Today’s guest post is from Althea, wife and Supermom who just came back from what could have been a disastrous family vacation…on a bit of a budget. Here she is, in her own words…
My sweet in-laws had their 40th wedding anniversary in ’08 and as a gift, my husband and his three sisters gave them the present of a trip (notice I’m not calling it a vacation) to the place of their honeymoon, with their kids & grand-kids. My husband is from Indiana and all his family still lives relatively close together..except us, in Texas. So, it makes sense that Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (site of said honeymoon) would be a place to get together. At the time of presenting the trip, it sounded like a great idea to me. Me, husband and child would fly to Chicago or Madison and drive to Lake Geneva. What I didn’t factor in was the upcoming addition of baby #2. Then my husband drops the bomb, we should drive. What???? Drive from Dallas to Lake Geneva with 2 kids and a dog? Insanity. My husband, being the organized, list maker kind of guy that he is proceeds to lay out the benefits to me. Mind you, decision to take trip made in early ’08, decision to drive made in late ’08 (different month, different economy). Ok, back to the benefits as described by hubby; 1) Flying is expensive 2) Flying is stressful 3) We’d incur more expense because we’d still have to rent a car 4) Way too much stuff to bring – think 2 car seats, portable crib, stroller, dog food, etc 5) More expense if we left dog at home and had to pay for his care 6) Besides, we’ve never road tripped before and he had such great memories of childhood road trips. My response to the last was “yeah, you have memories because you weren’t 11 months old.” That is how old daughter #2 would be at time of trip. So, for the next several months, I proceeded to keep a constant vigil on prices from Dallas to Madison or Chicago with the hope that they’d drop low enough to change my husband’s mind. When he forked out the cash for the Thule cargo carrier and extra trailer hitch carrier thingie (have no idea what that thing attached to the back of our vehicle that carries stuff is actually called) I knew there was no going back to the skies in his mind.
I continued to badmouth the trip to anyone who would listen in order to build it up in my mind as the most miserable experience ever to be had. I asked all my friends for advice on what to do with an 11 month old on a 40 hour road trip. The consensus was hope they sleep (a lot), food, stops that wear them out a little, new toys and movies. I haven’t mentioned the 3 year old yet because she is a super traveler and an easy going kid in general that I wasn’t worried about keeping her entertained. Dog is also a great traveler and he’s already been to Wisconsin once…that’s another story… and another economy! Because my baby doesn’t care much for any type of toy for more than 2 minutes, I knew all the toys in Toys R Us wouldn’t do it. Same for videos. Saving my sanity was knowing that the girl does like to eat. So again, I prepared myself for lots of nerve damage from all the crying she’d be doing. To save money on buying lots of new stuff, I toy-swapped with another 1 year old’s mom I know and set stuff away so that the old would be new again. I did this for both girls and even went so far to wrap stuff (old and new) for them. Unwrapping being part of the fun.
So, prep underway as well as resigning myself to the fact that it was actually going to happen, the day of the trip arrived. Husband and I packed everything into the car the day before and set the alarms for 4 a.m. We woke up, poured the coffee into the thermos, put food in the cooler and swooped girls from bed to car seats and hit the road. They did’t know what hit them. They stayed awake until Sherman without a peep, but wide-eyed…
Oh, I forgot to mention how I’d taken advantage of our AAA membership and secured all the necessary maps and travel guidance (all free with the annual membership). My husband’s vehicle does not have navigation built in so we used Google Maps on my Iphone as a back up to our AAA guides. A good friend of mine’s parents offered to let us stay with them as our half-way point on the first leg of our journey. So we settled we’d drive the 9 hours from Dallas to Hermann, MO (between St. Louis & Columbia). They live at the top of a hill, looking over the Missouri river in some of the lushest land I’ve ever seen…
…Not to mention they are super hosts. Let me just say 2 desserts, ‘nuff said. So, we got to skip the Holiday Inn for a way better set up and at no charge. Our same friends in MO, having made the journey from Dallas to Hermann many a time with 3 grand-kids gave us great places to stop. A public park in Choteau, OK was a perfect place for kids and dogs to stretch out and have a bite (we had packed sandwiches, drinks & other snack foods in the large cooler on the previously mentioned trailer-hitch-thingie).
Even better,we had the place to ourselves and at 9:30 a.m., it was not yet 100 degrees. The facilities manager came around about 10 a.m. to open up the bathrooms just as 3 year old was having her “gotta- go-now” moment behind a tree. I am proud to say my girl has learned the art of “squatting”. Another great public rest stop in Missouri with a cool Route 66 theme was found. So, we managed to avoid the dreaded McDonald’s the whole way; big bonus for me & hubby.
We arrived in Lake Geneva a little harried and tired, but not nearly as bad as I had imagined. A great time was had with the family in Wisconsin where we had a rental property divided into suites for each family (complete with kitchen, family room, etc.) where we made most of our own meals and ate together in the common big room each meal. We broke up the return trip by making a stop in suburban Chicago where we stayed with family and went to the most beautiful Arboretum I’ve ever seen (something like 1200 acres vs our Dallas one at 66 acres).
So, what I thought could end in the “D” word for me and my husband turned out to be a bonding experience. Of course, we did not congratulate ourselves until we were 15 minutes from home, because the trip did not come without its arguments. Our take-away was we did too much driving for not enough trip and next time we’ll do a better job of making the drive part of the trip. Wait, did I say next time? Yes. I’d do it again. However, can I have my vacation first?