Fall brings tournaments— many of which will be far out of town. I have always loved tournaments— in fact I’m going to one this weekend— but the travel can be expensive, stressful, demanding, and taxing on family scheduling. How do we travel to these events and still keep the lid on all the negatives? There are definitely things a family can do that can make trips both enjoyable and manageable.
One very important preliminary planning step for any tournament trip would be to insist that there is a team meeting before the season even starts. This is where you can let the team manager know that you like to travel with your family, but you also need to keep to a budget. You’ll probably find that other families feel the same way but might be afraid to speak up. Robbie played on a team where the parents always wanted to stay in higher class hotels. It got pretty pricey, especially when we had Bryce with his own tournaments. Now I’m not a double bed kind of gal, so I know that getting queen beds usually requires a bump in price. A savvy manager can get some good deals by using the increasing number of websites with hotel coupons (hotelcoupons.com, travelcoupons.com, groupon.com, etc.). Occasionally large tournaments will pre-assign hotels to teams. Even in those cases you can see if there are greater discounts online, especially for major hotel chains.
Team meetings are also the place to find rides for your child if you can’t attend a tournament. Don’t be shy about asking for help. Likewise, volunteer to take a player or two if you have the extra car space. We usually got two rooms when we went to tournaments and bunked the boys in one room while we parents stayed in another. The families pitched in to cover the cost of the second room and kids brought their own food money. We always felt comfortable asking a family to help us out when we needed to be two places at once. Most soccer families understand that they will need to have help at one time or another so they are very willing to help out when they can.
Team meals can end up being really expensive if you don’t choose some reliably nutritious and reasonably priced restaurants. Kids can be picky eaters, so it’s not always easy to find places everyone will like. We have always found Cici’s Pizza, Sweet Tomato’s, most buffet restaurants, family style Italian restaurants such as Buca di Beppo and Mongolian grills allow for people to dine for $10 or less per person with plenty of food to satisfy anyone’s appetite. The team should plan ahead for meals using the internet to locate appropriate restaurants and making reservations if necessary. Last minute decisions often result in more expensive situations. Again, look for coupons to make the cost even more affordable (retailmenot.com/coupons/restaurantchains).
Usually you’ll drive to most tournaments but occasionally you’ll need to fly and rent a car. Knowing where and when to reserve flights is a complex and frustrating process. The best website I have found is CheapOAir.com, which has coupons to take an additional $10 to $25 off flights. They also have a best price guarantee. If you find a better price on another website within four hours of booking your flight they will either refund your entire ticket or refund the difference. This feature allows you to book and have the option to still search. Bing.com/travel/flights has a price predictor which indicates the best time to purchase tickets to your destination. Car rentals fluctuate constantly. Renting at the airport will always be the most expensive, so if you can get to a rental office at a hotel or in the city you will probably save substantially. It might be worth taking a free hotel shuttle to a rental office there. When reserving your car seek out satellite sites. Don’t be afraid to search non-traditional rental car services such as E-Z Rent-a-Car, Ace, or Advantage. As always, find online coupons to lower the cost even more (rentalcarmomma.com).
When you do make it a true road trip, how do you make the miles melt away? Road games of course! You can elect to do some classic non-equipment games or games that have been adapted to play in a car (or on a plane or train). While you may have a car equipped with an entertainment system, popping in a movie isn’t always the best way to develop family togetherness. Most kids have some type of portable gaming system, but again burying their heads in their Nintendo DS or clicking Angry Birds on their iPhone doesn’t promote family communication. Given our busy schedules, which include soccer practices and games, it could be a golden opportunity to turn a road trip into a family bonding experience. Disney offers ten great car games that only require enthusiasm and some eagle-eyed attention to the landscape (familyfun.go.com/vacations/classic-road-trip-games-713633/
). There’s also no need to purchase games like Car Bingo. These can be printed off from the web and kept in the car for any time you need them (momsminivan.com/printables.html). Additionally, plan ahead by looking at your route and finding some spots of interest where you can take a short break and see something of the land you are traveling. Find those scenic viewpoints, historical markers, and oddities that we often race past at 65 miles per hour. Most of us have GPS and don’t bother with AAA any longer for maps, but those wonderful Triptiks offer lots of information about highlights on your way to your destination. You can get them on-line and there is even a Triptik app you can download (www.aaa.com/AAA_Travel/AAAMaps/travel_directions.htm
Finally, make that road trip comfortable with plenty of fluids and snacks. You can get a "refrigerator" which operates off your car battery. These eliminate the need for ice and the mess that melting ice can produce. While you can get really fancy, there are coolers which cost under $75 and can be found at Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target. Since an ice cooler runs around $30 and requires the additional cost of ice, getting an electric cooler isn’t unreasonable. To help reduce bathroom breaks purchase the smaller bottles of sports drinks, juices and water. Kids will generally keep drinking until the bottle is empty. For snacks, you should avoid crumbly items that will leave your car or van with a case of food dandruff. Also, most flavored chips have coatings that will smear all over your upholstery. Dried real fruit snacks, nuts, and granola bars make good choices as they are high in nutrition and low in mess. Don’t forget about old stand-bys like animal crackers and string cheese. Suckers and Tootsie Roll Pops can be a great long lasting treat so long as you can trust your kids not to lay them on the seats! I’m a huge fan of jelly beans which provide a variety of flavors.
I always get excited about the possibility of a road trip to a tournament. I really enjoy the journey and once we arrive I love watching other teams play so I can see the level of ability out there. We allow sufficient travel time so we don’t feel rushed and can adapt to those occasional traffic back-ups. We take breaks every two to three hours to make sure we don’t end up with "car fever" and let our circulatory system shake out. Road trips can be a wonderful time to see a bit of our country, have some conversations with our kids, and make discoveries if we plan ahead and have a positive attitude about the drive.