I’d like to start this post off the way I start most of my posts off, with an apology. I’ve been away for a few weeks. My family and I just returned from our first real road trip. Myrtle Beach was our destination and from where we live, that’s about a 15 hour drive (According to Google Maps). In reality, it’s more like a two day drive with children (Two 12 hour days with 2 children under the age of 4 to be exact.)
We had planned this trip last year, as we plan most of our vacations a year in advance. Our thinking was simple; one son would be almost 4 years old and very capable of being distracted by our portable DVD player. Our second son is 6 months old, and too young to get bored. Also, 6 months is still “pre-mobile” stage which is perfect for laying him in the shade on the beach while we sun tan without worrying about him crawling (yes we still watched him like a hawk.)
My wife is still on Maternity leave and I have a flexible schedule to be able to take long periods of time away from work if I use vacation time and swap shifts with other firefighters. This allowed me to have almost a month off.
We booked a condo for two weeks through VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner), which is our second vacation booked by this method and I highly recommend it. We both knew the long drive would take its toll on our boys, so we decided in advance we would just take our time, stop whenever we needed too and not be in a hurry to get there. If that meant taking three days to get there, then so be it. I was secretly hoping to be able to do it in one go however. I imagined everyone falling asleep and not waking up until I said “Surprise! We’re here!”
We left at 10:30 in the morning, and we didn’t decide on a hotel until 9:30 that night. Unfortunately we weren’t quite halfway yet. There were many stops and breaks. We simply couldn’t get all 4 of us on the same schedule in terms of eating and restroom breaks. Thank goodness I had a USB key for our DVD player with over 40 half hour shows that my oldest just loves (Transformers, Green Lantern, and Spiderman).
The second day went smoother. We had my wife sit in between the boys in the back (We drive a Ford Edge), and she was able to comfort our 6 m/o when he got upset. This resulted in a more driving time and actually covering a greater distance. We made it to our destination by 6pm and we able to eat dinner and get settled in time for bed.
The trip itself was fantastic. It helped that we were literally a stone’s throw from the ocean, right on the boardwalk. We had an ocean view from the 15th floor. It was amazing, being able to enjoy the view while the boys napped or had their snacks. There was plenty to do during the day as well. Our building had an indoor kiddie pool, a lazy river, a deeper pool and a large hot tub. There was also a full gym for the adults.
The neighbourhood was a bit trashy, just like any other tourist driven area, but we were home by 8-8:30 every night, so it wasn’t an issue for us. I’ll do another post based solely on what activities we did while we were there, but for this post I’m going to stick with the travelling portion.
When our two weeks were over, we decided to take a different route home. According to my GPS it was a shorter route, but slower (less highway driving.) That was a mistake I won’t ever make again. It took us much longer and by the end of it, we ended up on the original path. It would have been easier to just keep the same route for both directions. You live and you learn right?
During the ride home we had the same experience as our ride at the beginning of the trip. We ended up hitting the road around 10:30am and finding a hotel around 10pm. This time our hotel was horrible, it was musty and damp and smelled. Thankfully we only spent about 10 hours in it and we were back on the road. This leg of the trip should have gone smoother as we knew we’d be in our own beds that night, but when you have two young children that don’t comprehend that concept, it’s difficult to say the least.
All said and done, I’d say the advantages of driving ourselves are being able to be on our own schedule. We ate when we wanted, stopped and stretched when we wanted, and saw the sights that we wanted. In terms of cost, I’m not sure we saved a lot. We spent quite a bit in fuel and food, and our time and comfort should be accounted for as well. The alternative would have been to fly, which meant three tickets (our youngest would be free on our lap), plus the cost of a rental vehicle for two weeks (plus associated costs like fuel). Also we would be restricted on what we could bring with us in terms of weight. At this stage in our life when we require bringing a playpen and booster seats etc. it makes sense for us to drive ourselves.
I would do it again if we decided to take another trip to Florida, Virginia Beach or even back to Myrtle Beach. It would be hard to return to an all-inclusive resort style vacation that I had become accustomed to. Being able to do my own laundry and cook our own meals are huge perks to me and my wife. We can pack fewer clothes and make healthier meal choices.
Finally, if you are planning a similar trip, these are my recommendations. We stayed in the Bayview Resort on North Ocean blvd. Which is a fantastic location if you like to spend time on the beach, right on the boardwalk and have children who would enjoy the lazy river, kiddie pool and splash pad. There’s a 4’ deep pool and hot tub for the adults as well. For the ride, I cannot stress enough, the importance of entertainment. If we did not have our portable DVD player for our boys, it would have been a disaster. I had an $80 model that also played files from a USB stick. This allowed me to play about 20 hours’ worth of my sons favourite cartoons, and our 6 month old also got to be distracted by the images when he was bored.
Don’t forget to pack snacks and drinks, firm fruits and sippy cups kept our mess to a minimum. Last and most certainly not least, bring patience and loads of it. Remember it’s hard for little ones to comprehend how far away your destination is, so take as many breaks as you need. There’s nothing worse than cranky kids crammed in a vehicle for a long period of time. I plan on doing a follow up blog to this one to talk about our time there and the activities we did for two weeks. There’s far too much to try and fit here. If you’re taking a road trip soon, I wish you luck.
Keep your head up and your nuts covered,