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.