This summer, we embarked on the longest road trip we've taken since our 2007 trip to Boston. For that 18-hour (one way) trip, we had one 4 year old child in the back of our sedan (and one in my belly, but she never made a peep and never once asked to stop to potty). For this one, 12 hours each way, we had not one, not two, but THREE (ages 10, 5, and almost 2) children in the back of our minivan.
Y'all. I was nervous.
In theory, I love the idea of a roadtrip. I have wildly romanticized ideas of car trips. We might even hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" in those fantasies. Just maybe, I'm saying.
In reality, I hate road trips that last longer than approximately 34 minutes. They're boring, the kids get squrimy and wild - and so, so noisy. They complain a lot and somebody always has to go to the bathroom. So I was not looking too forward to our drive to the Sunshine State. I barely survived past trips to the coast of South Carolina and Florida is 3 times as far.
But I was determined to make it as smooth of a journey as possible. And guess what? It actually went pretty well. We had to leave a day late because my husband had an eye injury requiring him to keep his eyes closed as much as possible for about 18 hours. (A story for another day. And incidentally, we have the best optometrist EVER.) Since I wouldn't let him drive with his eyes closed and he did NOT want me to take over, we had to wait for his eye to heal before we could hit the road.
I think we owe our fairly easy trip to some meticulous planning...but mostly it was a gift from God. Even so, I thought I'd share some tricks and tips that helped make our trip smooth - maybe they'll help you, too. So here are my top 10 travel tips:
1. I made each child her own bag of snacks, which she kept within reach near her seat. I bought lots of snacks and put servings in snack bags and divvied them up into small tote bags. Each girl had plenty of options and I never once had to go through all of the choices and toss random bags of crackers around the car at children who didn't catch them and then dissolved into tears. (Not that it's ever gone down like that, mind you.) They were allowed to have a snack pretty much anytime they wanted and didn't have to ask. (Hey, anything to keep them quiet, right? My kids are pretty good about stopping when full.) Most snacks were fairly healthy but the big two girls each had a couple of "treat" options, too. One morning on the drive home, I popped a bag of microwave popcorn in our hotel room and divided it in to ziplock bags (see #5) for each one. They loved that! (But outside of that salty treat, I tried to make most snacks not too salty...then they just ask for drinks and you know what happens next. Pit Stop City.) I doled out drinks judiciously. (As a side note, I always have anti-bacterial hand wipes and hand sanitizer in my car. If you don't, be sure to grab some before a road trip. You never know when you'll need to "wash" your hands and sometimes the bathrooms you encounter don't have soap! Grody!)
2. Each girl also had her own "entertainment" bag at her seat. My oldest packed her own bag so I have no idea what she put in it, but she stayed busy the entire trip, so maybe she should be writing this tip. Grin. In the other 2 bags, I put coloring books, crayons, stickers, books to read, picture books for the baby, etc. - pretty much anything they could use in their seat and that have didn't a million tiny parts to get lost in the car. I tried to get a few new, small things for their bags for the sheer novelty of new.
3. A portable DVD player was a lifesaver, especially for the littlest babe. I refused to purchase a car with a built-in player because I think it should just be for long drives and I don't want to argue about it every day. But for a long trip, it's so nice to have. (We bought ours about 7-8 years ago for under $100. They're probably cheaper now but ours has lasted all this time in great shape.) I let the girls choose a few movies each; I took the discs out of the boxes and put them all in one small plastic box with a lid to save space and hassle. I kept the box easily accessible right behind the front middle console and I handled the setup.
4. Before the trip, I printed out some "scavenger hunt" lists and a couple of U.S. maps. The big girls looked for items on the list (one had pictures with the words for the 5yo so she didn't get slowed down by words she didn't know). The U.S. maps were useful for playing the license plate game (finding plates from every state possible) - the oldest would check off each state we found. (She also checked off states as we drove thru them, but there weren't that many.) We also played a few rounds of the venerable alphabet game. There are numerous resources online for car games and other road trip entertainment ideas far more brilliant than what you will find here. Amen.
