This past February my wife and I moved back to the States from Japan. Our new home would be in the Washington, D.C. area, but we first needed to make the family rounds through Georgia. We had arranged to buy a car in the South. Thus, a long distance drive with a toddler from Georgia to D.C. with our toddler was staring us in the face.
Here’s what I learned on that trip.
Entertain Your Kid
This really starts long before you get in the car.
By the time you begin packing for the drive, make sure you have the things you know entertain your little one. For my son, finger puppets ruled the day along with snacks. Something that paid huge dividends for us was ensuring that during my son’s first few months of cognitive thought, he learned to entertain himself without mom or dad having to always be by his side for stimulation. Though in the end, my wife did sit in the back seat with him for a few legs of the journey to help keep him entertained.
Don’t hand your little one all their toys at once – they’ll be sure to end up thrown across the back seat rather quickly. If you can’t reach where they were thrown from the front seat, you’ll have a toyless child.
Snacks, snacks, snacks. The little one will certainly get hungry, but so will mom and dad. I often consider snacks more important for my wife than for my son when traveling. Common sense applies, so applesauce and yogurt probably aren’t your best bet for the car. Leave the grape juice to be spilled at the rest stop rather than in your back seat. I tend to get in the zone when driving long distances, meaning the last thing I want to do is stop. Having food in the car will help me convince my wife and son to let me make it five more exits before calling it quits.
Schedule The Details
How far are you going to drive? When are your stops going to take place? What time should you leave? I know many dads who want to drive through the night so the little tyke sleeps. I personally would be too tired myself and wouldn’t feel safe pulling the all-nighter.
Plan your gas stops (make sure there will be gas stations around), plan your meal stops to coincide with the toddler’s meals, and if you’re still breastfeeding, well, just plan on stopping many times.
Make Daily Goals
You need to be realistic when driving as a young family. Make daily goals for what a perfect day would look like, and then a goal for what ground you need to cover based on your overall schedule. Achieving your goal will help your head rest easy at night, regardless of what stresses the day brought.
Things go wrong and you need to be prepared. Avoid any mechanical breakdowns by having your car checked before departing. Make sure the spare has air in it and your tire jack with all required pieces is in its predetermined storage location.
Inside the car I always keep a blanket, a few bottles of water, snacks to cover a day, and a flashlight with good batteries. I also keep my cell phone battery at least 50% charged and a car charger plug in the power outlet. I’ve been through a few snow storms and over cold mountain passes — knowing I would be okay if the worst occurred made me and my passengers feel better.
Go To Your Happy Place
Despite what stressors arise (and arise they will), you are responsible for the lives of everyone in your own car and others on the road. You need to be able to drive safely when the little one is screaming his head off for 30 minutes or you look in the rear view mirror to see toys and Goldfish crackers flying around. Know what your happy place is and be able to find respite there.
Above all else, take the time to plan your drive and make the smart decisions. If you see a large weather system coming in, either alter your route or delay a day. If you know you are tired and didn’t get any sleep, don’t put your family in the back of the car. Finally, don’t smartphone and drive. Your text can wait.
How do you drive long distances with little ones?