Road Trip Packing List

I can’t believe we’re already in September!  I don’t know how the summer has flown by and now we’re in back to school mode.  I may be in the minority, but I love having my kids home!  I love the sleeping in and cuddles on the couch that last into the late morning.  I love moseying into the day with just the sun to guide us on our adventures.  And I love spending it all with my family!

13774899_1736279196596936_1336765421_nOne of our favorite things to do is road trips.  Whether it’s just spending a day to drive to nearby Portland, OR or a few weeks to tour the country, we love just getting in the car and driving.  Last month we left for a ten day southwest America trip!  We visited Arches, Mesa Verde, The Grand Canyon National Parks.  This is our fourth  major National Park trip as a family. So while I’m still learning how to pack a family of 6, I’ve done enough road tripping to know what I’m doing.  Today I’m going to share with you my how-tos on how to pack for 10 days on the open road. Let’s go!

  1.  Try to keep your luggage to a minimum.  This means sometimes sharing luggage space.  My husband and I share one giant suitcase and we leave enough room for extra shoes or jackets for the kids.  While I would love for my kids to share luggage, I know that with a teenage son and daughter, it will not happen.  So, be realistic with who can share.  If you have littles and they don’t insist on pulling their own suitcase, pack them together.
  2. Pack plenty of snacks for the whole family.  With 6 people, we all have fairly diverse preferences.  While I prefer healthy non-spill snacks, my 7 year old would love to have a banana and peanut butter in the third row.  Not gonna happen!  Pack things that are easy to clean up and high in protein (to prevent car sick kiddos) like trail mix, beef jerky, and cheese sticks.  I always throw some extra goodies in the cooler for rest stop breaks, but try to keep the in car food to a minimum. We also keep drinks to a minimum with the exception of water, just to so we don’t have to find a rest stop every 20 miles.
  3. Small balls or frisbees.  We haven’t done this in a while, but I think we may need to revisit this idea.  When our older kids were smaller, we would make our rest stop breaks a little longer by getting out a ball or tossing around a frisbee.  It helps the littler kids with wiggly legs get a good stretch and helps mom and dad get a nice break from those long highway drives.
  4. Maps.  That’s right, a good ol’ fashioned, folded backward and forward map. While Apple Maps and Google Maps are great and convenient, when you’re out in the middle of nowhere without cell service, those apps will do you no good.  On our last trip, we ran into a bit of a jam with our directions and thankfully had a map in the car.  Without it, we would’ve been in trouble and probably would’ve extended our trip a few hours longer than it needed to be. If you’re a AAA member, you can get all of your maps for free.
  5. Use Gasbuddy.  Speaking of apps, Gasbuddy was a lifesaver on our last trip.  We like to save money wherever we can and thankfully our Gasbuddy app saved us close to around $50, just by driving a few short blocks away from the convenient gas stations.
  6. First aid kit.  While we don’t always need one, it’s a good idea to have one.  I pack in mine bandages, first aid cream, tylenol, wipes, and believe it or not, barf bags because we usually have at least one barfer in the car at any given time. If you’re doing any hiking I would recommend packing a full first aid kit.

One other thing I want to mention, is that when we travel, we stay at hotels across America.  It may not be the most economical way of traveling, but it is the easiest.  If you need help with finding great hotel prices, let me know and I will tell you my secrets!  It’s not hard, just takes a little more time.  And let me know how your next road trip goes!  I love to hear (and sometimes steal) other family’s ideas!

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Maybe This Country Just Needs to Go on a Big Road Trip

I love road trips.

I love the idea of getting in a car and driving across the country, seeing things you can’t see at home, experiencing places you only read about in history books or see in documentaries you stream on Netflix, eating food you can’t get close to home, and talking with people whose life experiences are different than yours.

I grew up taking road trips, thanks to my missionary parents.  Every summer from my 1st grade year until my freshman year in High School, my parents and my brother and sister and I loaded into whatever vehicle we had at the moment and traveled from Seattle to Indianapolis, and then from there to everywhere else.  By the time I graduated from high school, I’d been through the entire lower 48 states.

I’d seen Yellowstone.  Devil’s Tower.  Plymouth.  Washington, DC.  Trenton.  Lexington and Concord.  Niagara Falls.  You name it, we’d been there.  You can read about our country all you want–but when you start seeing it, living it, experiencing it, it does something to you.

