Category Archives: Traveling tips

Homeschool traveling tips

We are book heavy in our curriculum.  It’s really not good for traveling.  Those families who full time travel have mostly moved to online curriculum or kindle versions.  We are about 1/3 electronic.  But we are still very book heavy.  The most obvious way to travel with homeschooling is to go year round and when you find yourself out on a trip, take a break.  But for us, we can’t simply take a break every 4 weeks when we go for crew change.  If it’s a simple crew change, mostly, we will double up on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, as Tuesday and Wednesday are spent driving.  And I really don’t like sitting cross legged for eight hours because the entire floor in front of me is piled high with books.

So, what to do when you’re on a week or more trip and you don’t want to take a break?  First, most school is set on a weekly schedule that has a light day.  Usually Fridays.  Projects are turned in, tests are taken, you schedule your field trips, and in the case for any Well-Trained Mind student, you spend a day outside and journal about nature.  For longer trips, the day spend in the car to get where you’re going, I use as my light day.  A few notebooks, my laptop, and some pencils.  Make sure you stop for longer breaks for lunches.  Find a state park or a beach.  Let them explore.  When you get back into the car, hand out their nature notebooks and let them journal.  At the very least, it means 30 minutes of no talking or whining!  Tests have been given in the car, written or verbally for younger ones.  And the long time spent in the car gives us more time to discuss what we’ve been learning about and let Daddy give some new fun facts we didn’t know about.  We might talk about whether Pluto is a planet this month, or talk out exponents with our son who is great with math, but not really book math (he was able to find what the total cost, after tax, was at age 4, but when we started studying multiplication and decimals in school, he was lost until I explained what it meant and what the real work application was.)  We’ve discussed how many wars were based solely on one man’s desire for more power.  We’ve talked in circles around what Revelation might actually mean.  We’ve critiqued books read, and paintings seen.  Talk to your kids.  Find out what they know and what they don’t.  Find out what they like versus just what they are “good at”.  Include them in trip planning, map reading, and budgeting for the trip itself.  Discuss possible cultures you may encounter at your destination.  Discuss differences in flora and fauna from where you live.  These are all valuable.  This is where the real learning comes in.  This is where they can connect the dots of everything you’ve been making them memorize and recite and read and write.  One other thing that we focus on in the car is music.  We listen to a very wide variety of music.  But we have these CD’s that are the life and story of famous classical composures.  It’s one of those things that I rarely turn on while we are home, even though my children know the music very well because we listen to a lot of classical.  So while we are in the car, I might take one of those hours and play one of the life stories.  The other audio thing we listen to in the car is foreign language.  At this point it’s getting a bit ridiculous for us because we’ve got three different foreign languages going.  And the kids aren’t always tolerant of someone else’s language lessons.  But we explain everyone will get their turn.  One of the ways having three siblings makes you a bit more patient.  You learn to wait.

During the stay part of our trip, we carry on much like when we are home.  We have breakfast, do school, have lunch, and then the afternoons and evenings are free to sight see or just hang out by the pool.  If there are extra projects for school, we will sometimes do them ahead, or after, the trip.  This is partially for space…..I don’t want to bring an entire lab to a hotel room, and partially for time….big projects take up a lot of time and we’d rather be out seeing stuff.  If we are planning on seeing something that will keep us out longer than dinnertime, I will just switch lunch and dinner.  Have a big meal after homeschooling, pack up some sandwiches for dinner.

As a small anecdote, getting ready for this last trip to NOLA was stressful for me.  The day before we left (Thursday) the kids were doing everything in their power to make school difficult.  I finally closed the books and said “That’s it!  We can do school in the car tomorrow!”  Which we all know I hate to do and I’m betting they figured I’d ignore it and we would just double up on Monday.  And I almost did.  We did the nature journalling on the way, and talked in the car.  But I dreaded having to bring a medium sized suitcase full of books into the car below my feet.  But I guess God felt it was absolutely necessary to learn that day.  We got to Baton Rouge and traffic stopped.  I don’t mean stop and go.  I mean stopped.  We sat in one spot for an hour.  There was a major accident and I-10 east was closed until they could recover everything and everyone.  15 minutes in, I got out of the truck, grabbed the suitcase, opened it up on the edge of the truck, and pulled out what we needed for the day.  I got many curious looks from the cars around us.  Probably because there was nothing much else to interest them. Either way, I got back into the car and started up school.  We lowered the windows and turned off the engine (it’s a diesel…..read that $$$$$) and learned all about how atoms are NOT the smallest things and how every time someone finds something smaller, everyone else has to own up that they DIDN’T discover the smallest building blocks of all matter.  By the time we got going again, I was able to put half the books back into the suitcase so it wasn’t quite as crowded.

