Category Archives: Travel With Kids

Road Ill

We are a family that loves to travel, yet…seems like it never fails, one of us is always battling something health-related when we hit the road or once we’ve reached our destination…whether it’s sunburn or allergies or a full blown cold, there’s always something to deal with…I don’t know why I don’t just pack an entire suitcase as a mobile medicine cabinet.  I mean, our track record is not great…Andy came down with the flu on our honeymoon in Colorado…Allison got sick at a dance convention in Houston and had to see a doctor…then had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic to where her eyes almost swelled shut…Emmie busted her head open on a diving board just prior to our 2009 summer vacation and had to visit a doctor on the road to get her stitches taken out…Allison got sick on our first visit to California and we were delayed going to the San Diego Zoo because we had to wait at a drug store to pick up a prescription called in by our family doctor…Andy once spent almost an entire family ski trip holed up in the hotel room with a stomach bug…guess it was time for my name to be added to that illustrious list!  In the midst of our “drive around Texas” Spring Break vacation this past week, I came down with a nasty sinus infection and nonstop sore throat to the point where the “bed” part of a Hill Country bed and breakfast was a highlight of the trip for me…other highlights were Ibuprofen, a hot bath and chamomile tea.  I didn’t stay in bed, however– I was a trooper, trying to keep down the pain and move on, but darn it, it’s no fun being sick on vacation…we hiked to the top of Enchanted Rock on Wednesday and of course I was slower than everyone else…we saw gorgeous blooms while walking around Austin but of course I couldn’t smell them!!  Really, I’m surprised I don’t get sick every trip…I always stay up so late right before we leave, getting everything ready– this latest adventure was no exception, as I was up until 2:45 a.m. on the eve of our trip and we had to be up at 5:30 to leave…insanity, I know…but hey, in spite of everything, we’ve made some great memories…A gray wolf licked my face at a wolf sanctuary…Emmie got an impromptu guitar lesson on stage at the famous Hill Top cafe from its famous owner, Johnny Nicholas…Allison, normally the most whining hiker around, was the first of our bunch to reach the top of Enchanted Rock and didn’t even complain when we had to wait an hour in traffic to get inside the park, less than a mile from the gates…Andy got in some solitary biking along miles of the Galveston seawall and also enjoyed rollerblading around Austin…I got to meet my new great nephew and spend time with dear friends I hardly ever get to see…and the whole family had some great conversations in the car along the way…so it was definitely worth putting up with some pain and discomfort.  But now that we’re back home, I just want to go climb in my own bed and get some R and R, but there are suitcases to be emptied, and mail to be opened…
Does anyone else have any “sick while on vacation” stories? Misery loves company!

Remembering “Slug Bug”

In honor of Spring Break this week, and the many families that are “hitting the road” for a family trip by car (including us), I thought I’d “re-release” a column/essay of mine that ran in The Dallas Morning News on June 29, 2001 under the heading, “Slug Bugs Are A Hit With Kids”.
Update 4/2/10: I think it’s a hoot that VW is now using this game to promote its cars.  Have you seen the ads for “Punch Dub” Days? And to think the guy I interviewed for this story said Volkswagen didn’t want to associate themselves with it…)
I heard a sound coming from the backseat of my minivan a few weeks ago that I hadn’t heard in at least 25 years, and it made me smile– “SLUG BUG!! No Tag-backs!!”  Now that Volkswagen has breathed new life into its Beetle, it seems the Slug Bug game has been resurrected as well, and mysteriously, both my six-year-old AND my two-year-old know how to play. (For those of you who somehow missed out on that, when you see a Beetle on the road, you’re supposed to elbow the person next to you while yelling out, “Slug Bug!” Some kids keep a running tally going to see who can spot the most.  The “no tag-backs” line is added by more seasoned players, meaning, You Can’t Elbow Me If You See the Same One!)

I never cease to be amazed at how games, myths, jokes, and rhymes get passed down through the ages and across the country.  My husband grew up in Texas and I grew up in Iowa, yet as kids, we both knew every word to the Batman version of Jingle Bells, long before the Internet and Cable TV.  And, we both played the Slug Bug game.

I think I still have marks on me from all the slugs I got from my brother,” says a Volkswagen public relations representative who wishes to remain unnamed. While  Volkswagen of America, Inc. has no official printed history or rules for the game (the unnamed PR representative said they wouldn’t want to associate with anything where children could get hurt),  a local VW enthusiast says it originated at least 40 years ago. 

