Planning Travel for Ease, Frugality, and Fun

from Jeremy

When traveling with a kid it’s often best to think a little bit ahead in order to make the trip as easy as possible.  Among the things to think about are: Did you pack the stuffed animals that he’ll want? How about the books that keep attention best? Do you know where there are restrooms along the way? And, possibly most important, are you setting yourself up for success or failure through mealtimes?  

As all of us know, mealtimes are among the hardest times to travel. More often than not, we’re traveling through at least one meal.  Personally, I believe I may be responsible for deteriorating relations between the United States and China because of missed meals while in The Middle Kingdom.  I become a jerk when I’m hungry and tired, which is now referred to as HANGRY. There are many Chinese people to whom I owe sincere apologies because I was Hangry due to poor strategic travel planning in my past. 

Traveling with a child creates numerous opportunities for HANGRY to rear its ugly head, and not just from the kid.  Everyone on the trip can, and often does, get Hangry if we’re not careful.  So, what can we do to prevent Hangry from ruining an otherwise good trip, whether to Grandma’s or halfway across the world? Easy, plan ahead to factor in rest-stops, bring snacks, and if traveling over a meal-time, bring a meal.   

An example of this in action is when we were on a recent trip to Grandma’s house.  It’s a four-hour drive from our home in the DC area to Grandma’s place outside of Pittsburgh.  That covers a meal, no matter when we leave.  So, we figured we could stop in the normal place, about halfway, called Breezewood, which is a cluster of fast-food joints between Interstate 70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Or, we could bring our own resources with us.  As frugal people intent on not eating at fast-food places if we can avoid them, we were excited to bring our own food. The weather was great, and there is a rest-area just across the Pennsylvania border from Maryland on 70. 

We packed a lunch in a cooler bag, drove the almost 2 hours, and stopped at the Pennsylvania Welcome Center in Warfordsburg.  Bathrooms, picnic tables, and plenty of space to run made for a great break in our trip.  Over an hour eating, peeing, meeting and playing with flash-friends, and running allowed us to eat healthy, save money, be the social animals we’re meant to be, and work off our Hangry before it could take over our trip.  From that point on we’ve been packing picnics for all of our car trips. No more fast-food at rest stops, if we can avoid it, have fun, and eat better than any fast-food place can offer.  

As we prepare to travel internationally, though, we’re in more of a dilemma because we can’t bring everything we want on the plane.  Yet, we can bring lots of snacks, and make sure that we get what we need at the airport. Airport food is overpriced, but a little planning can help a lot here too.  Although we’re frugal, we’ve made one key agreement about when it’s ok to be prolific with money (whether traveling or not).  All need for food trumps all need to conserve money.  We will do our best to prepare ahead of time, bringing nuts, fruit, and other healthy snacks with us, wherever we go. Yet, without going overboard, we’ll always get food when we are without it, before we need it. This agreement stems from too many experiences when one of us (usually me) hasn’t eaten well and turns into a beast to be around. When this happens I find it very difficult to decide what to eat, causing even more of a problem, and becoming more and more pleasant every moment.  Preempting this Mr. Hyde of hunger is key to a continuing marriage, and possibly a continued life when in a foreign country.  Individually, we’re all bad at identifying when we actually need food, often waiting too long to eat.  Getting it when we can preempts waiting until we’re Hangry to then look for whatever options may available. 

What we suggest is when you’re preparing for a trip do a little thinking ahead of time.  What meals will you be traveling across?  Can you bring food for those meals? If so, great!  If not, can you set yourself up for success by purchasing what you need before that meal-time comes, so that you’re ready when you’re hungry? Even if it’s hours in advance, it’s far better to have a cold sandwich than to be scrambling for food only to find a candy machine in a hallway as your only option. Involving your kid in these preparations will help a lot too.  Encourage him to pick out the lunch and snacks he wants.   

Thinking about where you can stop to stretch your legs, run around, make a new friend, and have a bite before you get into your car or on the plane can help make the trip far more pleasant, not to mention less expensive than simply winging it and hoping to find something you can eat along the way. Maybe look at the map together, picking out where everyone wants to stop along the way (although it's often hard to get any agreement to stopping on the way to Grandma's House because we're on our way to see Grandma, and that can't wait!). 

Finally, if the weather doesn't let you make an outside picnic an enjoyable experience, consider having a car picnic, or taking your picnic lunch in with you to a rest area's shelter building. Often times, you can find a place to sit and eat that is covered, even if you're trying to stay out of the rain. Although, running in a warm rain is a great way to melt away the power of Hangry, if you've eaten first. 

What do you do before trips to prepare for the journey? 

When traveling on your own, or with children, how to you ensure that you don’t end up Hangry? 

Have you altered the relations between two countries by not thinking through your meal options?