Tag Archives: hotels

Adventures in Traveling with kids

With eight hours worth of driving between NOLA and Houston, we decided to turn it into two shorter days of driving.  The kids and I had gone to Avery Island (Tabasco factory and Jungle Gardens) a few years back, and I had been wanting to take Gabe since then.  Ironically, even though we pass within ten minutes of it every 4 weeks, we just never made it there with him.  Since we decided to take two shorter days, we figured it’d be perfect timing to stop by when we had half a day without much else to do.

It rained off and on, which is par for the course in the south in summer.  But the Jungle gardens were swarming with mosquitos and we ended up with several very large welts.  So instead of a leisurely few hours spent walking under the huge oaks, we drove through at a fast pace, getting out only twice to look at things, before finally giving up and staying in the car for the rest of the tour.

By the time we left we were starving and decided to stop and get some diner food at Mel’s diner on HWY 90 between New iberia and Lafayette.  Actually really big portions for cheap prices.  My type of place when the kids are going through their growth spurts!

While we were inside, though, it rained.  Hard.  We brought the most expensive things into the cab of the truck, but most had to stay in the back.  We hoped all would be well.

Fast forward to bringing things into our hotel room. I opened the homeschooling suitcase to find half of the books with some sort of water damage.  SIGH.  They are now draped over the various tables in our hotel room, with me not holding my breath that they’ll dry by morning.

My daughter has very long, thick, curly hair.  We’ve been swimming all week.  And yes, it was tonight that the rat’s nest was brought to my attention.  The good thing was that I watched a semi-horror flick (October is the month for “scary” movies with us) that was entertaining while I brushed through her hair, taking breaks frequently because she got her mama’s tender head.

As a cap to a perfect day, I asked a certain son of mine to put the bag of left over Italian sausage and marinara in the mini fridge (I’d left the cooler in the truck because we are only here for one night and just brought in dinner).  He managed to not understand how gravity works and that the bag is called a ZIPLOC because you’re supposed to ZIP it shut.  Needless to say, I ended up scrubbing marinara off the room floor, under the mini fridge while my husband tilted it back.  SIGH. At least the carpet is already sort of brownish reddish.

On a good note, Cutthroat Kitchen is hysterical!  Love it.

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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.