I remember first knowing the Slug Bug game in the early 1960’s,” says Louis Harris, 61, of Dallas, who, along with his wife, Janet, is the local representative for the Vintage VW Club of America. He says though the Beetle was first brought to the U.S. in 1949, the game probably didn’t become popular in the United States until there were enough Beetles on the road to make Slug Bug playable.  “The Beetle really took off in popularity in the middle to late 1950’s.”  He says his two daughters, now aged 25 and 30, loved to play the game as kids, and says his wife credits the game for helping the girls learn colors. “They’d call out ‘Slug Bug!’ and she’d ask them to identify its color.”  

New Slug Bug-ers (or even “veterans” like myself) may not know that for each year that the Beetle has been around, there are probably just as many interpretations of the game, based on the Slug Bug websites I found. One says that if you grew up on the East Coast, you may know it as “Punch Buggy” (yep, that sounds pretty Ivy League, all right). Another discusses the finer points of the rules, such as “you can not slug the owner of a Beetle if you see their car” and “looking away from the Beetle and looking back does not give you the chance to slug again”.  (But walking away from one in a parking lot and seeing the same one again when you leave is eligible for slugging again.)   Another website extols the fun of the “adult” version of the game (using points, not slugs) and lists a printable point chart, including more points if the Beetle is yellow or if it’s a convertible (you really hit the jackpot if it’s a yellow convertible), and negative points for shouting out when a Beetle’s not there. This site even has a Slug Bug Council which you can contact for a ruling on Slug Bug game disputes, such as “Does the Beetle count if it’s on TV?” (yes, they say, as long as the other players are present).  

While some of you may be thinking, ‘Get a life, people’, the Slug Bug game, even in its simplest version, can sure make riding in traffic or on long car trips a lot more interesting, and even fun, provided any slugging is done with restraint.  And it must be a marketing and advertising bonus for Volkswagen. Think about it. Kids delight in spotting the brightly colored cars while playing the game and may dream of someday driving one. 

Based on the amount of daily slugbugging that has been going on within earshot of me lately, a lot of people ARE driving them.  Even Barbie drives one.  And now that our neighbors across the street have a bright greenish-yellow one, I get to hear the word yelled inside my house as well as in the car (and I get to experience getting slugged in the leg while opening the front door!).  All pain and noise aside, in this world of fast changes and sophisticated technology, it’s nice to know that some simple things stick around. 

There is a new game in town, however.  Just when I was wondering if another car manufacturer would ever try to start up a game like Slug Bug, it seems they (or their kids) already have.  A teenager riding in our car the other day yelled out “P.T. Cruiser Bruiser! No tag-backs!” and elbowed my six-year-old when she saw the unique-looking car rolling along beside us. 

Sorry, Chrysler, but it just didn’t have the same ring.  If you’re going to slug, it’s got to be a Bug.

Time Out for Teens

Someone once told me that some teens get to a point where, in order for them to enjoy a family vacation, they need to take a friend along.  While I think my teen would definitely complain less and might even pack her suitcase on time if she had a friend beside her, I’m not ready to “go there” yet, since I think our younger daughter would feel left out (not to mention she’d pester the teens a bunch), and I know my husband wouldn’t want to walk around in his pajamas in front of the friend if we all shared a hotel room! So this past Labor Day weekend, we solved the teen travel problem in a different way– by taking separate vacations. 

First, some back story: I’d been searching for something inexpensive we could all do on this three-day weekend, which basically narrowed down to: must be less than a day’s drive, and include staying with friends/relatives. While combing the Internet, I remembered a gift certificate I’d stowed away long ago, a gift from a friend that entitled us to a stay at a retreat center not far from home. I dug it out of my files and not only was it good for two nights’ lodging, it included several meals, for a family of four.  ‘Perfect!’ I thought. I checked out the center’s website and called them up. Their motel-style rooms were booked but they had room in one of their cabins.  I surfed for things to do in the area: a planetarium show at a college, great bike riding trails, visiting old friends who lived in the area, hiking and swimming at the retreat center…sounded great to me! And to my husband, and to my 10-year-old.  But I had a sinking feeling it would not be, in any way, seen as fun by my teen.  I was right.

“We might as well just stay home!!” she ranted.  “Who wants to go to the ghetto on vacation?”
“It’s out in the country,” I said, “surrounded by woods.”
“It might as well be the ghetto!” she continued.  “Near some stupid small town…and I HATE nature sounds, you know that!!” 

