My family has a lot of food allergies and sensitivities between us. One can’t eat gluten, another can’t eat dairy, another has a peanut allergy, and the fourth can’t have a lot of processed meats. I’m the only one who escaped any kind of food issue.
This makes eating on the road very difficult. We can’t just buzz into a fast food restaurant for a quick lunch. We need to carefully plan and plot our trip, so everyone can get something they want without being shortchanged.
Plus, eating healthy is a good habit to be in, and every meal on the road shouldn’t be ordered at a drive-thru window anyway.
Here are a few ways to eat healthy on the road, whether you’re just trying to watch calories or if you have food allergies that limit what you can eat.
1. Pack your food
If there are certain foods you can and should have, pack them in special airtight containers and tuck them in your suitcase. That way, even if everyone else wants fast food, you’re not watching them eat.
If you’re traveling by car, you have additional options. Take a small cooler with you, and be sure to pack plenty of cold packs. (It will also help keep everything cool if you can freeze some of the food you’ll need later on.)
If you’re flying, however, remember the TSA liquids rule. That means Grandma’s French onion soup has to stay at home, but things like gluten-free bread are okay to take. Also, don’t pack any fruit if you’re traveling overseas, and don’t bring any home with you.
Finally, your hotel may have a mini fridge available, but often times these are filled with mini bar items that you can’t even touch without getting charged. Ask the hotel if they can remove the items or provide you with another fridge. Just know there may be a charge for that.
As a frequent driver, I love what my mobile phone can do. It’s a mini computer and camera that lets me make phone calls, and thanks to the various apps that are available, I could leave my house right now, and drive all the way across the country without a laptop or pre-planning, and navigate the entire trip.
But I couldn’t make it without my phone.
That’s because I use certain apps just to find my way around anymore. Whether it’s ordering coffee, booking a hotel, or finding somewhere to eat, there’s an app that’s sure to help any traveler on any trip. But there are a few that are perfect for road trips. Here are my top five.
Siri/Android Virtual Assistant
First, let’s get this out of the way: I don’t text and drive (and you shouldn’t either). Instead, I use Siri to send and read my texts.
If you have your mobile phone plugged into a power source, you can call out “Hey Siri” and she’ll answer. I plug the phone into the AUX jack on my stereo, so I can hear everything going on. When I say “Hey Siri, read my texts,” she’ll read any new texts, then ask if I want to respond. I dictate a short response to her, including all punctuation (because I’m a geek that way) and she sends it for me. There will be occasional errors, based on my pronunciations, like “will” instead of “we’ll,” but the people I text understand when I’m dictating, and will figure it out.
When heading out on vacation, the biggest decision you’ll make is how to get there. Do you drive or fly? If you fly, you can get there sooner and spend more time at your destination. Driving is more budget friendly, but it takes a couple of extra days out of your vacation time.
In my travels, I’ve driven and flown to dozens of destinations. On some airplane trips, I would have been satisfied with driving, and on some car trips, I wish I’d been born with wings. But for the most part, we made the best decision we could with the information and resources we had. If you’re trying to decide, here’s a handy 3-step formula you can use to help make your decision.
How far is your destination?
I typically won’t fly anywhere if I can make the drive in less than six hours. If I fly, I get to the airport two hours early, and it takes me at least 45 minutes to drive, park, and get inside. My flight will take at least one hour. Then I have to disembark, walk to the rental car counter, get my car, and drive to the hotel, all about two hours after the plane touches down. And if I take the hotel shuttle, then I’m without ground transportation.
This all takes at least 5.5 hours.
But if I drive, I can take the same amount of time, and have my car with me in a new city, which lets me explore on my own. I’m in control of my progress and circumstances.
Going on a road trip with your teenagers seems like a lot of fun, until you realize, you’re going on a road trip with teenagers. Whether it’s a three-week summer road trip to trace Route 66, or a quick three-day weekend to visit family, travel with teenagers can be a little stressful. They don’t always want to do what we’d like them to do, their idea of fun may not match up with the rest of the family’s, and their interests seem, well, unusual.
(Not like when we were teenagers! We were a delight and never gave our parents a single problem.)
I’m the father of three teenagers, and I know the struggle of trying to get your teenagers to be excited about family vacations. If you can get your teenager in the car, here are a few things you can do to help them enjoy their time with the family, and maybe even look up from their phones and video games for a little while.
Teach them how to read a map. This is one thing my dad did for me when we would go for long trips. He would hand me the map and ask me to navigate for him: Find the route, determine our current location, and calculate our arrival time based on our distance from the final destination. Turns out, he already knew all that information, but he would explain how to determine all of that based on the map and then let me figure it out. Not only did it teach me to read a map properly, but it made me feel invested in the actual journey. We may have GPS to do all of that for us now, but I think people who know how to read a map have a better understanding — and appreciation — for how their GPS works.
For many people, pets are a part of the family. They would no sooner be left behind on vacation than one of the children.
But if you want to travel with your pet, whether by car or by plane, there are a few things I recommend you do to make sure your furry companion is comfortable and less stressed.
Traveling By Car
If you’re traveling by car, pack a pet carrier, whether a collapsible soft-sided or hard-sided model. Depending your pet’s size, the right carrier may not fit into your car, so make sure you test this out before purchasing one. You may not want to keep your pet in her carrier the entire trip, but if you do, there are a few things you need to remember.
