We have started a new series with guest blogger Emily from Our Nest in the City. Emily will be blogging all about her experience in motherhood and the essentials required to navigate everyday life with kids. As we welcome March Break this month, her first post will be all about the necessities for a road trip with kids. Welcome Emily!
With March Break just around the corner; the roads will soon be filled with families. The kids are off school and gas prices are friendlier than usual, but if long drives with your little one(s) are more intimidating than exciting, you’re not alone! A family road trip is no small undertaking, but if you’re prepared and your expectations are right, it can still be a great time.
I’ve driven the eight hour trek from Montreal to Niagara with my three little ones more times than I can count, and usually without my husband by my side, so I know a thing or two about road trips with kids. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned (the hard way) over the years.
When to Leave
Long drives with kids can rise or fall based on departure time. Finding the optimal departure time varies based on your children’s rhythms but here are a few things to consider:
Nap time. If your drive is 1-2 hours, then schedule it around nap time so your little one will sleep for the majority of the time. But what about longer drives? If your drive is several hours, you don’t want to start with nap time, so try to leave a few hours before regular nap time. Why? Because the first couple hours of a road trip are usually the easiest. No one is hungry yet, everyone has just used the facilities, and diapers should be clean. It’s kind of all downhill from here, so don’t waste those easiest hours with a nap! When I’m driving the eight hours to visit my parents, I try to leave three hours before nap time. Finally, if you can handle driving late into the night, you can always leave a couple of hours before bedtime. This way the easiest hours of your drive will also be your child’s only awake hours, and you’ll enjoy a quiet, if not boring drive in peace.
Feeding. Most babies need to eat every three hours, and toddlers and kids aren’t much different. I aim to leave the house with full stomachs and empty bladders, and that counts for every passenger. If you have a baby, make sure you’ve done a full feed and burping as close to departure time as possible.
What to Expect
Expectations are everything! We have travelled quite extensively as a family, and it’s never easy, but our low expectations help us keep a positive attitude along the way. The drive to my parent’s house is under seven hours without kids, and over eight hours with kids. For the longest time I felt frustrated that it was taking so much longer, but nowadays I expect an eight hour drive, and I’m not disappointed. Same goes for the atmosphere in the car. Before kids, road trips meant belting out our favourite music or getting lost in a great audio book. If we still expected that type of carefree drive, we’d be crushed by disappointment, but our expectations have changed (lowered!). If you expect the drive to be really challenging, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the calmer moments, and prepared for the harder ones.
Take it from someone who just potty trained her last baby – there are few times in parenting when you’ll be glad your child is still in diapers. Road trips are one of those times. If your kids are still in diapers, drive as long as you can! Remember, they sleep all night in a diaper, so they can definitely go several daytime hours. If your passengers are potty trained, you’ll need to factor in stopping for bathrooms every 1-2 hours.
Because of the need for frequent bathroom breaks, I make it a rule to not also stop for food. With the exception of drive through coffee, of course! This mama needs her fuel. Pack food that’s easy to eat and crumb-free, unless you want your car to look like the bottom of a toaster. Cucumber and pepper slices are great, bananas are messy. Homemade waffles are awesome, muffins are the worst. Trial and error, folks! I also limit liquids with older kids, for obvious reasons.
Keeping them busy
This may seem unorthodox for 2016, but I’m one of those moms that doesn’t have a car with a built-in movie screen. I have the sneaking suspicion (and many mom friends have confirmed this) that once the kids know TV is an option, they’ll be insufferable without it. Plus, I have fears that as the driver, I’d be distracted. These days we don’t get as much family time as we’d like, and though road trips are hard, it’s a rare chance for uninterrupted time together, so I prefer it to be screen-free.
The first hour or so, I try not to offer the kids any sort of game, book, or activity. Most kids should be able to endure that long in a car without too much complaining, so don’t fuss with them. I learned this the hard way when we were driving to NYC with our two toddlers, years back. I showered them with games, colouring books, and treats as soon as we got in the car for the seven hour drive. An hour in they were over it and I was out of ammo! After the first hour or so, I introduce a game like I Spy, or first person to see a red car wins. Kids can be entertained by these games for longer than you’d think! Babies don’t need these activities, but they love to know you’re near, so a reverse mirror can help them see you and play peek-a-boo. It’s always a good idea to have a new book or toy for a long trip, but save it for when you really need a win! On our most recent drive I bought personalized white boards with dry erase markers for each of my three kids. What a game changer! The kids coloured for two hours!
Keeping them comfortable
Long drives are uncomfortable for anyone, but for little ones who need to wiggle they’re especially challenging. At each rest stop make sure toddlers get their wiggles out with some jumping jacks or jogging on the spot. For babies, take the opportunity to take them out of their car seat and hold them in a different position.
In winter months, make sure you take off heavy outerwear before buckling up a child in a car seat. This is a safety precaution and more comfortable! Consider a sun shade to cover the rear windows if the sun will be shining during your drive, and make sure their car seats are properly adjusted. Lastly, make sure your kids are dressed comfortably for a long drive. As a rule, this means yoga pants and sweats for our kids, and let’s be honest, me too!
Emily is a Montreal-based writer and blogger, but most importantly, a mom of three littles (age five and under). She geeks out over cloth diapers, lattes, and will do just about anything to travel. You can find her on Instagram @emmorrice where she profusely overgrams pictures of her meals, kids and city.