And I hate being on vacation and having to hear a complainer.  What was I thinking, planning a trip for us? The “roller coaster” had definitely been “down” at our house for several days…

So, we gave her a choice: she could go with us, with no complaining allowed, or stay with a friend for the weekend.  At first she chose going with us, but when she found out she could help her friend shop for a Homecoming dress, she changed her mind.  (Ah, I knew the mall would win out over Mother Nature!)

It turned out to be a really good decision.  The only complaints I heard were from some of my friends (“I can’t believe you gave her a choice! That’s terrible!” “You’re not forcing her to go?”).   She got a lot of homework done and had fun with her friend, while we enjoyed eating food we didn’t have to fix ourselves (Allison would have hated the selections); building a fire, roasting marshmallows, and even singing a few songs (Allison would have died of embarrassment at the dorkiness of it all and would have worried that someone might hear us); and riding bikes (23 miles, sometimes through 5-ft. tall grass– Allison has severe allergies to grass!). Since Emmie is the child we don’t get to see as much anymore due to her gymnastics schedule, it was good for us to spend time with her.  No TV in the cabin or lodge meant playing Uno instead, which Emmie thoroughly enjoyed.  And spending time with friends we hadn’t seen in 10 years was a treat– and Allison probably would have been “out of sorts” at their house as well, because they had a guitar– which Emmie picked up and spent lots of time playing.  (Lately, Emmie and her guitar prowess has been a major thorn in Allison’s side.)

Some things were just meant to be.  Allison was happy to see us when we returned and we were happy to see her.  We all went out to dinner together on Monday night and shared stories from the weekend.  She got ready for school this morning without any fussing or arguing. 
I think Allison summed it all up pretty well when she said,  “I needed a break from you all.”

Which is not to say that this is how we’re going to do all family vacations from now on.  She wouldn’t want that and the rest of us wouldn’t, either.  But I think a “time out” like this once in awhile might just be a good habit to start. ###

Little Ones Need To Travel, Too

My friends who are professional travel advisors have been telling me for months that “it’s too cheap not to travel this summer”.  Some thoughts about vacations, for people who are talking themselves out of traveling because they think their kids are too young– or for people who know families like that:

Six summers ago, we took our kids on a Southern California adventure trip when one was 8 and the other was 4. We’d saved up airline miles so that all four of us flew free, so we splurged and went to the Hotel Del Coronado, Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, and topped it off with a day and a half at Disneyland.  I remember, before we left, hearing from several parents who told me they planned to not spend money on any kind of “big trip” until their kids were at least 10 because at younger ages, they probably wouldn’t remember it. 

But, is that the only reason to take a child on a trip– memories?  While it’s true that my older child has more memories of that California trip than my younger one, I think my youngest benefited from it in many other ways. 

First, there’s something to be said about having fun as a family, about “feeling the love” that I think just gets into a child’s bones and the fabric of who they are, even if he or she can’t remember any details of a trip.  Also, as kids try new skills while traveling, like water skiing or hiking a really long, uphill trail, they gain self esteem and self confidence.  I remember on that California trip how my little one was so proud that she’d gone on “Big Thunder Mountain” and liked it, while a big grownup like Mom was too scared to go (well, not exactly too scared– I just don’t enjoy roller coasters!!!).  

Yet another intangible of travel has got to be helping your kids “grow smarter”– you’re offering them mind-expanding opportunities that are helping to sharpen their brains.  From what I’ve read lately, anytime you get outside your usual routine, your brain is getting needed exercise, even if it’s as simple as driving a different route to the grocery store.  Imagine what can happen when a suburbanite preschooler from Texas sees a bunch of seals piled on a beach in La Jolla, or gets to sit in the cockpit of a jet airplane at the end of a flight, or eats a fish taco for the first time…those brain connections must have been firing like crazy! 

Last but definitely not least, there are some aspects of every travel experience that only a young child can truly appreciate.  Do you really want to wait to travel until they’re “too mature” to get excited about shaking hands with Goofy? Til they’re too big to enjoy the cool playground at Sea World? Til that high-pitched, glee-filled scream-followed-by-giggles that they make while running away from the “chasing surf” is forever silent?

I think I would have my kids experience travel even if I was guaranteed they’d remember nothing.  It’s just that good.   ###

Emmie waits for another wave on Coronado Island, CA, June 2003. 
                              Wish this photo had sound!!

Allison “carries” me in the pool at “The Del”.  Priceless!  (Will she ever do that again?)

