I’ve spent the last two and a half weeks on the road with my three kids (and one husband . We drove through 14 states, from Kansas to New Jersey to Connecticut down to Washington D.C. and back to Kansas City.
I tend to fret in advance about a lot of stuff, and I really fretted about this trip.
I fretted that the boys would fight. I fretted that my daughter would scream. I fretted that the car would break down, or that we’d get a speeding ticket. I fretted that we wouldn’t have enough food (surprise, surprise).
I fretted that my husband and I would argue about directions or that we’d annoy our hosts. I fretted that we wouldn’t be able to find a hotel in Louisville — the one place we didn’t book in advance.
When we finally left on our trip three Wednesdays ago at 6:30 in the morning, it was pouring rain. (I had forgotten to fret about the weather.) But despite the downpour and a few other bumps in the road – figuratively, not literally – it all worked out. Perfectly! Well, except for that hotel in Louisville.
The food was much less of an issue than I had expected, and given the amount that we unpacked into our kitchen cupboards upon our return, we had more than enough. The kids’ whining and complaining was surprisingly minimal. And my husband and I only argued once. Okay, twice, but who’s counting?
While a good part of the trip’s success was probably just dumb luck, there are a few things my husband and I did that really helped everything run smoothly. If you, too, are planning a very long road trip and are fretting about how it will all work out, here is a brain dump of some of our most successful road trip strategies.
- Each kid got to pack 1 tub of toys and activities. They could bring pretty much whatever they wanted, as long as it fit in the tub with the lid on. The idea was that having the tubs would keep the car neat (hahahahahah). While “neat” didn’t exactly happen, the mess was more or less contained.
- We decanted all our DVDs and CDs into one of those 64-disc holders, which lived in the side pocket of the passenger door. This was much better than fighting with unwieldy plastic containers the whole time. I laughed at my husband for packing every slot of that thing, but in the end, he was right. Nearly all of them got watched or listened to!
- I packed all our children’s clothing into individualized ziploc bags. I had read the idea on blogland and thought it seemed a bit obsessive, but I decided to give it a shot. It was awesome! Each boy got one bag per day; my 4.5 year old’s clothing fit into gallon bags and my 7 year old’s clothing fit into 2.5 gallon bags. When we got to where we were going, all we had to do was grab a ziploc bag. No rifling through suitcases, throwing underwear and t-shirts all over the room.
- I gave the boys unlimited access to media on all long drives. Short drives, like between NJ and CT, were media-free, much to my poor deprived children’s dismay. In addition to the DVD player in our new-to-us van, we also brought our portable DVD player to avoid fighting. And we bought each of them a Leapster handheld game with 3 game cartridges, which they loved.
- We bought Travel Bingo (this one by Melissa & Doug, paid for with Swagbucks, of course) and played whenever asked. It was a good alternative to DVDs and actually a lot of fun for everyone. If your kids are younger than 5, though, you may want to hold off.
- We planned fun and active things to do on each day of driving, including Magic House (in St. Louis), the Columbus Zoo (in Ohio), the Crayola Factory (in Easton, PA), the Shenandoah Caverns and Natural Bridge (both in VA), the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum (in Louisville, KY), and the Butterfly House and Gateway Arch (back in St. Louis). We spent 3-5 hours at each stop, and then got back on the road for more driving when everyone was good and tired out.
- We drove more in the late afternoon and evening than in the morning and mid-day. We drove until at least 11 p.m. and sometimes as late as 1:30 a.m. My husband, thankfully, was happy to do the late night driving.
- We made hotel reservations in advance, so we didn’t have to worry about it on the road. With the exception of Louisville, where our “winging it” ended us up in a very iffy Days’ Inn. The check-in guy was straight out of Deliverance. We were there for less than 8 hours and yes, I did lift up each mattress to check for bedbugs.
- We stopped at nice rest stops for dinner and let the kids run around. I even contrived races and competitions to make sure they really ran!
- The boys changed into PJs at our dinner rest stop each evening. I had them brush teeth and wash up at the bathroom, so they’d feel ready for bed. They usually fell asleep around 9:30, once it was completely dark. Then my husband and I got to have date-night-in-the-van until we reached our destinations. Those few hours of talk time were some of my favorite parts of the trip!
- We printed out easy-to-read maps of the United States and taped them to the inside of each child’s activity tub, so they could follow along on the journey. This was a huge hit, especially with my 4.5 year old son. He asked us many times to show him where we were, and I think he got a much better appreciation for the scale of the United States.
- We embraced the fact that we would move slowly. Our dinner rest stops were never less than an hour. A ‘quick’ stop for the bathroom and to fill up with gas took 30 minutes or more. We definitely didn’t win any competitions for efficiency, but we rolled with the punches and for once, I didn’t yell at anyone to hurry up.
- We said yes as much as humanly possible. The kids had ice cream. Often. There was even one day that they got ice cream TWICE! We let each boy pick out a treat at our gas station stops, and when my 7 year old wanted an entire sleeve of Pringles as his treat, I said yes. Not only did I say yes to about 2,000 calories worth of BBQ Pringles, I paid $2.35 for that sleeve! Talk about a sacrifice
- We splurged to get the car washed inside and out when we reached our half-way point at my ILs house in New Jersey. I also brought plastic grocery store bags to use as trash cans, which we emptied out at least every morning. The car was still an unholy mess, but these little things helped me feel a bit more civilized.
- We had the car serviced a few days before our trip. We bought a new-to-us van — with cash, of course, thankyouDaveRamsey! — shortly before our trip. Our solid 2004 Odyssey had 103,000 miles on it. Since Honda timing belts need to be replaced at 105,000, we went ahead and had the full 105K service done before we left. We set out for our trip with peace of mind that our car’s engine was in tip-top shape.
- We pushed the two middle row captain’s seats together, so that our 4.5 year old could help with our 14 month old. He handed her Ritz crackers and cookies and water and toys. He really was such a big help. I know not all vans can do this, but if yours can, and if you have a baby in that row, it was a life-saver.
Of course, we also lucked out with three of the greatest kids on the planet , but their greatness aside, I think these tips really did help us to have a successful road trip. Have you taken to the road with children? What worked (or didn’t work) for your family?
P.S. If you’re curious what we did about kosher food on the road, there’s my blueprint from before our trip.
P.P.S. I’m linking this post up to Works for Me Wednesday, since it definitely fits the bill!