Famille Du Pentium

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Monday, May 21, 2007

My Family Vacations

So it’s just under two weeks until we leave for Disney.  First, I want to give you an idea of what our "day at rest" is like.  This is our down day:

– Breakfast at Boatwrights, 7:50 AM
– Swimming until Lunch.  Lunch at Disney Studios (forget which restaurant)
– Laundry & more swimming
– Horse-drawn carraige ride at the resort
– Dinner at Planet Hollywood (in Downtown Disney)

So a lot of people have called me crazy, because I’m going to:

  1. Drive from Chicago to Orlando with three kids
  2. Spend eight days and seven nights in Disney World
  3. Spend two days and one night in Universal
  4. Drive home to Chicago

So what’s in it for me?  Here’s the story.  I work very hard.  Some of you know who I work for, as a general rule I don’t mention them here.  So most of the year, I’m working 50-70 hours per week (including weekends) and in between that I spend as much time with my family as possible, usually a couple hours a night and the weekends.  All of our time together is rushed, and going anyplace is a battle of wits – keeping the kids under control, quiet, and focusing on their activities or meals so we can move on to the next one.  

Not during vacation.  We go to restaurants, and they either adore our children or we go elsewhere.  Hotels either have a pool, or we go elsewhere.  We don’t rush.  We relax – yes, WITH the kids.  They may be running around, but we sit back and enjoy watching them.  For once.  We don’t hurry them, or ourselves.  And we generally don’t worry (too much) about how they behave (within reason).  

If all this relaxing and taking it easy seems to contrast with my previous posts about how much planning goes into a family vacation, let me explain.  We (mostly I) plan, so that we *can* relax.  I have the money planned, in fact I’m overbudgetted enough that I don’t have to worry about whether that Pirates of the Carribean sword is in the budget or not.  And even though we have a schedule, we actually plan for a lot of time to sit around and enjoy ourselves. 

For instance, road trip:

  • Two hours driving
  • One hour rest break
  • Two hour driving
  • Two hour lunch
  • Two hour driving
  • One hour rest
  • Two hour driving
  • Check into hotel; eat, swim and sleep

Overplanned?  Sure.  But LOTS of time to sit back, relax, and enjoy ourselves.  We build this planned rest into our vacation, and without it we would probably end up rushing around to catch up with a schedule we never made.  So this is nice.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 5:24 pm  

Sunday, May 13, 2007

More Road Trip Tips

Some more tips for multi-day, multi-stop cross-country road trips. 

  • Break up your trip into about two hour legs, especially if you have kids.  Don’t forget to include the down time you spend at your rest stops in your daily travel plans.  Allow adequate time for meals.
  • For families with kids, stay at hotels that have pools each night.  Your kids are sitting all day – but they have a lot more energy to burn off than you do.  An hour in the pool (and maybe a playground) each evening will get them wound down and ready to go to bed on time
  • Save money by staying in hotels that offer a free continental breakfast each morning.  Holiday Inn Express is famous for this.  Hampton Inns also do this.
  • Let your kids bring their pillows with them in the car.  This gives them some level of comfort when they take naps in the car
  • Know yourself, and allow enough sleep each night to be fully rested.  Driving is a lot more sleep-inducing than your every day schedule, and you will be fighting to stay awake by 7PM if you aren’t well rested
  • I like to keep a belly bag in the car with my road stuff in it, like wallet and phone and so forth – rather than in my pockets.  You can put these items into compartments in your car (if you have them) but then you have to keep grabbing them whenever you stop for a meal, get gas, etc.  With a belly bag, you just grab the bag and go
  • This depends on you, so "know yourself," but: it’s generally easier to drive in the morning than in the afternoon and evening.  Start earlier if possible, and then wrap up each day earlier rather than starting late and driving into the evening 
posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 12:53 pm  

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Road Trip Route Planning Tips

As I’ve said before, I’ve taken my share of road trips, with and without family, to destinations that take more than one day to get to.  Planning a multi-day road trips is difficult, because there aren’t many tools that help you do it.  Planning when and where to stop over is difficult with these.

Sure, there are plenty of trip route / mapping services out there, including Google MapsYahoo Maps, and AAA TripTiks.  All of these services (and others) will take a starting address, ending address, and give you a driving route between them.  Most have even added the ability to include intermediate stops in your route – stopovers.  But they don’t give you any help as to when or where you should plan to stop.

To get around this, I start with freetrip.com.  This site gives you basically the same information as other sites, except when you give it a starting and ending location, the route it displays includes elapsed miles, hours, remaining miles, and remaining hours.  <b>None</b> of the other major mapping sites do this, and it’s critical to planning multi-day trips with stopovers.

