use one anymore! After we learned that we could sleep in our van (the same year we switched from a station wagon to a van) we basically stopped using our 8-man no-brand-name tent. It didn’t really fit on tent platforms anyway, and you can camp in so many more places in a van (not to mention that it’s more comfortable). So, sorry, not much information on this one.
What kinds of food do you take on your trips? Well, there are three prerequisites for the food we bring along. First, it’s got to be quick. We can’t spend a couple hours each day fixing each meal if we want to spend a lot of time visiting places. Second, it has to be inexpensive enough that it doesn’t break the budget. Third, it should be energy-giving or at least filling. Main-meal food we’ve found works well includes mac & cheese, spaghetti & sauce out of a can (or at least the sauce comes out of a can…Hunt’s makes a great spaghetti sauce in several different varieties), Lipton noodle side dishes (or the generic brand of the same for half the price per packet), hot dogs and instant mashed potatoes, and soup out of a can (Campbell’s or similar and Ramen noodles) served over instant rice. Lunches are usually peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (can’t beat peanut butter for giving protein!) and fruit; snacks consist of just about anything from crackers and cookies to fruit, chips, pretzels, sliced summer sausage slapped between crackers (my favorite and a great energy food), cheese, and/or vegetables. Breakfast can be cereal, or we might eat muffins, rolls, bread, or bagels. Sometimes we’ll switch around meals; for example, we might have sandwiches for breakfast if we want an early start on a desert hike, and then eat cereal for lunch in the heat of the day, when we all need some liquid anyway. So, find what works for you.
Do you drive all night? No, we don’t drive all night. Probably the closest we came was one night when we were in a horrific Midwestern storm, with hail, constant lighting, wind, and the whole bit. We couldn’t pull over to sleep because we couldn’t get ready without getting out of the vehicle, and that would have gotten everyone too wet to sleep in their sleeping bags. So, we drove 280 miles (until 2:30am) to get through the storm, when we pulled over in a rest area. Typically, we pull in somewhere between 10pm-12am.
What do your children do while you drive? A very good question that we get asked by families all the time! Probably the most important thing is that we set the expectation: we’re going to drive for hours, and we’re not stopping. Period. Get used to it. I realize this may not be very nice for the parents, too, but setting the expectation that we’re going to be driving a long time can do a lot for keeping the “Are we there yet?” question from popping when we’re five minutes down the road. Actually, the children aren’t even allowed to ask that question. We’ll get there when we get there and not before. And it’s going to be a long time, so find something to do to entertain yourself.
So what do we do to keep ourselves occupied? We bring library books, so the older ones can read chapter books, and the younger ones can look at the picture books. We also do a fair amount of out-loud reading. For a list of some of our favorite books, see this Booklist. Sometimes we’ll get drawing books for the children to learn from. Another favorite for the girls is cookbooks. You might not think it, but some can spend hours pouring over a cookbook, planning meals and “cooking up” what they’re going to make when we get home. Coloring books are also great, as are simple spiral-bound notebooks (like you’d use at school). You can get these for $0.10 apiece during back-to-school sales, so if you use an entire notebook on a trip, you haven’t wasted much. Our children prefer colored pencils, but crayons are also great (keep them out of the sun, though, on hot days!).
We also bring small toys, especially for the very young children (rattle, or whatever they like to play with at home). Our children love it when we bring small trucks (construction vehicles, mostly) because they can play with them both in the vehicle and when we stop to fix supper, etc. They have made “towns” in more places than I can count, and it really keeps them happy while we’re trying to get dinner ready, clean up all of our equipment after a hike, etc.
CD’s/Tapes can also be great for children. Some like the books on CD/tape, while others prefer music (books on CD or tape can be checked out of the library). Some people use an mp3 player or iPod, but we haven’t really gone there with the children yet.
Another thing we’ve done is to take small rectangles (about 3” x 1½”) of cardboard and draw a family member or friend on each rectangle. The children have come up with all kinds of games to play with these “paper dolls”, from playing fanciful games in houses, restaurants, or stores drawn on cardboard cereal boxes to playing “go fish” with members of the same family being matches. For a list of paper doll games, click here.
What do the older children/adults do while you’re driving? Well, we read a lot. Before a trip we will go to the library (sometimes several libraries) and check out a mountain of books to take with us. Some books that we enjoy are listed here. It’s not an all-inclusive list, but they can get you started. We also like to listen to music, on mp3 players, iPods, and CD’s/tapes (in the car’s CD/tape player). Several of us have laptops, which we will sometimes take along, and that also keeps us occupied. In reality, I have written quite a few posts (including this one) while we were driving. We bought a power inverter at Walmart that allows us to plug our laptops into the cigarette lighter.
All of us enjoy talking together and singing, as well. Be creative: there are an infinite number of possibilities of things to do, if only someone thinks of them!