When I was a kid, travelling was pretty much synonymous with road trips. Some day I’ll be able to regale my kids with my “back in the day” stories of staring out the window for hours while the prairie towns went by, hot dark green vinyl seats and no air conditioning in August, intermittent radio stations as our only form of entertainment and other tales of hardship and woe. Of course I won’t mention that we also were able to pull out some slack on the lap belts and lay flat and relax in the back seat, or even take turns up in the front bench seat between Mom and Dad if we were good instead of being strapped into a five point restraint for the entire trip. We drove to visit relatives in Saskatchewan quite regularly as well as trips to California, Yellowstone park, Vancouver Island, Central BC and even one epic trip all the way from the west coast of Canada to Newfoundland. There’s nothing that will give you the feel of a place like crossing it by road.
My husband and I both like taking road trips and did a few before the kids came along (long weekend in Napa Valley? Why not, it’s only 16 hours away!) but for the first few years with the kids we didn’t do a lot of driving with them. We did some 3-4 hour trips, but until we needed to buy four tickets to fly, it often just worked out better to fly. However, last year we took one look at airfares in summer and decided it was time to take the family and hit the road.
The kids were 2 and 3 at the time and I was a bit apprehensive, but I was surprised at how smoothly the trip went despite 30 or so hours of driving. So this year when our summer trip involves taking the kids to their grandparents before heading out without them, it wasn’t too hard to make the decision to drive there. I’ve tried to learn from what worked well last year and what I wish I would have done differently and here is my list of essentials for getting ready for a road trip with preschoolers.
1) IPads are the best invention ever. This is true for planes and other forms of transportation as well, but for a road trip, media is your best friend. Some people recommend packing crafts, lego, travel games and other toys for kids, and that may be great for older kids, but the reality of travelling with a 3 year old is that any attempt to play with small toys will result in frustration, tears and endless refrains of “Mommy, I dropped it! Mommy I need it! Mommy help!” And you can only do so many singalongs. We have family policies about screen time and media use at home, but we’re all a lot happier if we shelve them while we’re on the road.
2) You can never bring too many zip loc bags. Or wet wipes.
3) Strategic snacking can make or break the trip. Like with screen time, I find that relaxing the family rules about junk food can make everything go a lot more smoothly. If you can get through 10 hours on the road with just carrot sticks and little bowls of organic quinoa salad , then I tip my hat to you. But when things start to get restless in our car, a baggie of treats can have an effect that’s almost miraculous. However, not all snacks are created equal, especially with young kids. So far, I’ve found that chocolate melts, chips are too crumbly, cheezies leave horrible orange powder everywhere and most fruit is just too drippy and messy to be worth the effort. My favourites are those pouches of fruit snacks, rice krispie squares, cereal bars, those omnipresent fishies (except the powdery ones) and, our favourite of all, Old Dutch popcorn twists, which are basically like cheeze puffs but without the orange coating. By now, the kids have figured out that when that big blue bag comes home from the grocery store, a trip is coming soon.
4) Be flexible with planning your timing and do what works for your family. Some people say that its essential to stop for a break every two hours or so, but we find that we’re better off just going for 4 or 5 hours and then taking a meal break rather than stopping and starting over and over.
5) Have a bag with a change of clothes for each person and any essentials you may need on the road that can be easily accessed. Even if you plan to finish your trip in one day and unpack at your destination you don’t want to need a new shirt for yourself or someone else only to find out its in the suitcase that’s at the bottom of the pile in the back of the van.
6) Remember, you have a captive audience. When else is a family trapped together in such close proximity to each other? Take advantage of the situation and start making some memories!