I am now living proof that you can survive a road trip halfway across the country with toddlers.
But you need STAMINA. Which includes the ability to make decisions and be coherent with very little sleep. FLEXIBILITY is important. Pack a CREDIT CARD for impromptu hotel stays and a SENSE OF HUMOR when the little ones have decided YOU WILL NOT DRIVE ANOTHER MILE WITHOUT ME SCREAMING AND PUKING.
My goal was to travel home to celebrate the marriage of a longtime friend. But we live on the East Coast. And our destination was the Midwest. That’s a 13-hour drive, 850 miles one way, and I haven’t driven it since I moved East a decade ago. It requires crossing mountains and never-ending stretches of cornfields and prairies. It requires TIME.
What I’ve learned: Stay flexible. Kids will make you make time for what’s important. They will slap cell phones and tablets out of your hand to get your attention. They will cry until you pick them up or feed them or change their diapers. Or stop the car. You will answer TO THEM. Or else.
And once you know who’s really running the show –THEM– you can adapt, pivot, and reach your destination, safe and sane. Here’s how:
- STOP. And think it through. Would it be cheaper in the long run and add years to your life if you just bought some plane tickets?
- If you will be driving more than 8 hours, consider getting a hotel. You’ll be a safer driver and a saner parent if you’re rested.
- Bring a “pack and play”. If you’re not comfortable co-sleeping with your little one, you can easily set the “pack and play” up in the hotel room or at your destination and they can sleep or play in it and be protected.
- Add two hours to your driving time to include diaper changes, nursing, meals and potty breaks. Plan on stopping every 2 to 3 hours.
- Keep a “go bag” that you can easily reach, with bleach wipes, paper towels, diapers, butt paste and plastic bags to stash dirty diapers. Add another “go bag” at arms reach with sippy cups and snacks.
- Put a good quality diaper on the baby and really put on a lot of diaper cream to avoid extreme diaper rash. This will also enable you to drive a bit farther before a mandatory diaper change.
- Nursing moms should minimize the coffee drinking, which can lead to leg cramps and dehydration. Ask me how I know.
- Provide distractions for the kids. Add to your luggage small toys, DVDs or a tablet loaded with offline movies to entertain them. And I love these busy bags. My little ones are still a bit young for them but I will use these in the future.
- Bring jars of baby food or make your own and have ice packs with you to keep them cold. Eating fast food on the road for several days will eventually make every one bloated and irritable and give the little ones constipation after several hours of riding. And riding several hours with a constipated toddler is NO BUENO. You have been warned.
- Bring a booster seat with a tray. It’s hard to feed a baby in hotel rooms that may not have a dining table.
Now that I’m back home and somewhat rested–nah the baby is teething again, there’s no rest happening here— I’m glad we did it. My toddler loved to see the bridges and point out the big trucks as we drove. The 13-month-old mostly slept, bless her little heart. Me and the hubby got to sit next to each other to talk and laugh for hours.
And that’s worth doing the trip all over again.