Family Road Trips
When I was little, our family would pack up the station wagon and drive up to Durango, Colo., anticipating a summer filled with mountain adventures and tourist-town charm. After school let out, Mom, Dad and my four siblings would brave the 14-plus-hour journey. Time seemed to speed by as quickly as the silos and electric posts outside the car window, as if the whole trip required little effort. As if, indeed.
Having completed similar journeys with just one little one, I’ve often wondered: How did my parents do it? How did they manage to deal with a car full of fussy youths without losing their minds? With summer approaching, we have some sanity saving techniques to help you make it to the end of the road.
1. Pre-departure potty time. Kids never require a restroom before a trip. It’s written in their genetic code to wait until there isn’t a bathroom for miles to reach a point of desperation. So a little persuasion is a necessity. No matter their ages, ask your kids to sit in the bathroom for at least five minutes before filing into the car. Make it clear no one is going anywhere until that time has expired.
2. Plan breaks. My father was the type to power through a trip without compromise, breaking for only the most desperate situations. While he likely shaved around an hour off our arrival, plotting some strategic stops is an equally effective time-saver and will give everyone a chance to stretch and breathe some fresh air. Find gas stations and eateries along the route before you leave, consulting the family for mutually agreed-upon menus. This will prevent conflicting last-minute requests, which are so much more stressful in a confined space.
3. Bring snacks. A cooler packed with juice boxes, water, trail mixes, granola bars and other healthy, satisfying treats is essential. However, keep a small stash of slightly more decadent snacks at the ready. Because, let’s face it, sometimes the only thing that will diffuse a frustrating situation is chocolate. Just be sure to administer in small doses to prevent any upset stomachs and backseat stains.
4. Prepare travel packs. For tots and toddlers, keep lots of wet wipes, paper towels, diapers, trash bags and a change of clothes within easy reach. Also, put together a medical kit containing Band-Aids, a thermometer, sunscreen, headache medicine or any other medications you may need (motion sickness, allergies, etc.).
5. Get cozy. Besides dressing in comfy clothing and toting pillows, be sure to establish boundaries for your backseat companions. This may reduce the frequency of such squabbles as, “Moooom, he won’t stop touching me” or “She’s on my side, again.” If you have three children, place the youngest in the middle. This will create a buffer between older siblings and encourage them to entertain the tot. Or you can persuade them to draw their own lines with a few crafty supplies. My brother and I, for instance, would create borders with masking tape and blankets. But if you’re like my mother, simply master the Don’t-Make-Me-Stop-This-Car face. My blood still runs cold just thinking of that particular expression.
6. Assemble activities. Charge electronic items before travel time and bring extra batteries so that any handheld means of entertainment lasts a fair stint. Earphones are also essential unless you relish listening to the soundtrack of Frozen a bazillion times (I now hear it in my sleep). Create totes with age-appropriate items such as crayons, pads of paper, small toys, a slight shopping allowance, a map highlighting interesting sights along the route and games (roadside bingo was a family favorite). These packs can also be used to collect souvenirs along the way. Most importantly, take this opportunity to talk to your kids, point out scenery and exchange musical preferences. You have a captive audience; make the most of it.
7. Let it go. When the stress and volume associated with limited space comes to a climax, don’t be ashamed of ignoring your kids. Your mental stability is the most important ingredient to a successful drive. Happy Mom = happy family. So occasionally allow the feuding despots in the back to resolve their own issues, plug in your earphones and imagine how wonderful it will be to finally answer “yes” to the question, “Are we there, yet?”
What kinds of activities did you or your parents plan on long road trips?