The key to any successful traveling is preparation (unless you are more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person in which case you don’t really care about survival, do you?). It’s more than just packing the clothing essentials and entertainment; you have to think ahead and consider itineraries, maps, and breaks. As a life long traveler, I know what I need to make myself happy on a trip (arrive early, music and reading, snacks and such). But with a ball and two chains (or is it a chain and two balls? but that sounds so lurid so I think I’ll stick with the former), the dynamics change. Not only do I have to pack my own gear, I have to pack TP, ZP, and AP’s gear with consideration for emergencies, weather contingencies, and normal cheetoes-and-milk-and-what-the-hell-is-that stained wear and tear. Last weekend, we went to Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina. Miraculously, I have lived to tell the tale. How did I do it?
1. Pre-trip preps: Squash any attempts at taking naps the day before so that the kids will sleep well though the night while I pack. Charge the DVD player, the camera, and the ipops ahead of time. Print out the maps (no fancy pants GPS for us, thank you very much), the phone numbers, and the address. Sweep the snack aisles of the grocery store until the shelves are laid bare and then consolidate packages of goodies into bags and coolers. Rent, borrow, or steal a stack of music and movies from the li’bary, friends, family, and your own stash. Stuff one bag full of activity books and favored treasures. Pile it all up next to the front door. Figure out that the car is parked in the back and not in the front and so shift the pile to the back door.
2. Wake up at 4 a.m., shower, change, and wake up driver to do the same. Wake up boy to relieve himself and drink some breakfast. Repeat with girl. Bundle the gear, buckle the kids into the car, and begin driving at 5:30 a.m. while the sky is dark and the traffic is light in hopes that the kids will fall back asleep. Make first stop at 5:35 a.m. when girl complains that she is cold and demands some socks which, naturally, are packed in the trunk in the suitcase at the bottom of the stack. Realize that the original plan of quixotically hoping they’d sleep for the first few hours of the trip has failed. Point out the monuments. Point out the moon. Point out the birds. Pop a children’s CD into the player and enjoy a few moments of silence broken by demands to hear this one or that one or this other one again.
3. Have a flash of brilliance and piece together that if I’m playing a song the kids recognize and enjoy, they will fight sleep in order to hear it. Total system shut down of audio entertainment = total system shut down of chatter, questions, and open eyelids. SUCCESS! Kids are too groggy from being woken up at ungodly hour and sleep solidly for miles and miles. Bask in quiet conversation with TP about good ol’ boys state troopers pulling over New Jersey-plated cars (“did I say you could talk, Snookie?”), sliding through Klan Kountry, and whether or not we should stop to sample some of Mt. Olive’s Picklicious Pickles or see the World’s Largest Frying Pan.
4. Rely on road side McDonald’s for McCafes, McBathroom Breaks, and McStretching Legs. Offer snacks. Toss back books. Get away with playing some of our own tunes by doing a puppet show of a bear in a tutu dancing to the songs. Pass back the ipops with age-appropriate video games. Get lost despite beloved paper map (damn you, Google Maps!). Drive until the next McDonald’s sign appears and stop there for recuperation and review of map, french fries, and plastic bubbling under the sun playground equipment.
5. Use emergency paper towel roll to clean up BP-like spillage caused by piercing the styrofoam cup with the binder clip used to close the chips which, for some reason, was hidden in the cup holder and thus made all of the soda leak into the holder. Radiate fury over sopping up mess, kids choosing that exact moment to fight and scream, and co-driver freaking out over potentially getting lost again. Regain calm via deep breaths and reminding self that in five years, hell, in five months, we will all have forgotten this drama. Pat self on back for packing paper towels and plastic bags for trash. Bust out the emergency cookies and chocolate for everyone to enjoy. Encourage kids to make the most hideous faces possible, take pictures with digital camera, and show them for instant gratification and distraction. Get back on the right track and immediate palm off kids to doting grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins before the car’s engine even time to cool down after the journey.
6. Now this is the key: maintain low profile. For three days. You’ll be just fine.