Thursday, March 14, 2013

Road Trips Ain't for Babies: The Basics - Part 1

We have an almost 3 year old and an 18 month old. It's about time I shared my tips and tricks for long car trips with littles. We've gone on several trips with at least one baby (when our oldest was a newborn) and now with two. We've done it when I was pregnant. We've done it with a dog. These aren't short, light-hearted trips either. They are 10-12 hours long one way (the same exact trip keeps getting longer as we need more stops with the kids as they get older).

First, there are some major points you should think about while you're planning:

The Vehicle
Is your car big enough for all the crap you're going to need? Is it efficient for driving the distance you need to go? Would it be easier, cheaper, or even safer to rent or borrow another car?

We happen to have a nice ugly minivan so this hasn't ever been an issue for us. The one time our space was limited (hubby's gear takes up a whole lot of room) we put a big roof box thing on top*.

The Directions
Do you know how to get to your destination? If you get lost are you going to be stuck in the boonies or will there be plenty of cityscape blips surrounding the interstate? Do you use a regular map? Google maps or mapquest? I know most people these days have built in navigation systems or own something like a TomTom or a Garmin or just an app on their phone. These are great tools but planning ahead like we did in the olden days can still be a big help. Will you need to stop to eat (maybe!) or pee (depends! . . . no not those kind of depends)? If you've never taken the route you're planning before it's probably a good idea to scope out the things you'll want or need. Several helpful websites can make this pre-planning a lot easier.

The Pre-Planning

Google Maps can show you where pretty much anything is going to be and even let you in on the quality of a place based on reviews. Just put in what you want ( ie"starbucks") and it should let you know where your best bet is for stopping or more importantly where your last chance opportunity for a decent cup of hot coffee on the road is going to be.

Gas Buddy lets you compare prices at local gas stations. To some people this isn't such a big deal on a daily basis maybe they all ready know the cheapest station or happen to be brand loyal. Either way, searching on here can help a lot when you'd like to avoid spending a lot more on gallons of gas. When you're going through different states this is especially helpful.

You Can Breastfeed Here is a brilliant resource for all the nursing mamas out there. Other moms have taken the time to add locations and write reviews of their experiences. There is also a listing for the laws for every state. Mamas should be prepared and comfortable nursing their sweeties wherever they happen to be and pretty much every mom knows they don't always choose the most convenient times for a meal.

Weather is something I forget very easily. If it seems like the weather is decent at home it kind of seems like everywhere else is rainy or sunny too right? Traveling into different climates is a whole other ball game but even if you'll still be in the same general climate the weather can vary a lot. Check the forecast. Even if there isn't any rain or sun on there everyone knows a forecast is just a chart for best guesses so bring the umbrella and sunscreen regardless.

A lot of these things seem obvious or even simple but if you're anything like me something is bound to slip your mind. It doesn't matter if you've done it 20 times. The most important thing to plan on is FORGETTING something or having to FORGO your original plans. PREPARE for the worst but PLAN for the best!

Now. I'm just getting to jot down all the little things I've learned over the years. Maybe one or two of these tips will prove helpful to you.

Snacks - Be generous with snacks so stops for meals aren't a big deal but don't be crazy. A bunch of sugary or salty stuff is going to freak your body out. Especially when it comes to littles, you're begging for a miserable drive if a lot of sweets are in the equation. So, here are a few ideas for easy snacks that keep well in a cooler or a cloth box:

     The Healthier Stuff:

  • grapes
  • edamame 
  • celery
  • baby carrots
  • grape or cherry tomatoes
  • banana or plantain chips
  • raisins
  • seeds or nuts (out of the shell!)
  • granola bars
  • whole wheat pretzels (unsalted!)
  • cheese (the cubes or the thick slices!)
     The Not as Healthy Stuff:
  • dum dums or other little suckers**
  • nilla wafers
  • goldfish
  • cheerios (well, duh)
  • gardettos (I don't know why but I love them for road trips)
  • taffy or licorice
  • your favorite chips

Toys and Entertainment - do not underestimate the attention-grasping powers of painter's tape, tissue paper, or singing really annoying kid's songs. We try to save the big guns (ipad, video games, movies, that type of thing) for when they just REALLLLY get to the point of either making the car itself commit suicide to get out of carrying the insanity around or everyone imploding. Switch things up though. IF they are for even a mild moment being content WITHOUT a toy or noise then LEAVE THEM BE. Because the chances of that happening are slim to none here are some suggestions:

     For the tiny littles (1 and under) your best bet is just getting in the back with them to play peek-a-boo the whole trip. For the very little, TRAVEL WHILE YOU CAN because unless they just hate the car they will sleep the time away and there's not much you'll have to do for them. A lot of people like those little toys for the infant car seats (I used them too!) but you should know that some manufacturer's warranties are VOID whenever you add these trinkets (or the extra cushions and such for that matter). A mirror for them to stare at the sweet, narcissistic little selves is a superb idea. Some of them don't fit well on the headrests of older cars so you may need to rig it up a bit so it doesn't fall.

