With family all over the county, the hubs and I have been road-trippin' with the little ones since the first was a teenie newbie. Now there are 3. And because we break them in early, they have all turned into relatively good travelers. This training is essential for road trip survival, as sooner or later, you'll have a trip that turns out to be... "memorable."
...Like possibly one trip that includes breaking down on the side of the interstate, hours from home and hours from your destination, with a toddler and kicking baby in utero, in 102 degree weather. And on the way home from the same trip, you'll get caught in a tornado-esque thunderstorm that forces you to pull off the road and stay in a hotel. But wait, there's more. The town you pull into will be hosting the State Fair and every single hotel will be booked solid, except, of course, one "presidential suite", in one hotel that will cost more than the repairs on the car did from 7 days earlier...
So, having a bit of experience in this department, below is my recommended formula for a successful road trip with young children (or at least one that doesn't make you want to drive straight into the Mississippi).
1. Do not have a "plan." Set a general time frame, but be willing to be so flexible that there is basically no plan. If you have your mind and heart set on arriving at Grandma's by 7 p.m., you will not. You will arrive at 11:42 with bloodshot eyes and crying kids. If you try your best to maintain the "we get there when we get there" mentality, you will fare much better. I promise.
2. Be willing to stop for long-ish periods of time. Rolling to a slow crawl into Jimmy Johns and expecting to be back on the road within 8 minutes is not recommended. Instead, stop somewhere for an hour. If you pass a McDonalds play area, let your kids hang out a bit and pick up some extra germs to bring along to Aunt Sara's. A longer, more relaxed meal break also allows ample time for potty breaks, diaper changes, and leg-stretching. This strategy may lengthen the trip, but the whole crew will be happy and refreshed for the next leg of the drive.
3. Be comfortable! This goes for everyone -- even Mom and Dad. We live in a yoga pants world, so if there is ever a day to rock the "what-should-be-pjs-but-we-call-them-pants" pants, it is the day of a road trip. Don't try to stuff yourself into the skinny jeans today. If you want to be more presentable when you arrive, stop somewhere and freshen up before pulling in the driveway. Or don't, and arrive disheveled and with Cheez-its crumbs all over you, like we do!
4. Allow your kids some special treats to ensure their comfort as well. If you are setting out early in the morning or arriving late in the night to your destination, let the kids hang out in their pajamas for part of the drive. Have them bring along their favorite blanket, pillow, and snuggle friend.
5. Let your children have input on packing and snacks. Have them each bring a small backpack to keep nearby with a few favorite books or toys and snacks. Let this be their responsibility to choose what goes in the bag (with final approval from Mom or Dad, of course).
6. Speaking of snacks, let some rules slide. This might be the time to acquiesce and allow fruit snacks or candy, or some other forbidden treat. Remember, this is a fun adventure! Mommy can break the rules a little bit while on the road!
7. Talk to your kids about compromise. There is no way a parent can maintain sanity and listen to Veggie Tales music for 13 straight hours. However, the kids deserve their entertainment too. Allow fair amounts of time for kids music before switching to grownup music. The same goes for screen time. After a movie or some time for video games (which ideally allowed Mom and Dad some peace and quiet), switch to some good old fashioned car games. 20 Questions! The License Plate Game! Oldies but goodies.
Okay, here's the real deal, parents. All of the above suggestions are merely that -- suggestions. But here is the ONE RULE that MUST BE OBEYED:
8. If baby is asleep: THERE IS NO STOPPING.