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Tips for Family Travel

Whether you'll be on the road for three days or three months, here are some positive thinking tips to get you ready.

A family of four on vacation in the mountains
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"Three months on the road," my husband, Michael, announced excitedly. He'd just received a study grant to do research in Alaska and Canada during the summer months. "Better pack lots of diapers," he added. "You're all coming along."

Sometimes people ask us how we managed three months on the road with two small children, ages five and one, in a king-cab pickup truck with a tent trailer behind. Here's the advice I give them, whether they're going to be gone three months or three days:

1. Travel lightly.
As the adage goes, "Take half the clothes and twice the money." That's pretty close. You'll rue the day you decided to take that second pair of hiking boots or garden party hat (that keeps getting flattened). Pack only the essentials. We learned to stop at thrift shops and flea markets for extras—toys, coloring books, magazines, guidebooks. When our secondhand treasures became humdrum, we'd look for the next town's garage sales.

2. Try the unusual.
At the Alaska State Fair we found ourselves watching a rat race with real rats—wearing numbers, no less. At Radium Hot Springs the whole family floated in mysterious warm water. At rest stops we tried different foods, like Canadian chocolate biscuits. Even our young ones developed a taste for fresh shellfish.

3. Have fun.
All those hours cooped up in a truck, I kept looking for ways to entertain the children, but the best games often turned out to be the ones they invented themselves. They loved to place Cheerios on the lens of a lighted flashlight, then pop them one by one into their mouths. A few extra batteries bought us hours of quiet play. And don't interrupt your children's daydreaming by asking, "How're you doing?" That snaps them back to boredom.

4. Keep it (casually) clean.
Clean on the road is not like clean at home. For instance, at campgrounds I found it impossible to rinse the soap off our dishes. Finally I gave up using detergent and we cleaned by boiling our silverware and pans in hot water. You can minimize other kitchen duties by taking the best nonstick cookware you can afford.

5. Find some time to be alone.
At first I simply wasn't used to having my family only two feet away all day long. Finally we made sure when we were camping that either Michael or I had some time alone. Near one campground I sat alone on a dock beside a green lake beneath a blue sky, watching minnows and feeling as close as could be to the wonder of God's world.

And when you get home, don't forget the kind things people did for you. I'll always remember the rainy evening we traipsed into a restaurant (a rather formal one, but the only one we could find). That was the night the trailer tire popped and we were a most disheveled crew! God bless the sweet, chatty waitress who took pity on us. And the elderly couple, too, who invited us all to their RV to watch TV.

Someday, back home, you'll see harried travelers with dirty, crumb-coated kids. Then you will ask yourself, "Can I give those people a hand?" You will. You know what they're going through.

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