Lesson: In life and in learning, if the tide takes you out, learn to roll with it.

Food Travelling tips pt 2

Drinks:

If you’re kids are like mine, they don’t have an appreciation for water like I wish they would.  And if you’re like me, you don’t have an appreciation for driving 8 hours in a car with 4 kids all hopped up on sugar.  So, what to do?  MIO!!!  Love this stuff.  First off, it’s OK if you’re on a diet or low carb or whatever.  Second, it’s got great taste, nothing like one of those Crystal Light things that, to me, always seemed kind of sickly sweet.  And the kids will pick Mio over Gatorade any day.  A few bucks will be enough for a gallon or more, depending on how much you like to put in it.  And a gallon of water is under $1.  To put that into perspective, I can provide drinks for a full day of driving for under $5, versus buying gatorades or sodas every two hours at gas stations, which at $2/each, comes out to $12 every two hours.  Also, there is a HUGE difference in the kids’ behavior when we get into the hotel at night if they haven’t been sucking down sugary drinks all day.

Snacks:  All in all, I’m against most snacking.  It’s mostly unnecessary, IMO.  Especially with older kids who aren’t at a stage of growth where it’s needed.  But snacks are fun for a movie when you’ve finally lugged everything up to the room and are sitting down for a family movie night.  Or to pass the long hours in the car.  Popcorn is an easy one.  Every gas station has a microwave you can use.  But it’s messy, so I prefer it when we aren’t in the car.  Jerky is one of the cleanest snacks.  Very little crumbs and you don’t have to worry about cheesy fingers or anything.  We’ve done fruit, veggies, chips, and candy.  When we are on a trail, I tend to bring food that can be grazed on a bit more than if we are at a hotel/campsite, or in the car.  But that’s because our bodies are working harder and it’s more necessary.  On the trail, I’ll also pack sandwiches that are cut in half so we can eat as we want, a bit here and a bit there.

Breakfasts:  I’ve read a lot about non-perishable cooking for being on a trail.  Lots out there about making your own biscuit batter at home, or pancake mixes.  You can get a box of pancake mis for $2.50 and it feeds the six of us two pancake breakfasts. Also good for making biscuits.  Just add water.  Hotel/microwave only breakfasts….bagels and cream cheese is a big winner.  Sometimes I’ll hit Walmart and grab a few types of muffins.  And flavored oatmeal packets.  If I can cook, breakfast burritos are great (eggs, cheese, chorizo, green salsa, and tortillas).  Costs at $1.50/person.  Ham, egg, and cheese pita pockets.  Sub in bacon (which comes shelf stable), sausage, leave out eggs (for my daughter who only likes them in sauces and cakes haha), change out pita for tortillas, english muffins, toast, etc.  Generally speaking, I prefer pita and tortillas because they pack well.  They aren’t as likely to be crushed in the process of traveling.  They stay fresh well, and they also make it easy to eat by either using a pocket or rolling them up (egg salad sandwiches are less messy in a pita, from my experience).  This sort of breakfast sandwich comes in around $1.25/person, depending on what you’re using.

Lunches:Salads or sandwiches of some sort are our mainstay.  Pasta salads are great and super filling.  Make ahead and either store dressing separately, or add a bit extra because the pasta will soak up the dressing and it won’t taste quite as strong.  Use ziploc bags to store, and then afterwards, use them are your trash bag for your paper plates and napkins, or as a way to keep the dirty forks until you get into the hotel at night.  I like to stop at places where there’s natural beauty (like a river) or a large area to play (some rest stops are great….but do some homework and find something the kids can really play hard on while parents rest in the shade!!!)  So any lunch on the road is made the night before or the morning of, depending on how complicated it is.  When we are going out to sight see, I’ll make up lunch as I make breakfast and then we will tailgate it somewhere in the city.