Flying Chickens, Buried Cadillacs, and Martin Luther King

Recently in my teen’s Pre-AP Language Arts class (i.e. Honors English), when the teacher was leading a discussion about the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy, my daughter was aghast that she was the only one in class that knew that the location of Kennedy’s assassination was right here in Dallas, and one of the few who knew that Martin Luther King, Jr. was deceased. “He’s dead??!!” asked the girl considered by many to be the smartest in the class (the one who never has to study and gets all A’s).  I said she must have been joking.  “No, Mom,” said Allison, emphatically.  “She was really shocked and sad that he was dead.”  Well I’m shocked and saddened that a bunch of honors 8th graders, who all came from elementary schools deemed exemplary by the state, didn’t know some things as basic to our history as that.  And it’s made me reaffirm my belief in family travel– because one of the reasons my daughter knew about King’s death is because she’d stood at the site where it happened.

Carving out time to travel has always been a priority for me, even before my husband and I had kids. Travel is not only an eye-opener and mind-expander, but it’s a great relationship-builder, even with all its downsides of lost baggage, delayed flights, bad weather and clueless tour guides.  If you travel enough, the good times (and the good memories) outweigh the bad. 

Some parents think travel, good times, and kids just don’t go together, but if you really put your mind to it and plan with kids’  habits and feelings in mind, it can work.  I remember being paralyzed with fear at the thought of any car ride over 20 minutes with my kids (check out the DVD Players in Cars post), not to mention flying on a plane with one in diapers.  But you talk to others that have done it, and you read stuff, and then you get out a pen and paper and come up with a plan.  (It’s funny, because even though my kids are older now, I still have to plan, because a teen can be the worst travel companion on earth if you don’t.) Some moms tell me they don’t travel because their husbands don’t like it– but I say, take the kids anyway and go without him.  A year and a half ago I “soloed” with my girls to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and we had a blast– it was like Thelma, Louise and Louise, Jr.

I know in this economy that vacations are thought of as “something to put aside” by many–  I was considering having a “staycation” this Spring Break.  But now I’m re-thinking it.  There are so few opportunities to travel as the kids get older and busier, and the cost of gasoline is still pretty reasonable…and we’ve racked up lots of unused flight miles with our credit cards, plus there are so many travel deals out there right now, that we can probably go somewhere for less than the cost of a month of dance lessons…okay, I’m sold! Now I’ll start planning and then attempt to sell the idea to my husband. As I plan, I will keep the following three things in mind:

-If at all possible, book a hotel/motel with an indoor swimming pool. That way, when weather drowns our plans, it makes everything okay.  And it’s always a hit even when the rest of the day’s activities haven’t been so popular with the kids.  There’s just something “magnetic” about pools and children.   I don’t remember a huge amount about the 1969 road trip I took with my parents from Iowa to California, but I sure remember swimming with Dad in the motel pool. (Vacations were usually the only time I ever saw him swim!) I have a friend with two boys who, when unable to travel someplace far, will just travel to another Dallas suburb and book a motel with an indoor pool– they have a great time.

-Find things that are purely fun in addition to educational sites.  A trip with kids that’s nothing but museums and historical markers is totally out of touch with the reality of kids…and teens.  Is there a waterpark nearby? A restaurant with a “pirate” floor show? Or…(wince) a cool mall?  We also like to mix in something kitschy, if we can, on every trip– places like the Spam Museum in Minnesota, the Orange Show in Houston, or the Mystery Spot in California. And no trip to Amarillo is complete without a pilgrimage to Cadillac Ranch.  (The website is fun for finding out stuff like this.)

-Think outside the box as to what equals a successful vacation.  Even if we don’t get the perfect “Kodak moments” for our scrapbook, cherished memories can come in unexpected places.  One special memory I have is all of us laughing hard while rediscovering the movie Napoleon Dynamite on a hotel room TV. Or when Allison threw up in the car, and we had to pull over near a farm, and while we’re all in a fluster and she’s standing outside and I’m cleaning her off, she spots a chicken sitting high up in a tree– and we all crack up. 

Yes, we’ve been to some amazing places…but we sure won’t forget a lonely stretch of Texas highway with a resident chicken who thought it was a hawk.

