Hitting the Road, Young Family Style


It seems like only yesterday that I was able to take a vacation on a moment’s notice: throw some stuff in a backpack, fill up the gas tank, hit a Starbucks, and be on the beach in six hours. But now I have kids, which is all kinds of awesome, but that kind of spontaneity is very much a thing of the past.

We took our first big vacation with two littles a few weeks ago, made some mistakes, figured out some strategies to try again, and are planning the next road trip.

I hit up Pinterest and some good friends for traveling tips and added a few ideas of my own, so here goes:

1. This sounds like the advice my dad would give me every time I opened my car door, but it’s good stuff: check your car before you leave. We went ahead and took ours to get an oil change, so we could get the fluids checked and tires filled at the same time. If you go the DIY route, check your coolant levels, oil, and tires, at a minimum. Don’t forget the spare! We were in California, getting ready to head back, when my father-in-law mentioned that we should check the spare in the trunk. We had bought the car used and never checked- it was at 10 psi! (Which is scary low, btw). We hurried to a gas station and fixed it before we came home- thankfully, we didn’t have any breakdowns. Car issues are scary by themselves, but car issues with toddlers in 110 degree heat can quickly get dangerous.

2. Bring lots of water and food. In the case of a breakdown in the hinterlands between Beach and Not Beach, you might need it for your car engine and for staying healthy and hydrated. Besides that, fed kids are happier kids. We kept a gallon of water in the cab of the car so we could fill cups without pulling over. Also, our soft-sided cooler was stashed where the kids could reach pre-sliced apples, string cheese, granola bars, and bananas.

3. Think about what keeps your kids occupied and engaged. For you, it might be iPods or iPads with games and movies loaded up, portable DVD players, or a great new book series. Our almost three year old was pretty happy with a big, soft-sided box I bought at the 99-Cent Store, filled with her favorite books, and put within her reach. She and her 15 month old sister also passed around our Magna Doodles and their favorite stuffed animals. When our kids get a little bit bigger, we’ll probably start introducing them to some audio versions of some high-interest books, like The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, or the Percy Jackson series. Another fun way to distract the whole family is to play license plate or sign games, where you try to spy all the letters of the alphabet.

4. The P Word: Potty Breaks. Our older daughter is newly potty trained, so we were peeing our pants (wokka, wokka) with nervousness over how to handle long stretches of time in the car. We went super-prepared and actually brought a kiddie potty to keep in the trunk in case of an emergency not near a toilet. Thankfully, we didn’t have to use it. We made it a non-negotiable for her to go right before we left, and stopped every two to three hours on the way. For our little one, we changed her diaper every time we stopped. Since gas station changing tables can be a bit janky, I brought a changing mat and did a quick change in the car.

5. Have a silver bullet or ten. You know, those things that are special enough to stave off a meltdown. If our girls started to get too upset, we turned on That CD. The one with a puppy on the front and really bouncy synthesizers accompanying a lady with a frighteningly cheerful voice as she sang “This Old Man” and “I’m a Little Teapot.” Four bars of the synth and peace descended on our little car.

Our little road trip certainly wasn’t perfect, but we learned a few good lessons and are gearing up (get it?) for our second road trip of the summer.

What are your silver bullets? Any stories of epic road trip disaster? Any tips for families with kids past the “Skinnamarinky-Dinky-Doo” stage?


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