     For the toddlers (1-3) you just need to get over making good time. Seriously. Right now. Look in a mirror and say "Get over it." In your mind, say "This trip is x+3 hours long" (x being the amount of time it SHOULD take). Now, the cheapest, most random stuff is going to be your best bet. Either a box of tissues or a roll of toilet paper or a pack of wipes. Let them have at that thing, ripping them and flinging them and tearing little pieces. The quiet is worth the slight mess of papers all over. Another good one is painter's tape (the blue, not-so-sticky stuff in the DIY aisle at walmart). Give them a roll or tear a few pieces. They'll experiment until they get mad but it's worth the 5 seconds of quiet concentration. If you want to get a good couple hours of non-screaming, try a NEW movie you just KNOW they'll love. This isn't a time to be an electronic snob. We're talking survival, people. Another favorite of mine is the crayola wonder no-mess markers and coloring pads. They are expensive but lovely. We have iPads with plenty of fun learning games (which I've posted about before if you need ideas!). Those are awesome but we really try to hold those off for the first few hours. My almost three year old will play without end though so that's a really easy solution. When it comes down to it, they SHOULD take a nap. If they get sleepy, try to get in the car and get going and take advantage of nap time. When they wake you're probably going to want to let them out to run or play somewhere (use google to find a park or chickfila or something!). Other ideas: these, this, this,

     For the older but still little kids (3-6) you can probably still use a lot of the toddler tactics but you can also bring books, coloring, or traditional car games like I Spy more into play. I've not BTDT quite yet myself.

     For the oldest kids (7+) . . . I tend to think sit down and shut up sounds like a plan but in my heart I know better. There a million car games and simple toys for this older age group so I have a hard time imagining it being as difficult. But alas, I've yet to BTDT . . . yet.

Car Seats - may this serve as a reminder: TRIPLE check that your seats are installed correctly and that your kiddo hasn't outgrown the seat. Seems logical if you're on the road for a greater amount of time there's a better chance of an accident. Let's all take that precaution. Check the manual, get in touch with a local installation profesional (try the police station or fire station), and double check it again. Safety is #1, right?!

Bathroom Stops - for however many pull ups/diapers/wipes/changes of clothes you think you'll need bring double. Also, bring toilet paper with you. Yeah, I've been stuck in the middle of nowhere at a spider-laden outhouse style toilet with no TP to speak of and there was no way I could hold it any longer . . . look in the camping section for the tiny roll that fits nicely in a purse, diaper bag, or glove box. People may say you're ridiculous ??but when you inevitably have that dire moment you will not care what anyone has to say about your emergency roll. You will be so thankful that you will send ME cookies with a "thanks for saving my life" card. As for stopping at decent places, that's what planning ahead is for but really if you see a place that looks acceptable don't wait for the next one. Pay attention to signs that let you know if the next rest stop isn't for another 30+ miles as well.

Organization - We aren't clean in our car. It's pretty terrible. You should've seen all the junk I found last time I vacuumed it out. If you can, take all the trash and unnecessary junk out of your car and vacuum it. You'll appreciate the clean feeling on a long trip (until it inevitably gets mucked up). Go for some febreeze on the seats or a new air freshener too. To keep things less crazy through the trip try to keep everything in it's own spot. I've found that those cheap fabric storage boxes are awesome for this. We have one for the toys that don't leave the car and we'll use one for any dry snacks we bring. We'll take our cooler for any breakfast, lunch, or cold snack foods and drinks we want***. We have one of those mesh trash bins from the dollar aisle in target as our trash can. We just pop a plastic walmart or target bag in for easy removal of all our nastiness. For extra toys: have a bag or backpack for each kid. Our girls have a land's end bag (gifts from their great grandmama!) and a little backpack each. I let them (for the most part) put some toys they want with them in the backpacks and put extras for accidents (clothes, spare pacifiers, spare sippies or bottles, a diaper, socks, blanket) or some surprises (those crayola wonder books!) in their bags. They are small and don't take up much room. I'd love to invest in one of these but I haven't yet. I think my younger daughter would hate it anyway.

* FYI, the roof box does have potential to screw over your gas mileage.
** Older kiddos only please!
*** DON'T use loose ice or even ice in ziplocs. It'll make a mess or be gross to clean out later. Try getting the gel freezer packs (nice to have if someone gets hurt too). I like the cubes you can get at the dollar store.

To continue reading this series of posts just click HERE

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