Green salads, especially Caesar, are great and easy.  Greek salad or some other sort of vegetable salad is nice to give some variation during a long trip.  We have a few different pasta salads that are a crowd pleaser, generally, so we focus mostly on those.  When you’re traveling, it’s nice to know you’re not going to have to make two different meals because one of the kids doesn’t like this one.  Even if that means you’re eating peanut butter and jelly…..hey, that’s super yummy!  Grab some milk and have a nice lunch!

You can take any of the combinations from breakfasts and make them lunch sandwiches.  Added to that, hummus, pita pizzas, quesadillas, tuna, egg salad, chicken salad, crab and avocado, turkey sandwich roll ups, and the its goes on.  Almost anything can be put on pita or rolled up in a tortilla.  On the other hand, if you’re low carb and you’re family isn’t, anything that is rolled up in a tortilla can be put on a bed of lettuce.

A great way to keep one meal warm, or cold, is to get a backpack cooler.  If you’re like me and don’t feel the urge to spend hundreds of dollars on some backpacker’s insulated backpack, then do what I did.  Go to the baby section of your local Target and find an insulated “diaper bag” that’s a backpack for $25.  It fits one meal for six of us.  I’m sure I could fit in another 4, but I haven’t had to yet.  If it needs to be cold, put a small ziploc of ice in there with it.  If it needs to be warm, get a few of those hand warmers that last 12 hours.  Super easy.

Dinners: two methods that work the best are either one-pot meals, made on site, or freezer meals, made ahead at home.  You can look up one-pot meals online to get about a billion different recipes.  Mostly, it’s just a matter of adding enough liquids to cook everything, and knowing what order to put everything in.  In an electric skillet, you can make even stews in them due to the high sides and large volume they hold. Most recipes you already have can be converted into a one pot meal.  I recommend trying it at home first.  Not fun being exhausted, sunburnt, tired from working on a dinner for 45 minutes, just to find out it sucks.  Try it at home first!

Almost everything can be frozen.  If you’re using pasta, cook to just al dente’.  In the freezer, the pasta will soak up more sauce and get softer.  If you have a lighter sauce, such as in pina colada shrimp, store rice separately, otherwise the rice will soak up so much sauce, you won’t be able to taste it anymore.  Frozen meals are also great because they take up less space than the ingredients do prior to cutting them up and cooking them all.  Plus, you have less reason to over load your cooler with ice because the food itself is acting as the ice source.  Another tip is to break up some meals into smaller ziploc bags.  I use this for certain meals Gabe and I like but the kids don’t, or for single serving low carb for myself so that later on I don’t have to have one more lettuce wrap, or cook two meals.

At home, I’ll freeze casseroles prior to baking them, and then bake the night we are eating it.  For traveling, I bake ahead, let cool, and then dish it out into ziploc bags.  There’s no need to have extra casserole dishes.  You can microwave it to heat it up.  Best way to defrost for the first few days when everything is still frozen is to move the dinner for that night to the top of the cooler before you leave for the day.  By the time you get back it should be defrosted, but you don’t have to worry about either 1. animals or 2. spoilage from being left out all day.

Food Traveling Tips pt 1

On top of fun trips we take, we also often go on shorter drips for business.  Every 28 days, I either drop Gabe off, or pick him up.  We have one car and so me and the kids make one over night round trip from Waco, TX to Houma, LA every four weeks.  Every 2nd or 3rd month, we also include a slight detour to my doctor which is located about an hour out of the way, but all in all, not too bad considering the whole trip is 8 hours.  When we see my doctor, because the appointment is typically a few hours long, we break it up into two days of traveling in the car.  On top of that, we also we sometimes take our first few days of Gabe being off the boat to hang out somewhere in a cabin.  Or, like this week, his office needs him to go to a class.  They pay for the hotel and me and the kids tag along for the week.  Because we’ve done so much hotel stays, but I’ve rarely blogged about them, and this trip has had more than it’s share of weird issues crop up, I thought I’d blog a bit and share what’s worked for us.