Musings on DVD Players in Cars

Following is a column of mine that was published in the Dallas Morning News on July 11, 2001. Replace the word “VCR” with “DVD Player” and it’s still relevant.  Only now, things have gotten worse.  People are popping in DVDs just to drive their kid to the grocery store. Completely limits any family conversation that could take place during that journey. And once your kids turn age 5, the percentage of time they spend away from you (in school and other activities ) is forever greater than the time they spend with you– and, concurrently, a lot of the time you manage to have with them is spent in the car driving to activities, if you’re like a lot of busy families.  So why not make the most of the time you have?  Some of the most interesting questions from my kids have come while riding in the car…

Should Cars Have VCRs? I Can’t See It

By Patricia Long Allbee

When moms gather to gab, I’ve noticed in the last year that when the subject is summer vacation, there are always several people singing the praises of the tiny “travel VCR” for vacationing by auto. 

“It’s great,” said one mom.  “We just pop a tape in when we leave and keep popping them in until we get there, and hardly hear a peep out of the kids.”

I just smile and nod and say something like, “We’ll have to give it a try,” and then firmly bite my tongue.  While inside I’m thinking about how sad it is that the TV/VCR has invaded perhaps the last bastion of family togetherness.  I mean, first it invades the evening meal, then it encroaches upon bedtime stories, and now road trips? It’s almost a sacrilege.

I’ll admit, if travel VCRs had become commonplace several years ago, I might have gone for one as well.  When my oldest, now 6, was a baby, I wouldn’t consider making the 850-mile trip to my parents’ home via car.  The thought petrified me, and it didn’t get any better as she got older.  What would we do with a child in the car all that way? Wouldn’t it be hard? Wouldn’t it drive us crazy? It’s so FAR, it would take forever.  And my husband would have to take extra vacation days just to drive! So we flew, and because of the expense, not often. If someone had told me that a few Barney videos could solve all my problems, I might have been tempted.

But now I know better. A few years, a larger vehicle and a second child later, my husband suggested driving.  Before panic could fully grip me, he looked up the easiest, quickest route on an Internet map site and said, “It’s only 13 1/2 hours. If we left in the late afternoon and drove ‘til midnight, the kids would sleep a lot during that time, and the next day, we’d be there at lunchtime.” I exhaled.  That’s do-able, I thought. (Much better than his original “he-man” plan, which was to leave at night and drive straight through, non-stop.)   To fill in the non-sleeping hours, I decided to plan everything out, an “itinerary” so to speak. It went something like this: 3-3:30, Free Time for Mom and Dad- kids play with coloring books; 3:30-4, Snack Time and listen to kids’ music cassettes; 4:00, Stretch Break at the nearest park; 4:30, Mom gets in back and plays with one child; 5:00, Mom switches seats and plays games with other child while first child plays with basket of toys; 5:30 Auto Bingo; 6:00, Dinner break.

It appealed to the control freak /list-maker in me and was the only way I could see to manage it. (I also knew that if I simply began the trip by giving the kids a bag of toys and said, “Have fun!” they’d go through all of them before we ever got out of the city limits.) It was fun buying the snacks for the cooler and coming up with inexpensive  activities (my top picks: Books and matching audio cassettes from the library; Mad Libs word game tablets; hidden picture workbooks; and Viewmaster reels, all saved only for trips, to make them special.)  The kids had a great time, and needless to say, I haven’t bought another plane ticket to Grandma and Grandpa’s.

I know that some moms grimace at the thought of doing an “itinerary” and that a VCR seems so much easier.  But “doing fun things” isn’t the only benefit from not using a travel VCR. Without being glued to the tube, it’s much easier for kids to “See America First”.  I always think that if we had had a VCR over the last two years, my kids would’ve missed seeing the spectacular mountain scenery in Arkansas, or the McDonald’s that stretches completely over the highway in Kansas, or the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, or the Sam Houston statue near Huntsville.  In fact, when given the chance, kids are usually so observant they’ll point out interesting things that aren’t even on the map.

And when we run out of things to do and sights to see, we’ve actually been known to talk (gasp!) or sing a bunch of songs (double gasp!) Okay, before this family starts sounding sickeningly sugar coated, I’ll admit that the trips are not perfect. Sometimes the kids don’t like all the toys, or the snacks, or both. Last summer, the time on my plans marked “Kids Sleep” was anything but that.  Yes, we heard, “Are we there yet?” way more than we wanted.  Yes, we were tired, and yes, it was hard. But not enough to make me cave in and get a VCR.  (Next time I’ll be sure to bring larger pillows.)

 Maybe if our trip was double or triple the miles, I might borrow one, but then use it only with limits.  Most kids, including mine, see too much video and TV on a daily basis at home.  Isn’t vacation supposed to be a break from routine? ###