It is time, your sisters-in-law are pregnant and it is time for baby showers! Your darling sisters-in-law have been very kind about your vacation time and money. Even though they are due about 3 months apart, they scheduled their baby showers on back to back days so you only have to make one 30 hour roundtrip car trip instead of 2. Did I mention that you ADORE your sisters-in-law? (If you don’t actually like yours, I’m sad for you because mine are awesome!)
You decide to make a family vacation out of it by planning several overnight stops in a few states with lots of fun along the way, the whole trip takes 12 days. You pack up the car and help your 4 year old settle in. Now you face 30 hours in the car over the course of 5 days or driving. This is doable people, planning is key!
After 25,000+ miles of car trips with a child these are my tips on how to arrive the same happy family you were when you left home:
- Snacks – You’ll be spending hours in the car each time you get in and if you have to stop every time someone is hungry you will never get out of your own state. Apples, carrots, trail mix, granola bars, nuts, cheese sticks, etc. in a cooler will be plenty, oh and water too. Have a SMALL amount of something sweet as an occasional treat if you like. However, think about how your little one reacts to sugar and imagine the whole reaction strapped to a carseat 2 feet behind you. Like I said, planning is important.
- Toys/surprises – there are lots of versions of this. The basic principle is this, have something new to hand to your child every hour or so. The novelty of a new toy will help pass the time and keep them active when you need them to be awake instead of sleeping and messing up their schedule. Some people wrap the toys up or put them in a mystery bag each time. Borrow toys from friends instead of buying if you like. Do what works for you.
- Bring a blanket. If the driver likes the car cool, like my husband does, kiddo is going to get cold. Cold kid=cranky kid=LOOOONG drive.
- Movies – 30 hours of movies when you are home? Uh, no, head outside little ball of energy. On the road? You bet! Again, this is novel and since your little one can’t move that much let them watch their favorites so they are entertained and you can maybe talk to your spouse. Load up the iPad or bring along DVDs (and a DVD player if your car is old like mine. I still have a tape deck people! No tapes though, curious…)
- STOP THE CAR! – Even if you are worried about “making good time” like my husband you have to stop the car every couple of hours. Despite all of that entertainment your little one is going to get antsy, cranky and need to use the bathroom. So stop the car at a rest area, stretch your legs and use the facilities. However, if your child is happy, well fed and otherwise enjoying the drive don’t feel the need to stop exactly every couple of hours. Keep going and stop when they start to fade.
- Run! – This little tactic has gotten me more strange looks than anything else. While at the rest area, find a nice grassy area that is NOT the dog run area, ew. Take your munchkin over there and ask her to run between this tree and that one and then between those two. Run with her if you can. People WILL look at you strangely. This is what to do, look them straight in the eye and with your kindest look and most pleasant voice say, “We are going to be in the car for 6 hours (or 8 or 10) today and we are burning off some energy.” Then take your child by the hand and stroll back to your car. Wait for it…..then listen. The person who just looked at you like you were completely out of your mind will say something to the effect of “Honey, go get Jimmy!” As you drive past the grassy area where you burned your energy, Jimmy will be running between the trees. If this ever happened to you along I-90, particularly on the New York State Thruway, my name is Cheryl and you’re welcome.
- Plan stops for fun things – My brother and sister-in-law are particularly adept at this trick. They like to find somewhere fun about half way through a day’s drive and then stop for 2-4 hours. Zoos are a popular choice for them but parks, playgrounds, and lakes are great choices too.
- Know your limits – Figure out how many hours your family can realistically spend in the car in one day and stick to it. After all these years of travel, our family limit is about 15 hours (up from 8 hours when my child was 4), after that we start to get cranky. OK, I start to get cranky. If you can’t make it to your destination under your threshold, you need to get creative.
- Sleep – Sleep in this case means hotels. If you have a very long drive that exceeds your threshold, break it up. Our favorite trick is to leave after school, drive about 3 hours and then stay at a hotel. I always pre-book these hotels and I look for ones with pools and near areas we’d like to explore or at least near restaurants we like. We wake up the next day and try to get out by 8 a.m. at the latest.
- No-go Day – Once we reach our destination we find it is best if we keep the munchkin out of the car completely the following day. This was especially important when she was little. These days though she is just as eager to get going as Mom and Dad. She is stronger and more resilient now. More trips for all!
Well that is all great dear, but my child gets carsick, any suggestions there?
Actually yes, and they come courtesy of one of my fantastic sisters-in-law mentioned above. Lest you think that the carsickness gets in the way of traveling for her family, let me assure you that she travels as much, if not more, than we do. It just takes planning, some knowhow and watching your kids closely to figure out what works for them.
- Accept that your child who is prone to being carsick will likely get sick at least once or twice and (over)prepare with supplies. My SIL went to a medical supply store and bought bags similar to these. They aren’t the most exiting purchase ever but they will help keep your child and your car clean. They may make getting sick almost a non-event. According to my SIL, a single adult who is driving can hold this for a child when needed. She’s got skills people!
- Be especially careful in how you dress your child. Dress for the car ride itself and dress for comfort! PJs, yoga pants and t-shirts, etc. You want nothing to be pressing too hard on their bellies. Hmm, comfy travel clothes, see a theme in my family? In this instance though, socks and shoes are optional.
- When dressing your child, consider adding one extra layer on top, a hoodie is a good option. This way when they start to get hot and queasy, they can take off the layer and the change in temperature may be enough to settle the stomach. If not, open the window a little bit if you can, the cool air frequently helps too.
- This is the only time I’ll give this advice since I love books. Don’t let your child read. This is one that I know very well myself. I can’t read in the car. The shadows constantly remind my brain that I am moving but the stationary page insists otherwise, hence the motion sickness. Some people can watch movies in the car with no trouble since the picture is moving, my daughter and I fit into this category. Others can only watch for 10-15 minutes before they need to stop and look out the window, this would be my niece’s realm.
- Play “I Spy” instead. You get to learn more about how your child sees the world, literally, and she won’t get sick.
- Sing songs or talk. Again entertainment that doesn’t require focusing on something that is stationary.
- My SIL swears by this cooler that you can plug into the car (or the wall later on). For her, having the kids’ favorite things to eat on hand works wonders for mood and motion sickness. The variety this cooler affords helps as well and she always travels with ginger ale. The nice thing is that you can bring this into a hotel for an overnight or into your cabin, etc. when you arrive and skip the grocery store for a day or so.
- Drive at night. The kids will be sleeping anyway so you may as well be moving. The issues that cause motion sickness are severely lessened at night and pretty well eliminated while sleeping. Make sure the driver is well rested and switch drivers throughout the night to stay safe.
Ok, pack the car and the kiddos and head out for some fun!