Tomorrow we embark on what is probably the most iconic (and, might I add, stressful) of American past times: a family road trip. This particular road trip will take us from San Jose to Seattle: 900 miles, 16 road hours, and two winter mountain passes to navigate. Oh yeah, and we’re doing this with two young children, a dog, approximately 1 thousand Christmas presents, and a very pregnant lady. All I can say is, wish us luck.
We’ve been on our fair share of road trips in the last few years–in fact, I estimate that we’ve spent well over 100 hours road trippin’ this year alone. That being said, I’ve picked up a few tips that are helpful in making it through the whole ordeal in one pleasant little piece. Whether you’re planning a road trip this holiday season or thinking ahead to the warmer summer months, read on for my lesson in family road trip survival 101.
Is a road trip even worth it?
There are many benefits to a road trip that you can only get with a road trip. Taking in the scenery. Stopping at lovely and unusual places along the way. The ability to pack more gear than will fit in a carry on bag + personal item per person. Family bonding time (hahahahahahaha). Saving money (This one is real, especially as your family grows in size–on this particular trip we’ll save over $1000 in airfare…after you factor in the cost of gas and hotel stops during our drive).
Even though we’ve driven this exact route half a dozen times before, I still spent several weeks planning for our upcoming road trip. I review my notes (yes, I take notes when we road trip) and write out an itinerary. I research lodging options and possible stopping points along our route (particularly those with McDondald’s playgrounds, Starbucks, and/or parks close to the highway). I check road conditions and pass reports in the days leading up to our departure.
It’s usually a bit overkill, but it sure does make me feel better knowing that I know something about what to expect (actually it just gives me a sense of control over a situation that will almost certainly spin out of control once we add the two young children and dog to the mix but, hey, whatever works.).
One of the worst/most memorable road trip experiences we had was driving back to California from Washington after Christmas in 2008. We had just crossed the border from Oregon into Northern California when our car started going crazy. Long story short, we broke down on a snowy road outside of a ho-dunk town in the middle of the night. It was quite the trial and, while the experience made for lots of interesting stories, it’s one I hope to never repeat.
Before we leave on a road trip we always make sure our adventure-pod (family car) is in full working order: oil change, air in tires (that’s another interesting story…), gas in tank (oh yeah, another good story on that one…), maintenance-required lights off. We also load the car with travel safety essentials like jumper cables, basic tools, a First Aid kit, an actual paper map (yes, there are still places on God’s green earth that do not get cell phone reception or sat nav), and snow chains (even if there’s only a remote chance we’ll encounter snow). We basically just adopt the boy scout motto: Be prepared.
In addition to your usual culprits (clothing, toiletries, and the like) you’ll want to pack some extra goodies for your road trip. Bring plenty of drinks and snacks to keep hungry husbands and little mouths happy (road trips are one time where I let my kids binge on their favorite fruit snacks and Goldfish crackers with very little interference from Health-Conscious Mommy).
Make essential items easily accessible: coats to throw on during pit stops, diaper bag (or a change of clothes for each person in your vehicle…you never know what surprises you may encounter whilst rolling down the open road. And while we’re at it, make sure a few plastic bags and a roll of paper towels are also within arm’s reach), your kid’s lovey, a blanket to throw on a child who nods off (please, Lord, PLEASE let them sleep…).
This is priority número uno when planning for a road trip with children. Thankfully both of our boys are old enough now to enjoy hour upon hour of movies and iPhone games (in fact, this exact scenario is their idea of heaven on earth), so that’s what we start with (*pro tip: make sure to bring plenty of chargers/batteries to keep those essential devices juiced up).
I also try to bring a few novel toys to introduce when they start getting squirrely (a quick trip to the dollar store is usually quite fruitful in this department), some favorite books, and a couple of beloved toys from home. I also love these paint with water books from Melissa and Doug. Perhaps when they’re older we’ll be able to play License Plates or Road Trip Bingo, but for now we stick with the basics.
P.S. If you’re traveling with a baby or a toddler, the only “entertainment” you’ll need is a set of earplugs or high-quality noise-canceling headphones for yourself. Bless.
Talk up the road trip itself–not just the destination. Guess what kids? We’re going to drive in our comfy car and eat nummy snacks and watch cool movies! Won’t that be AWESOME?! And if you’re really good, we might even stop at MCDONALD’S for lunch!!! And we’ll get to stay in a hotel with a SWIMMING POOL! How much fun will that be?!
Just be sure to leave out the bummer parts about how they’ll be strapped into a car seat for seemingly endless hours and how Mommy and Daddy will become grumpy every time you hit traffic or hear incessant whining radiating from the back seat.
One final tip before we conclude: as always with children, expect the unexpected. No matter how much preparation you put in to your trip, no matter how well it is planned, unforeseen circumstances will arise. Bring your patience and a sense of humor, and the journey surely will be half of the adventure.