Friday, January 15, 2010

Tips and tricks for having fun on a roadtrip

I blogged a few weeks ago about how worried I was about the 1,500-mile roadtrip we had planned just after Christmas, driving from the Boston area allll the way to where our big kids are when they're not with us.

Turns out, I need not have been so worried about driving out of my comfort zone. The drive was fine. Fun, even.

Before we left, I asked my readers at The 36-Hour Day to share some of their best tips and tricks for having fun while on the road with the kids. I also culled through our archives at Work It, Mom!, searching for more wisdom to take with us. Here's what I came up with:

The big outside-my-comfort-zone trip is coming up this weekend. Honestly, I haven't even finished -- OK, started -- cleaning up from last weekend, when my parents and brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephew and a couple of friends were here to celebrate early Christmas (and get stuck in the snowstorm that hit the Boston area). This is what drives the Lazy Perfectionist in me absolutely batty: There's so much to do that I don't want to do any of it, because I'm worried I won't be able to get it all done in time. Also: I have to get it all done while juggling my jobs and
getting enough done in advance there so as not to incur the wrath of my
coworkers while I'm gone.

I think the Universe it watching out for me, though, because I've received a ton of great tips geared for trips like this. Here are the best of the bunch:

Jen left the most amazing comment on this post, detailing some of the weapons in her road-trip arsenal. Among my favorite suggestions were things I'd never even thought of: stopping at elementary schools so that the kids could blow off steam on the playground, a great childrens' book author who offers free downloads of
his stories
, and the idea of stocking up on activity books in the homeschooling section of my local bookstore. Brilliant! Thank you, Jen!

My sister-in-law and I went on a DVD run while she was up here last weekend, and we loaded up on $5 specials at Target. She was leaving my place and driving eight or so hours to her mom's house, with three young kids in tow. She also filled her oldest child's iPod with episodes of her favorite Nickelodeon shows, and my niece was happy to watch her beloved iCarly instead of being bored by her younger siblings' Dora and Diego extravaganzas.

Emily Kaufman, a.k.a. The Travel Mom, swears that car trips don't have to be a source of anxiety, and she's got experience on her side, so I believe her. Making sure you've packed the right stuff is key, she says, and so is being realistic about how much you can handle. "Accidents happen when people are tired," she points out. "Mom and Dad bicker when they are fatigued. Make good choices about the timing of your drive."

Sarah Lemanczyk is another voice of experience. She writes: "I have three kids now, ages 6, 4 and 20 months. I've driven them across country and back; I've done it pregnant with a toddler in tow, with two in tow, with just a baby and the classic cross-country move while pregnant in a U-Haul. In tandem with my obvious cheapness, I genuinely love a good drive." She offers up some great tips for family car trips, including the fact that the difference between a delightful road trip and a disaster is mostly mental. "This is going to be fun. Tell yourself. Tell your spouse. Tell the kids. Tell the neighbors, the grocery clerk, random people soliciting for political campaigns at the front door, tell them all... really, talking -- especially about what's
going to be fun -- will actually help it be fun." I really, really need to do this.

Another point from Sarah: Bring a stash of stuff for the kids, but bring one for you, too. I'm thinking about all the junk food we try not to eat in real life and how it will be a welcome treat when we're on the road. Also: Sugar + Caffeine = Very, very good for Mommy and Daddy.

Drive while the kids sleep. My extended family thinks we're crazy for planning to do this, but here's one thing my husband and I agree about. While I'd love to sleep in the oh-so-comfortable guest-room bed at my uncle's house, he lives only about 1/3 of the way in to the 1,500-or-so-mile trip, and the truth is that I'd much rather spend two hectic -- I mean lovely! -- days driving longer distances than three (or more) days driving short sprints.

Last summer we drove to my uncle's house, and it was... well... fun. Mostly. Really. I'd forgotten; here's a post I wrote about the strategies that worked during
that trip. This one is going to be three times longer, though, so I'd better start searching for more cool iPhone apps for my kids. And shoring up my Positive Mental Attitude.

Is there anything I'd do differently, now that the trip is over? Sure.

1.) I'd pack more snacks and fewer toys. The little kids tore through all of the special munchies I'd brought along for the ride, but played with the same couple of toys the entire time.

2.) I'd pack more food for the adults. Yes, there were plenty of fast-food joints all along the route, but after 30 hours (there) and 29 hours (back) of hamburgers, biscuits, and, well, grease on a bun, I was longing for a salad. Or sushi. Or anything that wasn't under a heat lamp. I'm pretty sure I ate more fast food during this drive than I have in the past six months.

3.) I'd bring fewer DVDs. I filled a bag full of DVDs for the kids to watch while we drove. But we ended up doing the bulk of the driving while the kids were asleep, and they were happier sticking to their tried-and-true movie favorites than they were watchin any of the new DVDs I bought for the occasion.

4.) I'd test out all of our electronics before we left. It seems obvious, doesn't it? Make sure the DVD players work, that the headphones fit, that the iPod is stocked -- and that it works in the car. It's so obvious, in fact, that I did none of those things. Next time, I will.

5.) I wouldn't worry about splitting the drive. Before we left, I assumed my husband and I would split the driving evenly, with one behind the wheel and the other napping in the front seat for a few hours at a time. Reality? He did most of the driving, while I did most of the kid-wrangling -- and felt guilty about it. Guilt doesn't do anyone any good; he was more comfortable driving, and I was more at ease making sure that the peanut gallery wasn't melting down. Sometimes, I guess, it's good to stay in one's comfort-zone after all.

What are your best tricks for traveling with small kids? What products are must-haves, and which things would you never buy again?

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