Welcome to high summer. Before we had kids, this season meant one thing to my husband and I. Road trips. A lot of them. They are the reason our old 4Runner is knocking on 300,000 miles, and the only logical answer to why we know almost every Willie Nelson song by heart.
Then there were kids. Three of them – all girls. And when they travel, these young divas require their favorite blankets and life jackets and sippy cups and an endless parade of My Little Ponies. The twins also require two Pack’N’Plays, diapers, wipes, a cooler of snacks, a bag of toys, and at least four nuks.
Why all this stuff? Because every scenario should be accounted for. I’m not a Type A by any stretch, but I have learned a very important rule in road tripping. When you’re prepared, everyone has a good time. When you’re not, you’re pulling off at exit 203B with no gas station in sight, stripping your toddler of noxious clothing, and re-dressing her in pants that are a size too small.
We just completed our fourth and most spontaneous road trip of the season, and we now feel like well-seasoned professionals. Here’s what worked for us.
Pack a toy bag
Preferably, one of those grocery store types that stands on their own works the best. Grab a few toys, and make sure you pick a few that light up and play really obnoxious songs. Annoying as they are, sometimes kids need the distraction. Keep it within arm’s reach, so that when the whining starts, you can swoop in with Mr. Potato Head and save the day.
You get hungry in the car, right? So do kids. Really hungry. Bored hungry. Snack hungry. Whatever time of day, make sure you have at least one option of something you can put in a cup and pass back. For little ones, applesauce in a pouch is a lifesaver. Yes, this is how you end up vacuuming ten pounds of cheerios out of your car, and washing seat covers. Who cares. The kids aren’t screaming, and that’s what counts.
Take a break
Kids don’t do well skipping meals, pushing naps, or missing bathroom breaks. Let’s be honest. Grownups don’t either. So keep an eye on the clock. Stop to change diapers, go potty, and eat lunch at the normal intervals your kids do those things. No one benefits from the keep-on-keeping-on mentality 387 miles at a time.
Buy an atlas
I know. Paper. Bulk. I have a phone. I have a system. Yada yada yada. When you’re in the middle of nowheresville and your phone doesn’t get service and your GPS can’t figure out which satellite to track off of and the babies are screaming, nothing beats a good old fashioned map. Unless you like being the idiot at the gas station, mispronouncing road signs and admitting you don’t actually know which direction West is.
Go. Go. Go.
Ever been stuck reading the sign “Rest stop – 27 miles” when your toddler was yelling at the top of her lungs, “But I need to go potty now?” Always keep an eye on the map and the mileage to the next town. Make friends with your GPS. And when all else fails, don’t force anyone to wait. Pull over. Now. A little embarrassment is better than sitting in a booster seat full of pee for the next six hours.
Be a wipe packrat
Your mom stashed Kleenex in her purse and baby wipes under the seat for good reason. Kids make messes. But there’s no sin a pack of wipes can’t handle. Keep them handy, keep them close. At least one for every row of seats you have. Use liberally.
Keep a garbage bag
I’m notoriously bad at forgetting this, but having a plastic bag stashed away for emergencies is amazingly helpful. Road trips generate mess: diapers, wrappers, ice cream cups, Go-Go Squeeze packets, wipes, etc. Take a tip from backpacker mentality, and Pack It In, Pack It Out. The poor schmuck stuck doing post trip van clean-up will thank you.
Need an idea to keep kids entertained that doesn’t involve the DVD player or the books that keep falling off the seat? Make up silly stories, pack them full of potential or future events that may occur, and keep them going as long as you can. Ask your kids to tell the next one. You might find yourself busting a gut at their yarn-telling skills.
Let sleeping dogs lie
I know the best family picture is just begging to be taken out there on the pier… but the kids are fast asleep in various broken-neck car seat positions. Whatever you do, don’t wake them up. No picture is worth the thousand decibels of scream you’re about to subject yourself to if you interrupt their hard-won sleep.
Stop for ice cream
It’s messy, it’s sweet, and it can always be found in a drive-thru if you can’t stand to unbuckle everyone one more time. And if you didn’t get the cute picture on the pier, you can always take one of your toddler mowing down a cone-in-a-cup and call it equally as summertime-good.