What is the most exciting day of the year?
Nope, it’s not your birthday. It’s not the day when your favorite store marks all the good stuff down by 75 percent. It is the last day of school when your kids step off the bus and their entire vacation looms ahead, filled with the promise of excitement and adventure. And while there is plenty of summer fun to be had in the weeks ahead, the best part of vacation time is packing up and going on a family trip.
There are two things you need to know about a family vacay. The first is that planning a road trip involves a lot of work. The second is that all that hard work is a really worthwhile investment because you will be creating priceless memories with your family. Reaching out to my kids for their favorite family trip memories brought a torrent of responses as we laughed about the bathroom door with no lock at a Buffalo hotel, the salami sandwich suppers that were an annual tradition on our trips to Sesame Place and munching hot potato chips straight off the line at a Herr’s factory tour in Pennsylvania. So take the time now to find a day or two or three when everyone is available and plan a family trip. I promise you, you’ll be glad you did.
Depending on how far you are willing to drive, there are plenty of great places to visit that aren’t all that far away from home so just pull up Google maps and pick a direction. No matter which way you decide to go, the biggest challenge will likely be finding a vacation spot that will appeal to all age groups, but with a little planning, you can (hopefully) make everyone happy.
Find a destination offering a variety of activities that most, if not all, of your family members will enjoy. From museums to theme parks to Segway rentals, vacations are a great time to broaden your horizons and experience something new. Even old favorites like hiking, biking or roller blading take on a new complexion when done in a different locale. Try to take everyone’s preferences into account when planning each day, so that the kid who might not get too enthusiastic about a morning boating trip can look forward to an afternoon at the aquarium. Dividing and conquering is another great tactic to increase the odds of everyone being happy, so consider having dad take the boys to the batting cage while mom and the girls go for manicures, or having older kids enjoying the action at a minor league baseball game with one parent, while the other takes the younger ones to a nearby playground. Flexibility is really important when dealing with kids who have different interests, so be sure to have small toys and other small prizes on hand to distract restless youngsters so that the rest of the family can enjoy their outing. And don’t underestimate the value of snacks; it is amazing how an unexpected offer of junk food can suddenly transform a ho-hum experience into something your kids will always remember.
The obvious choice for getting to your destination would be to load up the family car and start driving but for those of you who are looking for a really unique way to travel consider renting an RV. The benefits are obvious: no suitcases to shlep and unpack when you get to your destination, your kitchen travels with you and there are no stops at unpleasant bathrooms in random places along your journey. You will need to park at a campsite every night, but the cost is often less than a hotel stay. While some might find the idea of an RV claustrophobic, as long as the weather is nice, you can take advantage of the great outdoors for meals and other family activities. RVs can range from extremely utilitarian towable trailers to full-size luxury vehicles that can sleep even a large family. You can expect to pay from $400 to several thousand dollars per week to rent an RV. No matter what kind of vehicle you choose for your trip, make sure that it is road-ready, with a fully inflated spare tire, because having a car related crisis while on vacation can be a real downer.
Not all that long ago, planning a trip involved lots of maps and if you were an AAA member, you could request a TripTik that would have page after page of mini-maps highlighting your route, but today just about everyone out there is using their in-car GPS, Waze or other navigation app to get from Point A to Point B. Consider breaking up your trip with a stop at an attraction or two along the way – getting everyone out of the car and involved in some fun can make a long drive seem a lot shorter. Books on tape are a fabulous way to make the miles whiz by and no family trip is complete without car games that involve counting license plates from different states or a round or two of the “I Went to Israel” memory game.
Keep everyone well fed on a road trip might seem daunting, but it isn’t all that hard to do in today’s age of convenience foods. Invest in a cooler and fill it up with foods that you know will go over big and think outside the box so that you aren’t eating sandwiches three times a day. Bring along something home cooked that you can serve cold for your first day’s meal – there is no Eller family vacation that doesn’t start with a lunch of tuna croquettes, crackers and cut up veggies – and bring along a mini grill, a small hotplate, crock pot, or even a toaster oven so that you can throw together simple, quick cooking foods. Book a hotel room with a refrigerator if possible, or bring your cooler inside and load it up with fresh ice every night to keep your food nicely (and safely!) chilled. Throw caution to the wind and let your kids have ice cream, donuts or peanut butter and Oreos for breakfast. I promise you, they won’t get malnourished from a meal or two that isn’t exactly a nutritional superstar, but they will forever remember those slightly wacky meals they ate on vacation.
Of course, depending on where you go, kosher food may actually be available. Ask around to identify the local kashrus agency at your destination and if they are up to your personal standards, find out what local eateries are under their supervision. In addition to restaurants, pizza shops and bagel places, some out of town locales may have prepared kosher food sold in supermarket food courts, colleges, JCCs and even food trucks and believe it or not, some of the offerings can be quite good. The same idea goes for minyanim. Ask your friends or Google “Orthodox synagogues” or “Chabad” at your destination and you may just find minyanim for your male family members throughout your vacation.
Most of all, relax and enjoy the opportunity to spend time with your clan. It is a no-brainer that everyone will be smiling when things work out as planned, but unexpected experiences often turn out to be the moments you will laugh about most down the road. So smile, pack your sense of humor and take plenty of family pix so that you can treasure those priceless family moments for years to come.
Where to go:
Norfolk, Virginia (6 ½ hours from Brooklyn)
Home to the world’s largest naval base, the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, Virginia Zoo, several museums, plenty of boating and just a stone’s throw from Virginia Beach, Norfolk is a great vacation spot. Getting there is just half the fun when you take the 23 mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, a four-lane crossing that traverses numerous islands and has overlooks where you can stop and go fishing. Kosher food is available at Mr. Shawarma, the Virginia Beach JCC’s Cardo Cafe, the Farm Fresh grocery store, and several local franchises including Cold Stone Creamery, Rita’s and Krispy Kreme, under the supervision of the Tidewater Vaad Hakashrus, with daily minyanim at Bnai Israel, the local shul. Break up your trip by enjoying the attractions in Ocean City, Maryland, hiking at Brandywine Creek State Park in Delaware or checking out the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey.
White Mountains, New Hampshire (6 hours from Brooklyn)
There is so much family fun to be had here, including Mount Washington, the Lost River Gorge and boulder caves, Franconia Notch State Park, Story Land theme park for the little ones and lots of ziplining adventures. Catch daily minyanim in Bethlehem where you can also find luxury accommodations and gourmet kosher dining at the Arlington Hotel. Stop along the way at the Springfield Museum complex in Vermont, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame or the Zoo in Forest Park. Take another detour on your way home through Hartford, Connecticut and visit the Mark Twain House and Museum, the Children’s Museum in West Hartford, or the Prime Climb rock climbing center in Wallingford. Depending on your route, you can either stop off at Kosher World in Waterbury for pizza or snacks, or top off your trip with a really lovely restaurant meal at Soosh or 613, both in Stamford.