Are you traveling for the holidays this year? Us too! We actually travel full-time (as in we live in an RV) and I’m here to tell you how to make Thanksgiving special when you travel.
Traveling has always been a big part of our family culture. And now that we travel almost full- time for my husband’s job, we have to get inventive to keep holidays from feeling like just another “move.”
When you travel for Thanksgiving, it can be hard on your crew.
I get it!
You’re out of your routines, you’re “on” all day at the “event,” and you’ve had to TRAVEL there with kids. So, here are my three tips on how to make Thanksgiving special when you travel.
Make the Journey Special.
Make Your Thanksgiving Special.
I spent the past two Thanksgivings going to visit my husband who was living more than 800 miles away from me, our three kids, and our dog. We had lots of miles to drive there and back.
It sounds exhausting, but these trips are some of the best memories I’ve made with my kids. Here’s how I survived (and thrived) on our way to Thanksgiving and back the past two years.
1. Set milestones in your GPS instead of the entire journey.
When I tell people that I drive 800 miles in a day-and-a-half with my kids (solo), they look at me like I’m bonkers.
It seems overwhelming until you set milestones. I start the trip with my planned overall route in Google Maps. Then I set the directions for the next stop in my phone GPS. This helps my intense child know “how many minutes until we get there.”
2. Stop at the state lines or every 3-4 hours.
I figured out that driving across a state (or half of Kansas) is about the time it takes for my foot to cramp up, my kids to get bored, and my bladder to need a break. So, we stopped at the state lines.
The great thing about state lines is there are large rest areas to let the kids (and dog) run.
3. Eat in the car. Run at the stops.
We eat out of the cooler for one meal and eat one meal out. This helps us save money and take a break. We typically eat fun foods we wouldn’t typically buy, like Lunchables. We, also, eat in the car so we can play when we stop.
Then, we pick a restaurant to “theme” our trip. We’ve done Steak-n- Shake, Chik-fil-A, Moe’s, or something like these. This gives the kids something to look forward to. Typically, we know what we’re getting before we arrive. We even have a chant for Steak-n- Shake. Believe it or not, I can feed all four of us for less than $20 at these options.
4. Decide how far you can reasonably drive.
Our limit is 600 miles in a day. I can do more if I absolutely must, but we’re all done beyond that point. We’ve gotten super creative in tackling this problem – we carry camping equipment everywhere. But, we also stay in the same hotel chain so we can earn points and we typically know what to expect.
5. An hour of audio for an hour of tablets or movies.
My secret weapon in traveling with my kids is that I alternate their attention. When you drive as much as we do, it’s kind of hard to not rely on some digital media.
So, we do a few things – download Netflix content, rent Redbox movies at one stop and turn them in at another, aim to finish an audiobook before we finish the trip, download a few podcasts, make a music playlist, and carry some simple art supplies.
My kids have to give me one hour of audio book for one hour of tablet time. That’s golden because we’ve finished dozens of books (and they usually ask for one more chapter).
Bonus Tip: Plan a random stop for a part of your drive. Our favorite stops have been following a random road sign to some “wonder.”
We’ve seen an amazing natural bridge in Alabama, the geological center of the nation in South Dakota, and some amazing waterfalls in North Carolina.
Make this YOUR family’s holiday.
We typically plan our Thanksgivings to be with particular friends and family for a day or two. This is the perfect window to see everyone and catch up. It’s kind of a whirlwind when you do it this way, but it’s so fun too. It helps when we’re thinking about how to make Thanksgiving special.
We try to line up a visit to parents, cousins, and friends as well as one big “just us” activity on a holiday trip.
If someone has room for us, great. We arrange that ahead of time. Otherwise, we take our camper or tents or get a hotel room. These stays are part of the memories.
Our kids love waking up at Walmart when we’re traveling in the RV – and it’s totally legal! We like to be ourselves outside of the festivities. We’ve even left a family event to get a hotel room so we could relax. It’s healthy and you have to do what’s best for YOUR family.
Go non-traditional with the menu (or don’t).
This year, we’re going to a family member’s cabin in the mountains – just us! We’re super excited about having a big kitchen and a HOT TUB. So, we’re planning a more traditional Thanksgiving – turkey, mac-n-cheese, stuffing, green bean, and pie.
Last year, we went to the beach and decided that we’d find a restaurant. We ended up eating Thanksgiving at a table built on the other side of a grand piano. The kids had ONE option for food and the restaurant only had goblets for tea.
I was sure it was going to be a disaster. However, we still talk about how fun that place was. When you travel, it’s tough to have all the ingredients and to recreate Thanksgiving “just like home,” so don’t! Make new Thanksgiving traditions.
Bring a dish. Eat tacos or pancakes and bacon. Go on a hike. Go ice skating.
Do something that you’ll all remember.
Keep it simple.
Keep it fun.
Make it about cherishing your time together.
That’s how you can make a special Thanksgiving.
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Amanda Brandon is a homeschool mother to three wild kiddos – Big Girl (11), Man Cub (6) and Princess (5) – and an unruly Boxer dog (Pepper). Her husband’s job changes with the weather (catastrophe insurance work), so the whole family picked up joined him for the Epic American Roadtrip. She writes about faith, professional motherhood, homeschooling on the road, and traveling with kids at AWorkofGod.com. Follow her on Instagram @aworkofgod.
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