How we search this largely depends on why we are traveling. Obviously if we are going somewhere intentionally, we've already searched and found the place to go and why. We do always try and find some local history no matter where we go. For example, last year in the summer, we decided to go to Hilton Head. Instead of just baking on the beach all week, we took some time to go inland, talk to some locals, take a guided tour of the bay area in a small boat, etc. We also drove 45 minutes south and visited Savannah, Georgi and soaked in all that history. We like to learn no matter where we are!
However, if we are traveling because of a business trip, the process is a bit different. This past trip, for example, we HAD to be in Dallas, Texas, on Tuesday morning of that week, and couldn't leave till Wednesday afternoon. We knew already that we wanted to see St. Louis, so I plotted a route using Google Maps that went through St. Louis, down to Dallas, and back to our town in a loop.
Then I looked at all the states we would pass through and searched "things to do in _________" or just that state's tourism website. I typically look under "history" or "free attractions". Once I pull up the list of things to do, I pick some that seem most interesting to most of us. Then I search the website for that particular attraction. If it's an historical attraction (ie: Lincoln's birthplace) I read VERY carefully to determine what is actually there, what the hours are (being extra careful to check the months because we often travel in the off-seasons), how much it costs for admission, if there is parking, and how much time it looks like we would spend there. Sometimes I call and ask more questions.
Our goals are fun education, local history, natural history, and seeing something that we can't see at home. All of this research is VERY important...I can't tell you how many times I've gotten excited reading about something only to discover that they are closed during the month we are traveling, or it's astronomically expensive, or the historical site we think we are seeing is actually a replica. It really, really pays to do your research. We also check to see if there are any reciprocal memberships. For example, if you buy a pass to a National Park, it is good for ALL National Parks for a certain amount of time.
DISCIPLINE, TANTRUMS, SHORT ATTENTION SPANS, AND OTHER UNPLEASANT THINGS:
So here is some of the nitty gritty...
We all know the saying that the kids attention span is how old they are in minutes, right? (a 2 year old has a 2 minute attention span, etc.) So...what do you do with three kids who should have a collective attention span of 23 minutes on a 17 hour drive? Or on a 2 hour long battlefield tour?
Well, for starters, we expect WAY more from them than that. While we do attempt to chose activities that are age appropriate, we also expect them to adapt and exercise self control if they are in a situation that is not ideal for them. This goes back to parenting and training skills that, if correctly implemented at home, will be invaluable when you expect your energetic 5 year old to sit still while a long winded tour guide is elaborating on the history of horse drawn carriages!
We have trained our children to sit still and be quiet. It's not hard, you just have to be consistent. Start in small increments (like 1 minute if necessary, you want to set them up for success at the outset!), let them know clearly your expectations, and follow through on the consequences for disobedience.
For us, homeschooling has been a wonderful tool for teaching these skills. We have had our good and bad moments, but requiring all children to at least be in the same room and quiet while I read someone's lesson aloud has gone a very long way in promoting self control, and courtesy for others.
That's all I will say on short attention spans, other than to say if you have not been successful at getting your young ones to sit still at a meal at home, you probably won't be very happy with the results of trying to get them to sit quietly while you and your older children enjoy a tour somewhere!
Meltdowns, tantrums, the grumpies, whatever you want to call it, that happens too! Typically for us, it's a result of lack of sleep/sleeping in a strange environment, feeling out of control with so many new things, or just a simple case of home sickness. Our oldest used to spend the first 24 hours of any trip constantly in the bathroom and complaining of a stomach ache and yelling that he wanted to go home. After that he was just fine and enjoyed himself!
While this type of behavior at home (the meltdowns and tantrums, not a sick stomach!) might require a different approach, viewing the situation with a bit of empathy and patience can go a long way in easing frustrations of the whole family.
We learned the hard way that having really ANY expectations for the trip outside of simply arriving safely at our destination eventually made us stressed out. Realizing that kids thrive on routine and sameness and don't have filters to regulate their emotions yet, and just relaxing and enjoying the natural rhythms of our family in a new place has gone a long way towards making even the longest road trip a peaceful, enjoyable experience.
Just because you are on a cruise, for example, doesn't mean your children are suddenly perfect angels and you will be on vacation from parenting! Just plan on parenting, and "doing your life" with new and different scenery! You will all be much happier, and may even find traveling with very young children to be extremely enjoyable. Young ones, if given the opportunity to slow down, will take it all in from quite a different perspective than you adults with an agenda! You might even find yourself learning more than you ever thought possible from your toddler tour guide!
As far as the "other unpleasant things" mentioned in the title goes, by that I mean stuff like sickness, clogging a hotel toilet, losing a lovey, etc. Yes, all of that does happen, it's just life. You might as well have a sense of humor, remember that you have no expectations, and roll with the punches!
Last year we arrived past midnight at a hotel, one of the kind that has outside doors for each room, not a lobby and a hallway. We checked in and went to sleep very quickly. Marvin and I were awoken about an hour later by Alec screaming. We sat up to find, much to our shock, Benji sitting up over Alec, vomiting on his head, the wall, and all over the carpet and bedspread.
We rapidly moved the boys to the bathroom and began damage control. I called the front desk to explain the situation, apologize profusely, and ask for clean bedding. The startled desk clerk (I think she was asleep) pointed out to me that she was the only one there and had no access to the housekeeping area, and couldn't leave the desk because it was the middle of the night. (remember it was a hotel with only outside doors, not hallways). She offered the key to the adjoining room, so we could just move the kids to a clean bed and leave the mess where it was. While Marvin was on his way down the driveway to the office to get the key, phase number two began in the bathroom, with diarrhea covering nearly all the towels and the bathmat.
You might say that we took FULL advantage of EVERYTHING in that adjoining room when he came back! Thankfully, it was only a "fluke", Benji was the only one that got sick, and he was completely better the next morning. We did all take precautions, like taking activated charcoal, but were all fine. And yes, we did laugh a LOT about it in the car the next day. It's still a joke when we travel, and an example of how we took something that could have been really horrible and made it into something lighthearted. A sense of humor is extremely important!
I hope you've enjoyed my little series on how we roll, and it inspires you to try a little road trip of your own, or to revamp the way you currently travel...