On a recent road trip, my family of 7 and I drove over 50 hours in a 2 week time frame. That’s a lot of empty fields, my friends. Before we left, my second daughter and I set about preparing to have a successful road trip. We scoured Pinterest for ideas, sewed travel pillows, made a few purchases, put together lapboards, Lego boxes and activity bags.
And then we got in the car.
Some kids got sick, some seemed to be exactly timing their queries for more tablet time and shows, some people lost their temper once or twice and some very small children cried and cried despite several attempts to distract and console.
While some of the activities we made or purchased helped lessen the more trying parts of our road trip, we came to realize one very important fact.
Road trips are hard.
Road trips with young children are even harder. They make you sore, nauseous and bored as par for the course. If you’re a parent, you will be expected to distract, console and entertain while being all these things.
No, road trips are not the fun part, but to get to the fun part, they must often be endured. Getting through them successfully, necessitates establishing that one solid fact, and then dealing with a few of the difficulties. We learned a few lessons from this road trip and previous road trips (now going on over 200 hours worth) that have helped us more happily stay in the car with our little people for long periods of time that I am sharing with you today.
Don’t pack too much in the car.
Whatever you pack will blow up exponentially and your kids are not going to want to climb over 3 crates of activities, 2 sleeping bags and a giant stuffed elephant, someone had to have, each time they get out of the car. In addition, whatever we pack to play with has to fit a few criteria: it can’t be messy, have lots of little parts or easily melt.
Clean the car out frequently.
Our floor was clean when we started, but mysteriously filled up with stuff in just a few hours. Picking up the accumulated garbage frequently and throwing it out seemed to instantly free up the floor and lighten our moods.
Bathroom breaks for littles are a must every 2-3 hours. They’re going to tell you they don’t have to go, that the fruit juice they just gulped down will not be a problem, but they are wrong. That fruit juice will most definitely be a problem right in the middle of nowhere with as much traffic going by you as you’ve seen all day and nowhere to hide behind.
Also, stop when you are already in a city if you need to gas up, go to the bathroom or get some food. There are a surprising amount of long stretches of road with few amenities.
Plan on rules being a bit different from home.
Tablets and treats are generally somewhat restricted in our house, but not on the road because when the alternative was screaming, fighting or whining, it was way worth it to go over the limit. We have also learned not to expect our children to sleep at their usual naptimes or bedtimes. It’s nice when they do, but it’s kind of hard to sleep in a car and we’ve found that when we planned on them sleeping and they didn’t, it was way worse than when we hadn’t planned on them sleeping and they did.
Keep the rules if you can.
That being said, there is a reason we restrict tablet time and treats. Too much tablet time always makes my kids a little whiny and too many treats makes them sick. Sometimes it was necessary to put the tablets away, take a break from watching shows, eat some carrots and play some soft music to encourage sleeping.
Plan for everyone’s comfort.
My oldest daughter gets sick in the car, so this time, she downloaded an audiobook to her phone and listened to that when we weren’t doing something else. She was so much happier than usual. Sometimes a little thing, like a podcast for mom, a pillow for a toddler or a downloaded audio book for someone who gets nauseous can make all the difference between a long, exhausting road trip and a tolerable one.
The most important thing to pack is a cheerful attitude.
My husband is really good at bringing a bit of humor and silliness into the car, our kids are pretty good at playing with each other and entertaining their younger sibling and I found one of my most important contributions (which happened less than it should have) was just being willing to put aside my own desires and think about how I could help someone else be happier in the car. Sometimes that meant sitting between a few siblings, so, they could have a break from each other, sometimes that meant playing puppets with our toddler or helping his sister put stickers on her mosaic. I was much more willing to do these things when I had figured out little breaks for myself: permission to take a small nap, listen to a podcast or eat a treat. In the long run, taking a little time when everyone was happy to create my own happiness proved to be one of the most valuable preparations I made.
What about you what are some ways you try to make roadtrips with your family more tolerable?
Write it down in a journal, talk it over with a friend or leave a comment below or on Facebook.