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It helps you realize that everyone isn’t like you,  that there is greatness in people who talk different from you, who eat different foods.  We share the same nationality, but we are all as wonderfully diverse as our country’s landscape.  The coast of Maine is not like the prairies of Kansas or the tree-lined roads of Alabama or the huge redwoods of California or the small towns of Texas.  And the people who live in each of these places are wonderfully different from each other, too.  When you actually sit and talk to people, you realize that although we are different, we do share a common heritage as Americans.

So this is a value I grew up with, and something I am excited to pass along to my children.

People think we’re crazy.  Six people in a minivan, driving more than 4,000 miles across the American landscape.  But if you don’t drive that far, you’ll never see it.  You can’t fly to most of the most amazing and beautiful parts of our country.  And like the Pixar film Cars so aptly celebrated, if you don’t get off the highways and onto the old two-lane roads, you miss the small towns and amazing people that make America great.

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In less than thirty days, our family embarks on our next great road trip.  We will be traveling from Washington to Idaho to Utah, through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  We’re going to get off the interstate, on to some small highways, and stay in small towns and eat in local restaurants that aren’t part of a large corporation.  We will visit National Parks like Arches, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Joshua Tree, and more.  (Yes, we are squeezing in a day at Disneyland, but that’s just a bonus.)

As the National Park system celebrates 100 years, there’s nothing better than getting in the car and going.  Get out of your routines and the normal places you travel.  Sure, it make take some getting used to, driving hundreds of miles for hours to get to a location, but when you get to see the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains, experience the heat of the afternoon sun and the clearest skies in the United States at Rocky Mountain National Park, you realize it’s worth it.  Visit Wall Drug, drive on Route 66, and walk the towpath of the Erie Canal–and talk to the people in these places and discover just how great these crazy places, and the people who live near them, actually are.

If you need to stay closer to home, that’s fine, too.  But don’t be content to just stay at home, and don’t get on a plane.  Visit a local National Park (they are all over the place, and sometimes they are in your backyard–we just visited the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Preserve a short drive from our home and loved it), take a drive and get ice cream at a local place, stop  at small store and get a soda.  There’s a lot of fun to be had out there, you just need to get out and find your family’s adventure.  You’ll discover you have a lot more in common with folks than you realize, and you’ll have some fun along the way.

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It’s just a thought, but maybe if we all took a few more road trips and traveled through the towns and neighborhoods of our country, seeing just how incredibly beautiful it is, we’d see each other in a different light, too.  There’s a huge value in the road trip experience, because not only does it create memories and bring your family closer together, it can bring you closer to the incredible ties we share as Americans.

 

8 Fun (and Inexpensive) Things to Do With Your Kids This Summer

I’ve been thinking about what to put in this blog for a few weeks now.  Summertime rolls around and as parents we want to pack in the most memorable fun-filled summer vacation EVER!  So I went on Pinterest to gather some ideas and I was somewhat frustrated and irritated.  There were lists and lists of 100+ Things to Do With Your Kids This Summer!!!

Please.  I don’t need  a list to tell me to get out the play dough.  (In fact, any mom in their right mind probably hates play dough. Or maybe that’s just my OCD that hates those dried up pieces of play dough that seem to collect into the corners of the kitchen until you get out your vacuum hose and manage to suck them all up.)

But I digress.  I want to create a really fun summer for my kids.  Not just things to do around the house everyday.  Being a working mom, that can sometimes be a challenge, so I just need to make sure that your days off are very intentional.  Do what works for you, but just do it.

This lists actually consists of things that our family does each summer.  (And not to brag, but we do them really well.)  The most important thing to remember is to have fun!  I hope you enjoy your summers as much as we do!

