774 miles, 13 hours, 3 kids, 1 Jeep.
My head spins just thinking about it. But we did it. Not once but twice in one week as we traveled up to the finger lakes to kick off summer vacation. I only attempt these trips knowing that my kids are accustomed to longer distances. As soon as my oldest was born, my ex-wife and I were hitting the road. We’ve been traveling long distances ever since and as each child joined the caravan, they became more and more accustomed to sitting for long stretches. Based on history, knowing that some great moments are just up the road is more than enough incentive to keep on truckin’.
The funny thing is, we typically can’t drive five miles at home without a meltdown of some sort, and yet on the long trips they typically do great. But even this trip was a record for us and I’m still astounded that we made it home without having to drop someone off in Columbus or Cincinnati.
I remember when I was a kid (he said in his best old man impersonation) we didn’t have car seats, or laws about sitting up front. We also didn’t have DVD players, streaming video and i-pod touches. We rode on the hump, laid in our dad’s lap as he drove, sprawled out in the back seat, played road bingo and punch bug. Dad typically pulled over several times threatening to throw us off a bridge which garnered 20 miles or so until the next round of back seat anarchy.
But now, even with the restrictions of car safety legislation, the kids (and parents) have tools that make the trip a little easier. So as I packed the car for our trip north I thought I had it covered. Snacks, drinks, DVD player, i-pods, headphones, books, games, you name it we had it. Then it happened. As we pulled out of the drive way we realized the DVD player wasn’t working. On top of that my car charger was AWOL. That meant no movies and I had maybe 2 hours before I’d hear, “DAADDD!!! My I-pod is dead!”
A wave of panic rushed through my veins as I tried to assess the potential damage and come up with a plan B. Meanwhile by the grace of all that’s holy, the kids all fell asleep within the first 30 minutes which bought me a couple of hours.
I heard a couple of yawns and saw some stretching going on which let me know I’d soon have a lot of requests coming my way. That’s when I heard one of the kids ask, “Can we watch TV on your phone?” I hadn’t even thought of that! Fortunately I had a full charge and the Netflix app ready to roll on my i-phone. My car stereo has an ‘aux’ plug that allows you to listen to your phone through the car speakers which is an added bonus! And so it was that we managed to make it through the first 1/3 of the trip virtually unscathed. From there we picked up another charger and suddenly the DVD player was a forgotten memory as my phone, little screen and all, became the center of entertainment.
As I mentioned we’ve been road tripping for a long time. So my kids are accustomed to long stretches in the car. We started with little 1-2 hour trips and worked our way up. Now it’s my kids, all 10 and under, who are typically the ones who don’t want to stop. When we stop to gas, they just want to go to the bathroom and get food through the drive-thru so we can keep on moving. Pretty amazing actually. When everyone’s doing well we will do that, but I’ve learned that sometimes we all need a break from the journey and will stop for a longer break while I recharge and the kids decompress.
And then we’re off again.
Traveling with kids can be a challenge as we all know. The trick is to do as much preparation ahead of time as you can. And not just in terms of entertainment and snacks. Mental preparation is almost, if not more, important. Acknowledge in your head from the very beginning that there are going to be trying moments and plan ahead how you’re going to handle them. Promise yourself you’ll keep a cool head and recognize that it’s the circumstances that are causing the issues. That’s not to say you won’t have your moments of “don’t make me pull over!” which you will, but the more you can prepare yourself the more enjoyable it’ll be for everyone. As the dad (or mom) you set the tone.
Some tips.Make sure snacks, drinks, etc. are within arms reach as you won’t have someone next to you to help. Have a “take turns” plan of action for movies, tv shows, music etc. At the same time, depending on how many kids you have, don’t be afraid to double up on DVD players. Borrow a neighbor’s DVD player to give the girls one to watch Barbie on and the boys one to watch Thomas the Train on. It’s more effort, but makes for a much smoother ride.
Above all try to remind everyone about the north star; the goal, the prize! Talk about it with the kids mid stream. “What are you looking forward to most when we get to the lake?” “How many fish are you going to catch?” “Are you going to go tubing this year?”
As frustrating as traveling with the kids can be at times, not once have I ever regretting the trip. The bonding that takes place is irreplaceable. The time spent focused on the kids is priceless. Even the trip itself becomes an event you conquer together. The important thing is that you’re spending time as a family. The trip itself is really only part of a much more important journey. It’s that thought that keeps me throwing the kids in the back seat and taking off for adventures that otherwise would be time spent watching too much Disney. (no offense Mickey).