First question, before I get into how much work it is to prepare for even a one night turn around with four kids, why?  Why not just grab some McDonald’s?  Or taste the local cuisine?  Enjoy the trip, right?  Well, there’s a few reasons.  First I want to admit that we DO eat out!!!!!  We’ve stopped at gas stations and grabbed Hunt’s pizza (yuck), and breakfast at Bucee’s (double yuck!).  We’ve had brisket in small places that looked closed but were amazing, and some over priced crap that looked pretty.  In fact, the main reason I go through the work is that Gabe and I LOVE to eat new foods and eat GOOD food!  And it’s costly.  For six value meals at McDonald’s (My kids have been eating adult meals for quite some time now…they’ve always had good appetites), it’s almost $40.  For six meals at Chili’s (good food, but generally middle of the road, price-wise), we are up at around $100 (not including alcoholic drinks).  When we go out to an oyster or sushi bar, we are at about $150-200.  Keep in mind this price is for ONE meal!  We eat three times a day.  If we don’t, my kids are great at pointing out how they are starving!  Now, because Chili’s is typically the minimum we are all willing to eat (I’m a good cook, and we like better foods), you can now see how $300/day in food isn’t sustainable for long.  Food is the number one cost of any trip we take. If we didn’t have kids, the hotel room or the diesel might be on top, but we have kids.  So food it is.  I work hard to provide most meals ahead to help with not eating out simply because we’re hungry, and nothing’s made.  Also, that way we can focus on a few restaurants over the course of a week and the financial hit isn’t so bad.

Alright, let’s get started.

1.  Tools of the trade.

We have a cooler (bought at Walmart) that’s 110 qt capacity.  I can fit about 5-7 days worth of food in it, plus the ice.  It’s also a great size for me to sit on, straddled on one end, and cut up food for dinner on a cutting board on the other end.  This is good for when we are tent camping and counter space is at a premium.  It’s not a yeti.  And it works just fine.

Ice.  The source of all cooler frustrations.  If we are tent camping and the cooler will be outdoors in the summer, dry ice is the way to go.  You put it on the bottom of your cooler, cover with newspaper.  Then put your frozen items on top, including regular ice, then another layer of newspaper if you don’t want the other food to be frozen, and finally the rest of your perishables.  In a hotel room, it stays around 70 and it’s in the shade, so dry ice isn’t needed as much.  In that case, some ice, and some frozen meals will pretty much get you through.  Pack frozen at the bottom and work your way up.

Ice PT 2: Don’t buy bags of ice.  Buy a few gallons of water, open and drain out 1/4 c.  And Freeze.  Will keep for 3 days indoors in a filled cooler.  When it defrosts, you have water to drink and none to drain from soggy veggies at the bottom.  Make ahead freezer meals and use those as ice.  And in the case that you weren’t expecting to need to buy bags of ice and then you do, keep it in block form (don’t drop it and spread it out) because it’ll stay frozen much longer.  Finally, if you are in a hotel and getting ice from the machine, get your gal. of water (that’s now empty) carefully cut the top off, leaving the handle.  Put ice in that.  It’s easy to hold, and when the ice melts, you won’t have to try to drain the huge cooler, just the jug with the handle still intact.  Refill, and replace in the cooler.

Food prep:  Few things are really needed.  Yes, I watch the Food Channel and drool.  But most of that stuff isn’t necessary.  You don’t need to bring your flash freezer with you to have good food while on the road.  A large plastic mixing bowl , a good knife, a small plastic cutting board, wooden spoon, can opener.  Other things that are usually in our pack are electric kettle, french press, corkscrew, and whatever other implements I’ll need for that specific meal plan, like tongs, or a spatula.  A potato masher works well as a whisk, and also helps break up ground meat as your frying it up.  An electric skillet can be used for hamburgers as well as something with sauce because it has high sides and a lid.  And I generally buy paper plates, but bring 6 bowls, 6 sets of silverware, a few steak knives, and everyone has their own hot/cold cup.

Food Clean up:  A few garbage bags, dish soap, washcloth, a few hand towels for drying.  Whether we are in a hotel, or we’ve stopped for a short hike and lunch on a long car trip, it’s important to clean it up and pack it out if you brought it in.  Don’t be a slob.