  1. SUMMER READING PROGRAMS.  Each and every library around the country has a summer reading program.  And it’s a safe bet to say that most of these programs have some incentives if your kiddos complete their goals!  Even my teenagers, who usually finish their goals in the first week, love the summer reading program.  And what’s great is when they complete one goal, they can work toward a second goal and more prizes. Check out your local library to find more information.  Cost: Free
  2. GO ON A DAY DRIVE AND HAVE A PICNIC.  This is another one of our favorites, because we love hopping in the car for adventures.  And kids love picnics.   You can find most picnic supplies fairly inexpensively at garage sales or thrift stores or search your garage.  All you really need is a table cloth or picnic blanket and a cooler.  Throw in some fun food (I try to pack things we wouldn’t normally eat at home like Uncrustables and potato chips) and a first aid kit, fill up your gas tank, and you’re good to go! Cost: About $50 (gas, food, etc.)
  3. DOLLAR STORE VISIT.  Seriously!  My kids, even my teenagers, LOVE going to the dollar store.  Give them each a couple of bucks, which I can usually find in the couch cushions or seats of my car, and let them have fun!  I love watching them figure out how they’re going to spend their money.  But my caveat is, whatever they purchase, they have to use once we get home. Cost: $1-$20 (Depending on how many kids you have and how much you give them.)
  4. DOLLAR MOVIES. Every summer, Regal Cinemas holds their Summer Movie Express two days per week at 10:00 am. Kids can choose from two movies each week.  The kids even get a passport that gets stamped every time they to to a movie. The nice part is, it’s early enough that you don’t need to spend money on popcorn or candy. Cost: $1/ticket
  5. VACATION BIBLE CAMP.  This is a big one for us since my husband is a Children’s Pastor and VBC is his Super Bowl. Most churches around the country offer a school or camp, that usually lasts a week, and some are even free!  A week of fun activities, friends, and more–and less expensive than hiring a babysitter each day!  Check your local churches for more details, but if you’re in the Seattle area, click here to find out how you can be involved in our church’s Doctor Who themed adventure! Cost: $0 – $50
  6. GO TO THE BEACH.  Again, this one is free and fun!  We try to get to our local beach before noon because I like a non-sandy place to stake our claim.  The kids love being able to come and go as they please and who doesn’t enjoy a relaxing day in the sun? Make sure to pack a high SPF sunscreen, lots of water, and baby powder to get the sand out of their toes easily.  Cost: $0 – $20
  7. SET UP A POOL.  When our kids were younger, every summer we purchased an inflatable pool.  They’re usually inexpensive if you get theme early enough so we didn’t feel bad throwing them away at the end of the summer. Last year we purchased an inflatable water slide and pool for them and we have easily gotten our money’s worth.  Obviously we won’t throw this one away until it’s full of holes, but this is another activity that doesn’t cost a lot of money and is so much fun for them.  Yes, it is work to set it up and take it down, but it’s so much fun!  And the memories that your kids will make will far outweighs the inconvenience of an end-of-the-day-deflate-session. We sometimes throw in some bubble bath or water toys to add to the fun, which again, you can get at the dollar store. Cost: $20-$100
  8. SET GOALS AND GUIDELINES FOR LAZY DAYS.  Since there are days when my kiddos are home  without me, I like to set schedules for them.  And they are scheduled down to the minute. Believe it or not, kids thrive on routine, so even though it is summer, there are things that are expected of them.  They have chores.  They still eat healthy and exercise. And they get rewarded when their daily goals are met!  It’s amazing how much mileage you can get out of them by putting an Otter Pop or pool time at the end of the morning. If you want my specific schedule for my kids, please leave comment and I will send it to you!  Cost: $0

3 Rules Every Family Should Live By

Since my eldest was born 17 years ago, my wife and I have realized there are many things people say children should learn, many things parents should focus on to ensure their kids turn out great, to have a happy family.  We’ve tried a few of them.  Some of them have worked, but many of them have been real stinkers.

We’ve done our best.  We’ve had some highs, and we’ve had some lows.  We don’t focus a lot on grades, we don’t sign up for a lot of extracurricular activities.  We may have yelled more than we meant to, and I’m pretty sure we’ve frustrated our kids’ teachers more than once with those middle of the school year vacations.

Yet, in spite of our mistakes, I’m told quite often, “You have great kids,” or “Your family always seems to have so much fun.”  I like that.  I love it when someone compliments my children and says nice things about them.  It means a lot to me when someone notices the smiles on our faces.  As a parent, we know all the ways our kids screw up, so when someone stops and says something nice, it makes me stop.  When they compliment our family, it makes me pause and wonder–maybe we’re doing something right?

Recently, I think I discovered what my wife and I are doing right. In our flawed but fun way of doing things, I think we’ve hit on the right formula for having a great family, and some pretty good kids.  Here are our family’s three rules.  I’m hopeful these will work for you, too.

Rule #1: Create memories.  Wherever you can.  Whenever you can.

Whether it’s a National Park, a trip to Disneyland, or just dressing up like pirates for free donuts–memories are a lasting gift we can give our kids that will outlast us.  Do we go to Disneyland a lot?  Yep.  Have we worn out vehicles by driving on long road trips to National Parks across the West?  You bet.  You can save a lot of money, have a great plan for retirement, and have nicer things.  But I’d really rather have the memories, because these will stick with me–and them–for the rest of our lives.  Because of these memory-making adventures, we’ve created an incredible familial bond.  The bonus?  We actually like being together.

