I recently commented to several separate friends that I felt more comfortable and prepared to take my kids on an 8, 9, or even 10-hour flight than a two-hour road trip.
How ridiculous is that?
It’s true – we fly and travel by train a whole lot more than we ride in a car. So when Screech barfed several times in his car seat while we headed up the Capital Beltway into Maryland on our recent trip to the US, I was caught off guard. Embarrassingly so.
I had no paper towels, no change of clothes, nothing to clean him up or stop the flow of vomit.
Oh, and no GPS.
We just guessed on which exit would hopefully lead us to a shopping center, gas station, or fast food joint of some kind where we could clean the poor kid up.
After what seemed like hours on some random residential road, we found a McDonalds and helped ourselves to a tree’s worth of napkins. Doc Sci remembered we had a suitcase in the trunk with too-small clothes destined for our storage unit. As I scooped out handfuls of upchucked cheerios and curdled milk, I thought to myself, gee, aren’t you supposed to be like some TRAVEL mama or something?
I had somehow forgotten everything I know about road trips. And I’ve been on some road trips of the 1,000 mile-a-day variety, both as a passenger and a driver. But in the years since then, I’ve just grown much more accustomed to alternative modes of transportation.
I decided I’d better remember some skills or the next journey, a 12-hour drive to Tennessee, was going to be downright torture.
First, I made a list of all the things we’d need for the trip. At the top – paper towels and changes of clothing. Oh, and big note to self, and never give Screech straight up milk with breakfast. Ever. Again.
Then, I thought about the departure time, keeping in mind how we could avoid rush hour traffic in big cities like Atlanta, maintain our boys’ regular schedule, make stops that would allow them to burn the maximum amount of energy, and still make the entire 12-hour drive in one day.
Oh yeah, and I got myself a GPS.
And a portable DVD player.
But not a mini-van. I haven’t joined that club yet, but I am starting to slowly understand the appeal.
Two of the best stops we made were Chick-fil-A (for the sweet tea + lemonade and the air-conditioned play area) and Red Top Mountain State Park in northern Georgia (to let the boys be boys outdoors).
Both times (to and from Tennessee), we left at the crack of dawn so that we could get 1-2 hours of driving out of the way before eating breakfast (bagels with peanut butter, bananas, sippy cups with milk/juice, and paper towels.. lots of paper towels). Doc Sci hated getting up so early, but shaving those extra hours off the total entertainment, er I mean travel, time was definitely worth it.
It was harder to convince the boys to nap in the car, but the strategic stops and sticking to their normal routine helped. If you’re going to “try this at home,” just make sure to fill your gas tank up and empty all passengers’ tanks (you know the kind I mean) before attempting an on-the-go nap, because the little ones wake up when the car stops. Doc Sci and I also like to listen to a book on CD while we drive because it helps the adults stay awake and bores the kids to sleep.
To be honest, I wasn’t too creative with the en route activities. I just packed the boys’ backpacks full of small toys and books, brought a DVD player (which we actually only used once), and hit the library up for kids CDs and DVDs. That’s it.
And, somehow we made it. Safely. Sanity intact. And without further vomit. I’d call it a success, but I wouldn’t want to do it again anytime soon. For now, we’ll just keep to our trains and planes, thankyouverymuch.
Are you a road trip warrior? Share your tips for traveling by car with kids below.