So you take the route that freetrip.com gives you, and then you start to cut up your trip into legs.  First you need to decide how long you want to drive each day.  Remember that you will need to stop for gas, bio, and meal breaks.  So, depending on how much you stop, eight hours of driving time may end up being twelve hours "on the road" including stops.  So take your actual target driving time per day, and start counting up using the elapsed time on the freetrip.org trip route.  At each daily driving time limit (e.g. every six, eight, or however many hours you want to drive), note from the freetrip.org route what city you are in.  Now you have your stopover cities. 

Next, you’ll need hotels in each stopover city.  Most of the route planning services give you the option of displaying hotels along your route.  But these aren’t terribly helpful to me because (1) you can’t search out amenities at the hotels, and (2) they usually just dump <i>all</i> the hotels along your route, starting from your starting point and ending at your destination.  What I find that works better is, pick a favorite hotel I like based on amenities, reward program, etc. and then  use that hotel chain’s website to locate hotels near the stopover city.  From there, I book the stopover hotel rooms, and get the hotel’s address(es).  

Armed with the hotel addresses, now I go back to Google or Yahoo (not freetrip) and get actual address-to-address driving directions for each day’s leg.  I don’t use freetrip.org for this – I only use freetrip for the rough leg breakdown.  The reason is, in practice I’ve had trouble with freetrip’s actual turn-by-turn directions – inaccuracies, switchbacks, and round-about routes were common.  They work well for roughing out the trip, but for the detailed turn-by-turn directions, I find that Yahoo or Google are better.

So now, you should have directions for each leg of your trip, along with hotels you’re going to say at.   Be sure to read my "Packing Tips" to see how I pack for each stopover in a way that minimizes the luggage you have to carry into and out of your hotel each day. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:39 am  

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Road Trip Packing Tips

So thi s isn’t purely Disney-planning related, because we like taking road trips to other places.  We also went to Disney by road last time, (pre-Blog) and that time in Marla’s Chevy Corsica.  We had a lot fewer kids then :).  I also moved from Seattle to Chicago by car almost twenty years ago, so I have some experience driving cross country.  So these are my road trip packing tips, in case you ever get the itch to hit the open road.

  1. Separate your trip into three sections – getting there, being there, and going home.
  2. Break up your "getting there" section into legs (e.g. each stopover)
  3. Pack one bag for each stopover on the "Getting There" leg.  Include all changes of clothes.
  4. Pack  one small  bag for swim gear and accessories
  5. Pack kids toys and comfort items in a separate bag (or one for each of them to carry)
  6. Pack all of your "being there" clothes into large bags
  7. Get one of those car-top luggage carriers; put the large bags into the car-top
  8. Put the stopover small bags into the back of the car or trunk
  9. Get one of those hitch-receiver platforms
  10. Put a cooler with either (A) food for the road or (B) Extra items onto the hitch-receiver platform

Now, at each "Stopover", you just open the back of your car or trunk, grab one bag (plus your swimgear), and go to your hotel room.  The kids carry their comfort items. 

When you get to your destination, you unload the big bags off the roof.  

This plan assumes that you can do laundry (or pay someone to) during your trip.  Wash your "getting there" clothes, and re-pack them for the return trip.

Whether you wash your "being there" clothes or not depends on the length of your trip, and how much you pack.  But of course, at the end of your "destination" trip, you put everything back on top of the car, and have your "getting home" bags in the bag.  

The rear hitch platform is, of course, optional depending on whether or not you need more storage (the cooler keeps things from getting wet) or food on the road.  

More road trip tips to come… 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 6:43 pm  

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Disney 30 Days

One month to go.  You already know how much type-a planning I’ve put into this, but to give you an idea of what a truly type-a personality I am (and you really must be to go to Disneyworld), here’s what’s left:

  1. I have to pull the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World apart, almost all 800 pages.  Touring plans, pocket guides, parade viewing spots, fireworks viewing spots, and all manner of tips and tricks will be laminated into folding pocket guides
  2. Check  Orlando weather .  June is tricky in Orlando.  We have to know what to pack 🙂
  3. Reconfirm all resorts and hotel accomodations
  4. Shopping for clothes and shoes that we will need
  5. Reconfirm drive routes – especially for getting out of Chicago, since both the Dan Ryan and the Tri-State will be under construction when we leave.  We’ll have to take Lake Shore Drive through whatever detour route to the Chicago Skyway they have set up, probably through Blue Island.
  6. Charge the iPods
  7. Hold mail
  8. Packing
  9. Haircuts
  10. Take out garbage
  11. Set thermostat
  12. On road by 6:30 AM on our departure day

The good news is that Marla’s aunt and uncle, who live in South Florida, are coming up to Orlando to celebrate Mike and Aaron’s birthday at the character dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern.  Nobody has RSVP’d that they’re coming to Ethan’s birthday party in Savannah, GA.  🙁  I guess nobody likes Chuck E Cheese.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 6:26 pm  

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