Having just taken a 10 hour road trip with two small children, I thought I’d share some tips that I think every traveling mom should have in her arsenal.
(1) Stop every couple of hours (minimum) for diaper changes, pee breaks and to let little legs (or long ones) run and stretch. Unless you have an emergency pee break you should be able to make it 2 hours on the road at a time without stopping. You don’t need to stop for long, ten or fifteen minutes makes little ones happy and doesn’t add much time to your trip, which in turn, keeps everyone happy.
(2) Plenty of quiet entertainment. For older kids a portable DVD player, an iPod, MP3 player (all preferably with headphones) or music that you all enjoy goes a long way. Other electronics that are great are Leapsters, a hand-held Sony PSP or the Nintendo DS can be little miracle workers, helping to avoid hearing the dreaded question, “are we there yet?” (Don’t forget some extra batteries) Also some great non-electronic stuff like crayons, markers and colored pencils with a big empty sketchbook are perfect for letting big imaginations fill in the blank pages. You’d be surprised at what amazing things kids put onto paper while traveling the countryside. My 6-year-old-daughter wrote poetry and then illustrated it on our recent trip. Journals and diaries work well for the older set. Of course books and magazines are a must, but reading may make some kids carsick.
(3) Snacks of your choosing are essential for in between meals and also occupy some time. We like to buy a big bag of green grapes and freeze them. They work in keeping the cooler cold and by the time we’re ready to eat them they’re unfrozen but still cold. We also pack a bunch of bananas because they’re healthy snacks that are easy to pack and we all enjoy them. Drinks are also important. Juice boxes are convenient but aren’t great for the environment due to all the excess packaging. We tend to pack cups from home that have lids and straws and buy a large container of juice and water to keep in the cooler and refill the cups as needed. (This requires an adult who is not driving or be sure to do it during a stop.)
(4) Pack one overnight bag for the entire family. We always stop overnight on long trips and rather than bring in everything from the car, which takes time unloading then re-loading in the morning, we have one bag with pajamas, underwear, toiletries, and a clean set of clothes for the next day. If I know we are staying someplace with a pool, swimsuits get thrown in as well. Pools at an overnight hotel are great to let kid’s burn off a little pent-up energy from sitting in a car all day and if there happens to be a hot tub it’s a bonus for parents too!
(5) Small comforts from home like a pillow or blanket go a long way to keep kids happy and comfortable and don’t take up a ton of space. Something that smells like home can help them rest easier on the road and in hotel rooms. I even like to bring my own pillow!
(6) Wet-wipes or Handi-Wipes plus paper towels and/or paper napkins will take care of any messes, spills or mishaps that anyone may have in the car. During the hotter months they’re great for cleaning up anything that may have melted in the sun.
(7) Pajamas. If you’ll be arriving at your final destination late at night, have the kids get into their pajamas at the last waking stop but close enough to their normal bedtime and then you don’t need to deal with changing groggy kids when you reach your final destination for the night.
(8) Charge electronics. The night before leaving for your trip charge all your battery operated electronics like the digital camera or camcorder or electronic games and toys for the kids. It will save you angst when you get in the car or reach your destination and want to take pictures. Also upload any memory disks so you have space for new pictures.
(9) Dress in layers. We like to keep the car on the cooler side of 68 degrees unless it’s unbearably hot outside. Layers work for everyone and can be helpful with stains and spills…you can always take off that outer layer.
(10) Lastly, make sure to enjoy the ride! There is frequently great scenery, and kids will almost always see new things. In our current age of overscheduled kids and stressed out parents don’t miss the opportunity to talk with your kids, no matter how old they are. Communication is great family time that we don’t often get in our busy day-to-day lives.