I recently returned from a 2600-mile, five-day road trip with my family. My family includes both a semi-neurotic dog and a very energetic two-year-old, and I impressively survived to tell the tale. We knew the opportunity to introduce Kyle, my son, to family he’d never met was too important to pass up, as everyone gathered in Colorado for a wedding. So we hoped the trip would bring us more good memories than headache-inducing ones. Shockingly (to no one more than me), we had a lot of fun. I was sad to see the trip end, even, and I hope that with a few pointers and tips from a (now) seasoned road trip taker, you can also have a fun family adventure.
So, here are a few rules for the road:
- Embrace electronics. We try to limit Kyle’s TV watching when we’re at home and stick to a more usual routine. But spending 8-10 hours a day in the car is definitely not our usual routine. We let him watch Handy Manny and Cars more often than usual, but that’s part of what made the trip exciting for him. Bending the rules on vacation is part of what makes kids excited to take them (and willing to behave on them).
- Search out family-friendly hotels and restaurants ahead of time. No one wants to look for a hotel in the dead of night or settle for McDonald’s for dinner on a vacation. Do as much research as possible beforehand so you can avoid the Road Trip Scramble (hunting down anything that will do, instead of planning something that’ll be great). Use services like Yelp!, Trip Advisor, and Hotels.com to filter out the places that’ll fit your trip, and then make a few calls to potential hotels and restaurants to get a feel for the service beforehand.
- Keep a few toys in reserve. On the last day of our road trip, Kyle was really tired of being strapped into his car seat and just wanted to get home. We still had a long day of traveling ahead of us, and we were looking down the barrel of a full-blown toddler meltdown. I reached into my purse and pulled out a huge (and brand-new) book of stickers. He immediately stopped fussing. That sticker book saved the last day of our trip!
- Toss expectations out the window. Some days Kyle napped in the car; some days he didn’t. Some nights he was up until 10 pm; some nights he crashed as soon as we got to the hotel. All that routine disruption is enough to make a person crazy, but try to toss expectations out the window in order to keep your sanity intact. You want to have fun, and sometimes the only way to do that is to let go of all preconceived trip expectations.
- Make it an adventure. We tried to make everything new and exciting. Kyle got his own bed! Kyle got to eat snacks in the car! Kyle got to stay up late! Kyle got to explore new parks! We tried to make the trip sound like a treat, rather than a task, and that helped his excitement level anytime we’d arrive somewhere new. He still talks about our “big trip,” with a lot of excitement, and that makes both my husband and me really happy we decided to go.
Kids love routine, this is true, but they’re also capable of rolling with the punches far better than you think with just enough faith (and, okay, a lot of planning). We’d go on a road trip again in a heartbeat, and I hope we get to go on one soon.
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