Recently, while my husband was away for two weeks, I decided to go on an adventure to see my dad and sisters in Wisconsin. I call it an adventure because they live 4 1/2 hours away, and I was going to take this trip solo with two kids ages 4 years and 8 months. Given how my 8-month-old daughter performed on our last two-hour road trip in June….I was a bit nervous. The odds were certainly not stacked in my favor. So to ease my nerves, I made a plan…then the plan changed. But the good news is I survived this great adventure and came out with some great tips to share with you on how to survive a road trip with tiny passengers.
Road Trip Survival Guide:
Strategically Plan your Departure Time: You need to have a plan for when you will leave based on the maximum sleep time for your kids. Sometimes it works best to wake up super early when they are a bit groggy. If you are lucky, they will snooze a bit longer in the beginning, then take a solid nap or two. My WI road trip plan was to wake up at 5am and leave by 6am. Well, I had just had a whirlwind of a week without my husband, so I slept until 7, and so did the kids. We left by 8am. However, this did put us close to my baby’s first naptime. She slept the first half, woke, ate, slept the second half (until the last 15 minutes, of course). Planning your departures around a nap or bedtime is another excellent strategy, especially when traveling with infants.
Stay Fueled: Get Starbucks! My how times have transitioned. I remember McDonald’s being our road trip staple growing up, but now coffee and scones are our family’s go-to’s. I love enjoying a coffee on the early or mid-morning, semi-trafficless road. Aside from coffee, be sure to also pack a variety of snacks for you and your road trip buddies. It is fun to pack new snacks that they usually don’t get on a daily basis to keep the spirits up during a long car ride. And don’t forget the refillable water bottles!
Plan your Stops: Check your route ahead of time for any interesting spots along the way – local parks or large malls for wintertime stops. Try to find a place to run around a bit. A quick run-around on the lawn area of a rest stop can get the pent-up energy out of your littles, and it offers you some time to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. If you have brought the family dog, it will also give them an opportunity to stretch, use the bathroom, and eat some grass.
For this trip, I planned to stop at least twice based on how our previous road trip went. So, I was pleasantly surprised when we only had to stop once! My youngest had been awake from her first nap for 20 minutes before I could find a stop. So, I nursed her in a gas station parking lot while my son peed in my empty Starbucks cup.
You will definitely need to prepare yourself for more stops for potty training kids. Something I was going to use to help prevent extra clean-up and bathroom breaks was having my older child wear a diaper (we have not tackled nighttime potty training yet). But, he was very opposed to that idea, so I had planned to stop more often than we did. For my youngest, I changed her before we left and then at our 2 hour stop and when we arrived at our destination (roughly every 2 hours).
Prepare your Distractions: I wish I could be one of those moms who doesn’t use screen time on a long drive, but I just can’t do it. I already heard “are we there yet” about 100x in the first half of the trip. I had to purchase a new portable DVD player for the car that can sit on the back of the headrest and drug out all the DVDs we haven’t watched in years. It worked out almost perfectly with our stops because the movies were close to 2 hours. Near the end of the trip, I told him we were almost home, so we didn’t need to start a new movie. Next to his seat, there was an easily accessible backpack filled with toys and books. He was in charge of packing all his favorites into the backpack.
I have also heard of the idea of packing a bag filled with never seen before items that they don’t get to open until the start of the road trip. New, fun options would include activity books (our family is a sucker for Usborne books), iPads, interactive toys, play dough, sticker books, etc. This would be another great way to break up road trip boredom!
For the littlest of babes, car seat toys are the best option. Make sure they can attach to the bar so they can dangle and don’t get thrown to the backseat abyss. Teethers, bottles, pack all their favorites.
When all else fails, classic family fun road trip games like I Spy are a win. And I can’t forget to mention my ultimate favorite way to pass the time – have your own car concert! Embarrass those kids!
These are just a few tips that have kept our sanity as we adventure about with our littles. The ultimate test is in the works as we head to Chicago…in our 4 door sedan…6 hours away. So send all of the good road trip vibes that it doesn’t take us 12 hours to get there (I’m hoping it will only take about 7 1/2 hours).