I don't propose any "right" answer to this question, but I'd like to encourage families to live life more deliberately in this particular area, whether it is just getting more yard work done, catching up with teens, spending time with your spouse, visiting with relatives, playing with the kids, resting, or a combination. Let's do a little Martha planning and really reap some Mary benefits.
A Few Helpful Travel Tips:
1) Post a packing list
This is something my kids have come to expect, even the older ones. This is a list like you'd get if you were going to camp. "What to Bring: 5 t-shirts, 4 pairs of shorts, 2 swimsuits, book to read, beach towel, bath towel, 8 undies, toiletries, etc. etc." I post it on the refrigerator or print out multiple lists for each kid to have their own. For the elementary school-aged children, I have them put their list's contents out on the bed and I double-check their lists with them before putting the stuff into their bags. Save this list on your computer from year to year and adapt it for every trip.
2) Bag it
When traveling with younger kids (especially if they are going to spend time at Grandma's), I have found that putting complete outfits with underwear and socks in gallon size Ziplock bags keeps the clothes coordinated and organized. This is perfect for the 4-5 year olds who can dress themselves--They just grab a bag and get dressed.
3) Keep Car travel stuff minimal
For some reason, "car travel clutter" just drives me crazy. I have found that fewer items simply stored seems to do the trick. For kids in car seats, I use a bag of items/toys which we go through and trade off. Food and naps seem to be the best occupiers of these little ones, so I always plan according to that schedule. We never stop if a little one is napping. We get gas and use the restroom right before nap time. Along these same lines, when the rest of us stop to eat a meal, we let the little ones run around since they have been snacking the whole time in the car. This can be done with picnics at rest stops and play places at McDonalds or Chic-fila.
For kids not in car seats, lap desks or big picture books are a great surface for coloring books, writing, etc, but I insist that when they are done with any activity they promptly store it in their travel bag. And yes, we have finally found a good use for those screens and apps. They were made for 10 hour car trips! Of course, we take turns with those (usually in 15 minute intervals) and still spend much family travel time listening to music and books on tape. Also, watching DVD's helps pass the time. On one of our super long trips, we not only watched 10 episodes of Gilligan's Island, but we also watched some of our home movies from years past and had many laughs. You have a captive audience. Think of the possibilities! Documentaries? Dvd courses?
4) While traveling, stop by to visit a friend. . .
When the Kiser family travels, we try to visit a religious site or shrine. There are a surprising number of these throughout our great nation. If we stop near the beginning of the trip, it sets the tone and mission for the time we will be spending together. If it is towards the end, it can be a means of thanksgiving and prayer for our family as we return to regular life. It doesn't have to be overly spiritual or religious, but simply a way to stop by and make a visit to Jesus and ask him to accompany your family.
Here are some of our other favorites!!
Shrine of Our Lady of LaLeche, St. Augustine, Florida
This was America's first Mission and the place of the first parish Mass ever said on American soil. We all enjoyed walking around the grounds and seeing these historic sites.
National Shrine of Our Lady of Snows, Belleville, IL, (very close to St. Louis)
This retreat like facility had nice accomodations, as well as beautiful grounds.
National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Marytown, Illinois
This is a delightful retreat facility with a small museum dedicated to Kolbe and the Holocaust. A great place to learn about this amazing saint! Not far from Chicago.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.
No trip is complete to our nation's capital without a stop here.
The Portiuncula Adoration Chapel at Franciscan University, Steubenville, OH.
If you are in the tri-state area of OH, PA, and WV it would be easy to visit this university and stop at a replica of the chapel St. Francis was asked to build. They also have nice outdoor Stations and a great book store.
St. Anthony's Chapel, Pittsburgh, PA
This dark, little chapel on the hill of the city is incredible. It has the largest collection of relics outside the Vatican, including some pretty serious ones, like a piece of the true cross and a thorn. It also has life-size statues of the stations of the cross inside. Try to get a tour.
The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
in Emmitsburg, Md and don't forget Mount St. Mary Seminary with it's beautiful grotto and shrines. Definitely worth the trip.
Do you often come home from a vacation exhausted? I know you want it to be "fun" for everyone, but a little chore assignment can go a long way. If you are staying at a cabin, beach house, or camping, don't be afraid to assign someone for clutter patrol, or laundry, or babysitter. Moms, you do really deserve a break, too!
One thing that we do that not only is easier on mom, but the kids really have a lot of fun doing is to assign different people for dinner duty each night of the vacation. We pair up a teen and a child or tween to have the responsibility to not only cook dinner, but to plan it and clean up. In our family, it has become a tradition where each group tries to out do the others. This year, I've already assigned the groups and the day of the week so they have about a month to come up with something unique and delicious.
It's hard to resist turning on that big screen TV, but if you want some family time together, just simply declare some unplugged time. Rules don't make for a bad vacation. Sometimes we gravitate to the easiest and most pleasing activities, like watching TV, and miss out on other fun and rewarding activities because they take a little effort. Don't be afraid of having some unplugged time. There can be times to watch movies together and play video games, but vacation is also a time to play cards together, build a puzzle, or even, just read.
We always say the Guardian Angel Prayer before we start out on a trip. We also pray rosaries some evenings. These are great said around a campfire or at the beach at dusk.
Don't forget Mass. We love to attend Mass at different parishes--beach parishes, small mountain parishes, etc. Masstimes.com is wonderful! It will find you a parish in your area. We’ve used it while driving in the car to find a mass time at a good driving break time.
Another great idea to help with prayer is to bring your own shrine. We have a travel shrine that helps us to remember that we are always with Christ, even when we are away from home. It also gives us a focal point for our prayer. Here is a video that shows how I made ours.