- Keep your pet in the back seat. Air bags can cause serious injury in case of an accident.
- There are special “sky boxes” for small dogs, and I’ve seen seat belt harnesses for larger dogs. Cats should ride in enclosed carriers, however.
- Make several stops so your pet can have a bathroom break. They may be nervous about riding in a car, and may have to go more often than they do at home. Also, be sure to clean up after your animal. Don’t leave “anything” behind. Read more
Taking a road trip has always been exciting for me. I enjoy the journey as much as I enjoy the destination, and I like driving, so that makes car vacations a lot more fun for me than hopping on a plane to get where I’m going.
However, I’m also the first to admit that while road trips are fun, they get dead boring after the first hour. You pile in with your friends or family, chants of “Road trip! Road trip!” fill the car, and you play your favorite songs on the radio.
After about an hour, when everyone has (hopefully) quit chanting and you’re tired of the music, you realize you’ve got another 18 hours and 900 miles in front of you.
So how do you survive — both literally and figuratively — a long, multi-state, many-hour road trip? As a road trip veteran, I’ve got a few ideas, but I also checked with Lily Brooks-Dalton, the current Kerouac House writer-in-residence, world traveler, motorcycle road tripper, and author of Motorcycles I’ve Loved, about some of her suggestions.
1. Get your vehicle checked out
“Get your vehicle serviced before you leave,” Lily said, “and know how to handle it if things go awry.”
That means get the oil changed, get the fluids topped off, check the tires, check your battery life, and make sure your spare is properly inflated. Also, make sure your AAA card is somewhere handy.
In the fall, a young family’s fancy turns to thoughts of warmth.
When we lived in Indiana, I eagerly looked forward to the fall, my favorite time of year. The cool, crisp air, the changing leaves, the apple cider harvest. Now that I live in Florida, I’m just waiting for it to be less hot.
But for many people, fall is the gateway season to “I’m miserable when it’s so cold the air hurts my face.” They start making plans to head south to escape the bitter cold and snow.
If you live in a place that gets bitterly cold each winter, it means you’re at least several hundred miles from Florida, and you just might be making plans to come down for a while. Depending on where you live, the big question is whether you should stop for the night and stay in a hotel on the way, which will dip into your travel budget.
For many years, we faced this question when we drove from Indianapolis to Orlando for vacation, and had to decide whether to make the 1,000 mile drive all at once, or split it into two days. If we split the trip each way, we shorted ourselves a day of actually being in Florida. So, for several years, we piled the kids into the car, and make the journey in one sitting.
We could usually make it in 20 hours because of frequent stops (see below) and traveling with three small children. But lately, I’ve been able to do it by myself in 16 or 17 hours.
Here’s how we did it.
When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader, and carried a book with me everywhere, including car trips. I was also prone to car sickness if I read too much, guaranteed if I read for more than 45 minutes while we drove.
Problem was, we lived an hour from Indianapolis, and I hated staring out the window. My solution was to read, then rest. Read, rest. Read, rest. By the time I could read for an hour without any. . . “problems,” I started driving. Then, my reading-and-riding days were over.
When you’re on a trip for any length of time, the question of what to take along for entertainment is an important one. Whether it’s something for you or for your kids, you don’t want to needlessly haul a bunch of toys, games, etc. that no one is going to use, but you also don’t want to find you’ve got several empty-handed hours with nothing to do.
So do you get them some books to keep them (and you) entertained? Or do you get them handheld games or games for their mobile phone or tablet? Do you go for the tricked-you-into-learning books, or the easy-way-out electronic games?
There are pros and cons for each, and it’s important to weigh them carefully.
As a family of five, hotel stays can be a little tricky. They’re cramped, crowded, and can make vacations pricey. So we’re always careful about where we stay when we hit the road. We’ll try to book ahead of time, but there are times we have to rely on Travelocity or remembering previous stays to find a hotel that meets our standards.
When we’re on the road, we have three criteria:
- The place has to be clean, or have a reputation for being clean. This is one time I favor chains over local options, because those chains have corporate standards to meet.
- We prefer a continental breakfast. It’s actually cheaper in the long run.
- We want a pet friendly hotel. It varies from hotel to hotel, depending on ownership, but you can find them with some research.
Last year, Parents Magazine picked their own choices for Top Family Friendly Hotels, naming as their top five budget hotels, the Residence Inn, Hyatt Place, Springhill Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, and Wingate by Wyndham.
For some families, keeping the kids quiet and entertained on a long car trip can be the hardest part. The easiest thing to do is pop a movie into the car DVD player, put some wireless headphones on the kids, and enjoy the next two hours in silent bliss.But what if you don’t have a DVD player, or your kids are tired of watching the same movies, or you want them to take a break from electronic entertainment for a while? Or what if you don’t have kids, but you and your traveling partners need something to do to while away the miles?
Here are a few games and entertainment ideas that will help keep everyone in the car entertained.
- Discussion questions: Based on the original The Book of Questions published in 1987, there are dozens of books, cards, and even mobile apps that give you thoughtful conversation starters like “If you could travel to the future, but never return, would you?” Ask a question, and then everyone gets to answer.