For Barbra and Camilo Ardila, of McKinney, Texas, family vacations with their four children, ages 6, 8, 10 and 12, are a top priority. The family stays busy year-round—Camilo, 41, teaches bilingual kindergarten; Barbra, 39, manages a life coaching and organizing business during the school year; and the couple runs a soccer camp business together. But when soccer camp ends in July, the family is ready to pile into their van and hit the road.
“Due to our family size, traveling by van is all our children have ever known,” Barbra says. “We love road trips. We’ve been to places like San Antonio, Branson [Mo.] and Hot Springs, Ark. No matter where we travel, the best part of vacation is not the tourist attractions, but the family memories we make.”
Barbra believes smart planning paves the way for fun. Here are some of the family’s tips for planning an enjoyable and low-stress road trip—where getting to your destination can be at least half the fun.
Before selecting a vacation spot, the family explores the possibilities. “We start with a few ideas, then narrow down the options,” Barbra says. Among the questions they ask: How far is the drive? Are activities available for everyone to enjoy? Will convenient stops be available for food and potty breaks?
They look for accommodations with a small kitchen to save on food costs. “And with a family of six, we like to have laundry facilities available. This way, we pack fewer clothes and have room for each child to bring a backpack of activities—a trip journal, coloring pages, travel games and movies we can all enjoy, plus a pillow and blanket, and a cooler full of snacks and drinks,” she says.
The Ardilas share the errands required before a trip: servicing the car, filling up with gas, installing the proper safety seats and packing the night before leaving.
“We try to leave around 4:30 a.m. so the kids are asleep the first few hours of the trip,” Barbra says. “Camilo and I can enjoy the sunrise and the rare treat of a quiet conversation. As the children awaken, they read, listen to music or just watch the scenery as they wait for their siblings to wake up and anticipate stopping for our traditional breakfast feast.”
Make it fun
Barbra packs brochures about their destination and places they’ll pass along the way. Instead of continually asking, “Are we there yet?” the kids enjoy reading about and watching for what’s ahead. A map is a fun tool, too. “A map helps the time pass quickly as the kids and I mark off each city we pass and look for signs of our next stop,” she says.
Another must-have is a video camera to record candid moments on the road. “When I was a child, my mother would bring a tape recorder on trips and secretly tape my sisters and me talking ansinging,” Barbra recalls. “This provided plenty of laughs when we listened later on. We’ve continued this trip tradition with a video camera.”
Shared fun and road-trip memories help to bond the family. “We wouldn’t trade this precious and unique time, locked in a vehicle with our family, with no interruptions and loads of time to ask, listen, laugh, sing and sleep,” Barbra says.