I wrote a little about this topic in a previous post. But after being freshly home from a 7 day trip to Colorado, I thought I’d talk a little more about it. With my family living in Mississippi, which is a 12 hour drive from us, our kids have traveled a decent amount. They both made that drive as newborns.
I have friends ask me for tips on how to survive a long road trip with kids. What I usually tell them is to structure the drive. I used to wing it and just throw snacks and TV shows in the back constantly and by the time we arrived everyone had a sugar hangover and was overstimulated and exhausted and cranky. Now we plan out our stops and structure entertainment and snacks accordingly.
On most of our trips, we usually hit the road by 6am. Our kids don’t sleep in the car. Like ever. We used to have high hopes of me sipping coffee, Jeff driving (he always drives the first shift), and the kids sleeping peacefully in the car. It was a cute thought. On our trip last week, we planned to make three stops because it was a 10 hour drive. We aren’t rigid about the stops, if nature calls, there’s nothing you can do about it. We divided the trip up into three segments. For the first three hours, they can eat their breakfast, read, draw, and look out the window. No shows, no devices, no snacks. This always starts the trip off well. Something about holding off on sugar and TV helps the kids have a better attitude. We talk, maybe listen to music, and just sit. After our first stop, they get to watch a movie, which usually takes about 1.5 hours and they also get a snack. It’s a well-earned reprieve for everyone. After the movie is over, they can read or draw or play with one of the toys I packed. I usually run around the house the night before the trip and grab a few toys that I can throw in a backpack with their books. Our second stop is lunchtime. We eat, stretch our legs, play if there’s a playplace, and then get back in the car. This is rest time for the kids. They have to be quiet and try to sleep. Like I mentioned earlier, they don’t sleep in the car. But we make them be quiet for about 2 hours. They can read but that’s about it. They then can play with their devices for a little bit before our last stop. After that stop they get one more show and then we have about 2 hours left. That’s usually the hardest part of the trip, so they get a snack, which helps a lot.
I love the feeling of getting on the road. My favorite day of vacation is the travel day. There’s just so much to anticipate and look forward to. I love finding a good playlist to listen to, drinking coffee with whip cream, opening up a new book picked just for the trip, bouncing good questions off of each other, and learning about our surroundings. On this particular trip, we drove a long way on I70 west. We learned about agriculture and wind turbines and wind energy.
Jeff and I always set our expectations for trips on the car ride. We talk about what we hope to get out of the vacation – personally and as a family and how we can help each other make those things happen. I thought about how excited I was and I realized we are almost always more excited than the kids. No matter where we go. And I realized what makes vacations so much less fun is when we put expectations on their reactions. I realized there was no way I could expect the kids to treasure the vacation as much as me. They don’t need a vacation. Their whole life is a vacation. They’re kids! Something about realizing all of this slowed me down a little and allowed me to just… be. I feel like that phrase gets used a lot, but maybe it’s because a lot of us are so bad at it.
In my efforts to just be present, I was able to say yes to the things that made the kids feel more loved. “Mom, watch this!” “Mom, can we go see this pond?” “Mom, look at this fish!”, along with 1000 bad knock knock jokes and lots of looking at pretend worlds made up in the yard. And those things filled us all up. I wasn’t focused on going to see and do all the things. We saw and did a lot, but we didn’t really have energy or expectations behind any of it. We were just together. And it was beautiful and relaxing and fun. And when Nora was asked, “What was your favorite part of your vacation?” she said, “Being with my family.”