Rule #2: Serve others.  Individually. Collectively.

As a pastor, my kids are stuck at church.  A lot.  This could either be a cause of resentment, or it could be a way to help my kids discover ways they can make a difference in the life of someone else.  When we serve others, we get the focus off ourselves and start thinking about others.  All three of my oldest kids serve in some capacity at our church.  My oldest kids have acted in various Vacation Bible Camps, lead worship, run media, and lead small groups of elementary age kids.  My youngest daughter serves every week leading 2 year olds.  There’s nothing better than seeing them leading kids younger than themselves, and finding ways to use their talents for the good of someone else.  And to be honest, my favorite moments in ministry have been those days when we all get to do it together.

Rule #3: Show honor.  At home.  At school.  Everywhere.

We are all inherently selfish people, and we all naturally think of ourselves first.  When we focus on honoring others first, in our words and actions, we remember that “It’s not all about me.”  We use an honor chart to keep track of whether we are acting honorably or not (even the parents), and it really helps us put others first.  If I can teach my kids to live and act and speak honorably to others, then I will have done something good for the world.

There you have it.  Our three family rules.  If you do #2 and #3 right, go out and celebrate, which leads you back to #1.  Repeat as often as possible.

The Most Important Thing You Can Give Your Kids This Summer

Why does your family go on vacation so often?

Not long ago someone asked me this question, and I was surprised, because I don’t go on vacation more than most people.  I’m allotted a certain amount of weeks off per year, and I take that.  Three weeks, to be exact.

But then I also realized it appears like we go on vacation because we are often off on some sort of adventure.  A night in a hotel here, a trip to Portland there.  A quick drive to Sonic for milkshakes or a trip to Mt. Rainier National Park to play in the snow.  And suddenly, it looks like we do go on vacation a lot.  So why do we do that?  Why do we create these “Montague Adventures” as often as our schedules allow?  Because of the most important thing I can give my kids.

Time.

This is why my family puts such a big importance on creating adventures wherever we can.  It’s why we have chosen to forego a bigger house and why my wife and I both work extra hours and more jobs.  The greatest gift I can give my children isn’t a big check after I die. The greatest gift I can give them is a lifetime ofmemories, shared moments that we can never get back and never recreate.  So vacations and little adventures matter because it’s how I give my children the gift of what matters most: time.  It’s the one thing that no matter how I try to save it, I can’t.  Already, in the time it has taken to write this paragraph, my children are older and one step farther away from my home.

EPCOT_ECENTR3_7577874971We spend so much time apart: at work, at school, at this thing or that.  Giving each other the gift or your time is the best thing you can do, which is why I believe vacations matter.  Because they get you away from the everyday world, away from being apart, and if you’re lucky, standing in a long queue at Disneyland playing Heads Up on your iPhone.  It’s that easy.

Yes, vacations can be hard to save up for.   You may feel the need to justify to someone why you spent the money on it.  It’s not easy to save up for a vacation, because there is always something that is important that you need to do or pay for or replace.  But carpet always needs to be cleaned, clothes always need to be replaced, and things always seem more important than a vacation.

But here’s the hard truth: you only have a limited number of days and hours and minutes to create memories with your kids.  Which one is going to be more worth it it in the end?

DSCF0093You’ll never have another first trip to Disneyland, or first visit to Yosemite National Park, or whatever it is your family decides to do for vacation.  You’ll never get another chance to get that first Junior Ranger Badge, the first fist bump with Dale or laugh about the awful hotel you stayed in or the time a cow stared at you in the middle of the highway or the wild donkey you fed through the window of your minivan.

You’ll always have carpet or a car or a pressing engagement or whatever that other thing was.  Which do you think your kids will cherish more after you’re gone?

Vacations and mini-adventures may seem like a frivolous or expensive thing to spend money on.  But I wouldn’t ask for any penny I’ve ever spent at Disneyland back, give up any mile I’ve put on my van, because for every dollar, I have at least ten more memories like the ones I’ve just mentioned.  With my kids, with my best friends, with my wife.

The most important thing you can give your kids this summer isn’t another camp, another sport to practice.  It’s time with you.  Big vacation, small adventure.  A night out for milkshakes or a road trip to Mesa Verde National Park.  It’s not the what that matters, but the fact that you are doing it.

Time matters.  And one day you’ll have moments when your family says, “Remember the time…?”