5. Besides the snacks mentioned in #1, I had a large plastic box (i.e. Rubbermaid) filled with more snacks - it held full-size boxes and other assorted snacks. These were our snacks for while we were at the beach and to refill the individual bags before the return trip. Another important addition to this box was ziplock bags of all sizes. I took one gallon sized bag and tucked a large stack of other sizes inside so it didn't take up much room but had all we needed. The bags were so handy for making individual servings for daily jaunts, the beach, pool and short car trips during the week. In the hotel room, I used disposable cups for their snacks, but when there weren't enough, I'd use snack bags. No mess, nothing to wash. (And just to note, I'm no Scroooge - I let the kids have the thrill of getting a snack from the vending machine or gift shop a couple of times, but it saves a ton of money to not have to get ALL snacks that way. And yes, I'm aware that my method is not green at all. But we don't do that at home.)
6. I also brought along a case of bottled water, a couple of boxes of juice pouches/boxes, Coke (for us, not the young'ns!) and a bottle of grape juice for the hotel. It ended up not being that hot while we were beachin' it, so we didn't need as much water as most years, but I like being prepared and not having to run to the grocery store. (Or worse, spend $2 on a bottle of water from a vending machine.) I kept a small cooler near my seat so we had cold drinks while riding and I could also carry it to the beach or on day trips. But as I said earlier, I made sure the girls didn't overdo the drinks while we were riding, just to minimize stops a little.
7. Some years, we bring along bread, peanut butter, jelly, etc and make the kids PBJs to take out on the beach if we plan to spend several hours there. I know many people rent condos and cook many of their meals. But I figure I cook every day at home, vacation is, well, a vacation! So we go out to eat. Some days, we eat a late breakfast, early dinner and no lunch - or just a snack or ice cream - and some days we eat a cheap breakfast or lunch, but we do prefer to dine out. Without breaking the bank, of course.
8. When we're taking a couple of days to reach our destination, I pack differently. This time, we were spending one night in a hotel somewhere between home and the beach (and vice versa on the way home). While most of our stuff was packed in our individual suitcases (hubby and I share one but the kids each have their own small one), for that one night I put each person's change of clothes, pjs and basic toiletries in one suitcase. Then, when staying for only one night, we only have to take that one bag inside instead of half a dozen. I repack and rearrange on the way home to do the same thing and put that bag on top in the back of the van for easy access. The kids usually have their special pillows and stuffed animals in or near their seats and they take them inside for the night.
9. Remember to take your address book, list of addresses or access to that info online. Kids love to send postcards, so it's nice to have address info handy. Stamps, too. Some hotel gift shops sell stamps, but not always. Tip: most Walgreens drugstores sell books of stamps. My kids insisted on sending postcards to almost everyone they ever met, so we had to hit Walgreens for more postage.
10. Laundry. It's a dirty word, is it not? But we sure do produce a lot of it. I'd prefer not to do laundry on vacation, but I usually do 1-2 loads toward the end of the week. (That's less to do when we get home, at least!) But I take along my own detergent and fabric softener so I don't have to either buy overpriced items out of a machine or run to a store to buy full-size versions I have to drag home. I either buy a small, travel-sized bottle/box of detergent or just put some in a small travel bottle or ziplock. I throw a couple of fabric softener sheets in there and I'm good to go. I'll start a load or two one night as we're settling in for the evening and it's clean and dry by the time I go to bed. (I'm not one to stay in the hotel laundry room with my clothes. I stick 'em in the washer and leave, return to put them in the dryer, leave and come back when they're dry. I'm not that worried about someone stealing our not-expensive clothes. Who does that?)
I'd call our trip a smashing success and my careful preparation certainly helped make it smooth. What tips do you have?