The Best Laid Plans: Family Travel Edition

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Minivan packed for family travel

Successful travel for a family of six requires successful planning and a little bit of luck. Over the last twenty-something years, our family enjoyed some fantastic adventures primarily due to my husband, Brett’s meticulous research, and thoughtful preparation. His type-A self spends countless hours, pre-trip, on Trip Advisor, Frommers, and Yelp, making sure we do ‘all the things’ possible most efficiently and entertainingly possible.

Guess what? I will not disclose the details of those trips here. You do not want to read that. Instead, I plan to share lessons learned.

Packing Duty

In the early days of our family, packing duty included packing for the four kids and me, and Brett packed for himself. Today, I pack for my youngest and me and oversee the older kids.

In an attempt to be prepared for anything, I tend to overpack.

One swim trip to Auburn, about ten years ago, the kids and I packed our bags and the car before we picked Brett up from work to get on the road. After an uneventful drive, we arrived at the hotel and grabbed a luggage cart. One overloaded cart and seventeen bags later, my exasperated husband counted, we headed to our room. I explained why we “needed” seventeen bags: Three swim bags, four bookbags, a diaper bag, a large purse, one ice chest, two snack bags, four suitcases (small rolling ones), and a tech bag. He still tells that story today.

I kindly reminded him that he was welcome to pack. Anytime.

Guess who is still in charge of packing?

Do Your Homework!

One Thanksgiving, we traveled to Sedona with all four kids. Before packing, I checked the weather, which called for layers but no heavy coats or miscellaneous cold-weather gear.

We arrived in Sedona to beautiful fall weather.

Perfect.

However, an unexpected front blew through overnight, and temperatures fell by thirty degrees. My motley crew was whiny and freezing. Sedona, a more artsy tourist destination, did not possess a single kids’ clothing store, Target, or Wal-Mart. We did a little research and discovered a GAP factory outlet about an hour away. We modified our best-laid plans and headed to the outlet.

After about an hour of careful scrutiny of the limited inventory, everyone departed wearing a new coat. Maybe not the coat of their dreams, but they were warm when we saw the Grand Canyon covered draped in snow.

Buy the Insurance

Male patient in a hospital room surrounded by his family after successful surgery while on a family trip to Hawaii

To make a really long story short. I always buy travel insurance because you never know when you might need it. It drives my sweet husband crazy. Strike that. It used to drive my sweet husband crazy.

In July 2019, the six of us traveled to Kauai and Maui to celebrate his 50th birthday. I purchased two travel policies for that trip – one for the condo on Kaui and the other for Maui and our flights.

With aging parents, one cannot be too careful. However, our aging parents did not invoke the insurance policies, but my husband’s massive heart attack and emergency triple bypass surgery did.

Those insurance policies certainly paid off by covering airline flight change fees, extra hotel days, and medical expenses not covered by insurance.

He does not complain about them anymore.

Expect the Unexpected

No matter how much you prepare, when six people travel together, whether by plane, train, or automobile, someone gets motion sick. Over the years, we learned to keep a barf bag handy, include Zofran in the medicine kit, and pack wet wipes. We also found that some people need to sit in the front seat of the car on curvy roads.

We discovered that one can never pack enough chargers; they always break or disappear while traveling.

Thankfully, McDonald’s is everywhere, rural Alaska, Vancouver, Canada, and Maine, which keeps our son, Matthew, happy.

Despite the disruptions of lessons learned, we have enjoyed precious family time and made countless memories, and that is what it’s all about.

Please share some of your favorite travel mishaps with us!

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Wife to Brett, mom to BethAnne, Peyton, Walker and Matthew, retired CPA, career volunteer, avid sports fan, and adorer of old Catholic Churches. Rocky passionately advocates for her son, Matthew, and autism acceptance. In 2015, she began writing about her family’s experience with autism on Facebook. In 2020, she published her first book, "Embracing Mrs. Mommy – Learning from, Living with and Loving Someone with Autism." Always in the back of my mind is Luke 12:48, “to whom much is given, much is expected… ” You can find her on Instagram as @mrs__mommy.

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