It’s that time of year again. Before too long, we’ll be making the fourteen (yes, you read that right) hour trek to Illinois to visit family for the holidays. Honestly, we’ve made this drive so many times, that by now, we actually look forward to it. Because it means fourteen whole hours of being together. No work, no stress (except for my husband’s slight case of road rage), no house to clean, no laundry to sort, no meals to prepare, no dishes to wash. Just the four of us and our dog, together, all day long. It’s a rarity these days… all of us being together for more than an hour or so in the evening. I think we’re all aching for quiet family time. A break from, well, LIFE. To be honest, it doesn’t happen as often as we’d like it to. I’m guessing that many of you are nodding your heads in agreement, or letting out a long sigh because your heart aches for a quiet break together with those that you love the most.
A road trip gives us all an opportunity to have a little adventure together. We make it fun. Don’t get me wrong, there are tears and at least one dreaded blowout, but our kids have always been troopers. A huge blessing, no doubt. It’s a much needed recharge to prepare for a busy week ahead. Spending time with our family and friends is something that we all look forward to, and enjoy. But, if I’m being completely honest, it’s also tiring. Sleeping in different beds, trying to adapt to different routines (while doing our best to keep the kids on their schedules), attempting to meet up with each and every family member and friend, chasing our toddler around every non toddler-proofed house, and living out of suitcases. It’s exhausting, but so worth it in the end. There are so many moments treasured and memories created.
Since we’ve done this long-distance traveling thing a time or ten (although this will be our first time with two littles), I thought I’d share a few tips for those of you who also have plans to travel for the holidays. We, by no means, have it all figured out, so I’m eager to hear your suggestions as well. My husband and I know firsthand that all children are different, and that each child’s needs are going to be met in different ways. These just happen to be a few things that work well for us.
- Get organized. We deep clean our car a few days prior to any big trip. Goodbye stale cheerios and two week old apple slices, hello freshly vacuumed car. We stock diaper bags, organize the kid’s entertainment bins, make sure we have hand sanitizer, plenty of paper towels and keenexes. We also take the car in for an oil change and ask the mechanic to look it over to make sure it’s in good shape for the long drive.
- Pack food, drinks, and then some more food. I spend the night before a big trip preparing meals and snacks. We pack enough food to last the entire trip… and then some. If you have a toddler, you know that running out of food may very well lead to ALL THE TEARS. So, I make sure to avoid this at all costs. A few of our favorite car snacks are: peanut butter sandwiches, hummus sandwiches, clementines, apple slices, almonds, graham crackers, pretzels, inner peas, cheerios, grapes, granola bars, carrots and cheese sticks. Everything is portioned out into baggies so that all we have to do is reach into the cooler, and all of the food is sorted out and ready to go. We also buy a case of water to have in the car so that we never feel like we have to ration water, or stop because someone’s thirsty.
- Get the most out of your stops. We’ve been making the trip back and forth to Illinois since Luca was three months old. When he was a baby, our stops were more frequent for feedings and diaper changes, but they were also shorter. Nowadays, having a toddler, we have realized that our trip goes a lot smoother when we stop somewhere where Luca can get out a little energy. Last summer, it rained the entire way to Illinois, so we ended up stopping at Walmart, Meijer and Dicks Sporting Goods. Chad dropped us off at the stores to walk the aisles and use the restroom while he filled the car with gas. Other times, we’d find a gas station out in the middle of no where that had a good patch of grass to run around on. Usually once during each drive, we pick a place to stop at to do something fun. Whether it be letting Luca pick out a special treat at Panera (while Chad and I fill up the largest cup of coffee), or finding a rest stop with a playground. We stop about every three hours, and we try to keep our stops between 20-30 minutes. It’s just enough time to stretch our legs, and break up the trip. It’s amazing how much smoother the ride seems to go when we do this. Plus, it gives us all something to look forward to.
- Take lots of entertainment. This will vary depending on the ages of your children. We have a bin at the foot of each of our boy’s seats in the car. Theo’s contains soft toys, musical toys, teethers, pacis, and blankets. Luca’s basket is filled with books, interactive toys, crayons, a coloring book, his favorite stuffed animal, a blanket, his travel tray and our iPad. If I’m being completely honest, I never thought that we would allow our young children (let alone, TWO year old) to delve into the world of technology. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since becoming a parent, it’s never to think too much (negatively or positively) of one’s parenting decisions before you become a parent yourself. There are so many things that I have said I’d never do that I am most certainly guilty of doing with my own kids. What it comes down to for us is that you know your kids and their needs better than anyone else. So if allowing Luca screen time in the car keeps him happy and entertained, then that’s what we’re going to do. After all, we are asking him to spend his day strapped down in a car seat. There’s only so much he can do. Since the car is the only place that we allow him to use the iPad, it’s something that he is excited about and looks forward to. One big reason why we are okay letting him use the iPad is because of the guided access feature. Not only are we able to limit what he watches by importing the videos ourselves (What’s in the Bible with Buck Denver, Veggie Tales and Thomas the Train, to name a few), when we turn the guided access on, he is restricted to whatever app is open when we turn it on. In this case, it would be the video app, but he also enjoys a few drawing and bible apps. This way, we can relax and give him the freedom of switching back and forth between movies, and it keeps us from constantly having to reach back to make sure that he’s not in something he shouldn’t be.
- Pack a few surprises! I like to keep a small bag with a few new (cheap) toys up front with me, and I’ll surprise the kids with one about half way through the drive, and another as we’re nearing our destination. The excitement of something new usually buys us a good half hour of entertainment. We’ll gladly take what we can get!
- Begin your trip with prayer. Before pulling out of the driveway, we pray together and thank God for our car, for Chad’s paid vacation time, for the money for food, gas and entertainment, and we ask God to bless our travels and our time together. Praying together always gets our trip off on a good start. Acknowledging and accepting that everything (traffic, tantrums, unexpected stops, etc.) is in God’s hands gives us all a little (much needed) dose of peace.
- Let go of all expectations. Traveling can be stressful. Prepare yourselves for a long day. Put all expectations of a smooth trip aside, so when there’s an unexpected hiccup, your stress meter doesn’t explode and you’re able to stay (mostly) cool, calm and collected.
Here are a few of our road trip essentials:
1 | Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes 2 | The Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Spray 3 | Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear? 4 | LeapFrog Chat and Count Smart Phone 5 | Baby Mirror for Car 6 | Fisher-Price Ocean Wonders Soothe and Glow Seahorse 7 | B. Toulouse Laptrec Magnetic Drawing Board 8 | Jute Storage Bin for Toys 9 | Travel Tray for Car Seat 10 | Cloud b Sound Machine Soother 11 | iPad Air
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I hope this post encourages you if you’re planning to travel for the holidays! If you have any additional suggestions, I’d love it if you’d share them in the comments below.
Love + Hugs,