Friday, January 15, 2010

How I survived an 18 day trip out East with 5 kids, a small budget, no GPS and no DVD player.

This is an article I wrote last summer. It is the one that inspired me to start a blog in the first place...though it is a bit out of date it gives my readers a good idea of the kind of nutty person I am. :)

(For clarification – My husband and I have 5 kids age 9,7,5,3 and 1) Okay – to start out I would say the most valuable asset for me was the advice of other friends – those who had gone there before me. Let’s face it – I have never done this before – we have taken 6 day trips – to the same location – before but never had we travelled this far, stayed in this many different places and had to bring this much gear in one vehicle before. So the advice of others was invaluable!! I made notes on where others had gone and liked, we changed our plans to include driving straight through the night due to one family’s experience, and I organized our clothing with the help of my “always organized” sister-in-law (God bless her!). I am not saying that I accepted any and every piece of advice given to us – I don’t think I could count on my fingers how many well-intentioned individuals advised us to have a DVD player available for this LONG and tedious trip. We rejected that one (as you can see from the title). Call me old fashioned, but I believe in watching the scenery, playing a word game as a family, reading, listening to music, doing math drills – whatever they can do to keep from being bored without resorting to the mind-numbing action of a ‘screen’. Besides that, do you think I wanted ANOTHER thing for them to argue over and whine about? “MOM, when can we watch another MOVIE?? MOOOOMMM????” I don’t think so. I will say a bit about organizing things for a moment. This was the part that overwhelmed me the most – we only got our ‘new’ minivan 2 weeks before departing so I was plagued with the question – will we have enough room for everything? Not only that but will I be able to keep things organized once we go? After much collaboration and trial and error, we settled with this. Bedding and tarps up top in the car carrier. 3 totes in the back trunk space – one for pantry items, like dishes and cereal, 1 for the childrens clothes (in which we packed each child’s in a separate reusable grocery bag – not a lot of clothes either – 2 shirts, 2 pants, 2 sweaters kind of thing – we can always do laundry!) and 1 for Bill and my clothes. Worked like a charm. Fridge, basin and coats and swimsuits went on top of these. I did have a small cooler at my feet at all times but I didn’t mind that. Kids had their knapsacks beside them or at least close by, filled with books, games and toys. We placed the playpen on the floor with the tents – thank goodness the kids legs are small and it doesn’t bother them at all. We were quite a sight I am sure – all crammed in, under our pillows! So – this is how it worked. We took off from Welland at 10:30 pm Sunday night– literally ‘stealing’ the kids out of their beds, placing them on the toilet, and buckling them in their seats. This was a sweet way to begin. No potty stops, no hungry bellies, just the sweet sound of snoring in the back seat. We made it to our campground in Quebec City by 9 am the next morning. We did not prearrange any of the campsites, by the way – two reasons – this was ‘off season’ ( ahh the perks of homeschooling!), so there was very little competition for good sites, and also we like to do some ‘flying by the seat of our pants’- it suits us well. I had prepared some food for our trip and much of it did last us through the first week. (Muffins, cookies, power bars, granola, bannock mixture, dehydrated ground beef) We visited grocery stores frequently and stored food in our plug in cooler (another thing borrowed – God bless them!) and we also have a Coleman stove with 3 elements on it – came in very handy. We stayed at friends 3 times – totalling 7 nights over the trip, (that makes 8 nights camping out, 1 night in a cottage and 2 nights driving right through) managed to only buy dinner out 3 times during the whole trip– either we stopped on the side of the road (those picnic spots are very handy) and cooked or made yet another set of peanut butter sandwiches for the road. We often got little things like fries or ice cream, or one order of fish and chips – to share, so it didn’t seem like we were depriving anyone too much – We prepared great meals; beef stir fry, spaghetti, quesadillas, beef vegetable stew, mac and cheese – somehow food tastes better when you’re on the road – maybe we were hungrier?? Was this a vacation for me too? Surprisingly it was – I said to a friend before we left that this vacation was not for me – it was for the kids. I needed to have that in my head to avoid any disappointments I as a mom might have over it. Really, this was the kid’s time to see a bit of our country, learn a little about our history and other cultures, have some fun and see some old friends. After about the 3rd day in I realized not only was I NOT exhausted or overwhelmed, I was having a lot of FUN!! And I continued to do so…now we did have great weather – only rained 3 times while we camped and that was always in the night and not before having to pack up, so that made it good – but it was more than that. The kids were relaxed (I have read that moms see ‘changes’ in their kids during “No-TV week” – less arguing, less stress, more compliant – and I wonder at that), generally pretty easy going and genuinely amazed at how beautiful their country was. Also, my husband and I did not argue – he succumbed to my crazy ‘budgeting tactics’ – though towards the last day he did say, when referring to the word ‘economical’ that I had apparently used a time or two “If I hear that word again – so help me….!!” And so I did let him buy us ALL dinner out and I DID NOT make the noodles and sauce that I had planned to make at the next picnic spot to get us through. Ah compromise – I know - you are probably thinking – is she crazy? Does she expect ME to travel like that? No restaurant food? No fast-food? No easy life? See for me – I love to cook – so it is not a stress to cook fresh food, I also love to save money so that is another automatic reinforcement for me, and I also see how fast food effects my family – my husband gets migraines, my kids get irritable, and I don’t feel that good either - so why put that on myself? Much better to go this way, I think. I guess the reason why I am writing this blurb is not to have you say – kudos to me – I want you to say – hey – I can do that – hey I don’t need to spend loads of money to go on vacation and I certainly do NOT have to succumb to peer pressure (or even kid pressure) to use the DVD player in the van!! What DID we do before those things anyway? Something like family time I think it was called… By the way, both my 9 year old and 6 year old love to read maps now – I worked hard to include them as we planned our route and even when we got lost – they are now much more interested in seeing a map – would that have happened with a GPS?...likely not. Anyway those are my thoughts so far about the best trip I have ever taken – and oh – if you are wondering – the best part was PEI, Lunenburg NS and Cape Breton – Cabot Trail – wow – must see and must go!!



  1. wow that is so inspiring Sarah! thank you for sharing! now, how to do travel with one baby under a year old?? LOL

  2. We really need to get together and compare notes! After much peer pressure, we did take the dvd player, but only used it once. We didn't have the wisdom to leave in the middle of the night. We left at 2:00 pm and drove straight through to P.E.I. We ended up using the dvd player that night before the kiddos fell asleep. Otherwise, we focused on word games, scenery, etc.

    The packing of our van sounds very similar to yours. It was a sight to see. We used organizers that hang on the back of the seat innfront of the kids. Before we left, I stuffed them with surprises like new books, paper, crayons, and small toys. We also made all of our own food. We ate out four times, though. You can't go to P.E.I. without having a lobster dinner!

    That trip was the best experience we've ever had as a family. Not a single fight between the children and no complaining at all. I couldn't believe it! It is because of that trip that I am confident we will do well in a smaller house. I've even decided to do away with the tv!

    Thanks for sharing. Let's talk more soon!

  3. Hey girl, I just left you a little something on my blog!