Call us crazy (and many people do), but in a few days we will be embarking on a 3,000-mile road trip with our five-year-old and three-year-old. Friends have met our plan with varied reactions, but all have three things in common. When we tell our friends about our plan, they usually look like their eyes are going to pop out of their head, make some sort of shocked declaration involving a deity, and then question the status of our mental health.
I admit that driving with children across the country does merit some eyebrow raising, but we certainly don't lack experience: we've been grooming Cason for this since she was 6 weeks old. We took her on her very first road trip from Raleigh to Southern Pines - about 2 hours south - just to see what it was like to travel with a breastfeeding newborn. Growing up as a military brat, I had traversed the country by car innumerable times without ever complaining (right Mom and Dad?), so this was very high on the prioritized list of traits to instill in my infant daughter.
Many of you may remember The Great Circle Tour of Aught-five, when we thought it would be a good idea to take a 2 1/2 year-old and a 6-month-old all the way from Texas to Washington, D.C. via North Carolina and (in a very Griswald fashion) through Niagara Falls because it only added 4 hours to our trip from North Carolina to Wisconsin. Did I mention border patrol almost kept the kids in Canada?
The truth is that road trips with small children can be enjoyable, educational, and (dare I say it) even fun! You don't have to sedate them and drive only at night while they are asleep! So, in case you're brave enough to endure gas prices and hit the open road this summer, here are a few tips, tricks, and bits of wisdom we've "picked up" along the way:
Eat in the car. If the kids have to be sitting down anyways, you might as well get some miles out of the way. While Duane and I eat, the kids either run around at a park as we picnic or they play on an indoor playground. When Duane and I finish eating we pack up and roll. If you're obsessive about car cleanliness, you might need to put that on hold for a while - after a road trip with the kids there is no possible way that your car will not look like a tornado has ripped through it. If it helps, keep in mind that everything can be cleaned, and believe me, when you're done it will have to be!
(I have not yet found a great way to find parks along our route apart from hoping the road atlas has a few listed, but this Playland finder from McDonald's is a start. Thanks, Heidi!)
Frequent stops. When I get on the road a transformation takes place, my eyes glaze over, my brain starts functioning from an auxiliary area not accessed in daily life and I turn into my father - a man who was so focused and disciplined in the car that he wouldn't even drive past the White House on our way through Washington, D.C. to New Jersey. ("There you go kids, the exit for Pennsylvania Avenue. It's down that road somewhere.") However, with children (especially young ones), you just have to stop. So every 2 hours Duane shakes me from my zombie-like altered consciousness and for 10 minutes or so... we RUN! We bring a soccer ball and kick it around, we play tag, we play superheroes, and we even run to the bathrooms, careful not to leave a wake of old people in our path. We typically add in 1 hour of stopping time for every 5 hours of driving, so our typical 10 hour day on the way up to Wisconsin is calculated as a 12 hour day for for those of us who are obsessed with reaching our goals.
Hotel pool. This is an absolute lifesaver and worth the extra money or extra effort in finding one. There is nothing better after a long day of sitting in the car, than for the children to don their life jackets and toodle around the pool for an hour or more. If your road trip will encompass multiple days in the car, this is a must have. And it's a good way to bribe the kids along all day. "If we stay too long at this park we won't be able to swim tonight." That usually gets them moving FAST!
Our next post will be from the Windy City. We'll give you an update of what it's been like to be in the car for 2 straight days with kids, and we'll also talk about how we did it without a DVD player!