First, let me start by saying that I detest sitting and I would happily move somewhere with amazing public transportation and never drive a car again. Knowing those two things, you can imagine that when the discussion of taking our first road trip started I was totally against the idea. My love of travel and need to save money won out and I now embrace our road trips and have plans for some pretty long ones once we schedule them in.
Child in middle row was in "quarantine". She was sick, but our non-refundable ski holiday had to go on!
Our first road trip was a disaster! We were going from Minnesota to Wisconsin Dells, which is supposed to take about 4 hours. It took us close to double that time because no one told the 5 month old that she wasn't supposed to howl the entire trip. Our first stop was about 30 minutes into the trip because we figured something must be really wrong with her if she hadn't stopped crying! We fed her and changed her and she was perfectly happy the entire stop. It changed the moment we buckled her back in the car seat. A screaming baby starts to wear on a 2, 5 and 7 year old as much as it does the parents and soon there were 6 unhappy car travelers. We stopped many times, tried everything and all eventually arrived with very big headaches.
Somehow Per convinced me that that trip was so great that we should try another one, so we ventured from MN to Chicago, which should have been 8 hours. We ended up stopping overnight and doing the trip in two days. At this point we probably should have given up but we were saving so much in airfare that we tried again.
Turns out that the third time was a charm and our Minnesota to New York, New York to DC and DC back to Minnesota drives were amazingly great. We played old fashioned car games like the finding letters on signs, sang songs and chatted with each other. At one point we realized that we had more uninterrupted talking time than we had had in awhile (kids were 2, 4, 7 and 9). We made stops along the way at the places you would never go for your vacation, but could tackle in a couple hours, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and lived for the stopover hotel's small, rectangular pool, where the kids would use up their pent up energy.
Sugared up and ready to go!
After this trip, we have scheduled in at least one road trip each year. We did a couple more jaunts to NYC/NJ and figured out how to do it without stopping overnight. We also started heading west to Colorado for ski trips because we couldn't fathom taking skis on an airplane. Now that we live there we make a CO to MN journey every summer. Next summer we may combine the two routes and go from CO to NYC. I have two different routes planned so we can make a bunch of new stops. We will have a third driver so the distance seems even more manageable.
TIPS for Road trips:
Get good music: Our favorite is the Hamilton Musical Soundtrack because it is 2 hours 20 minutes and we can all sing different parts to make it fun. We now gauge how long it takes us to get through long states, like Nebraska, by number of times we can get through the show. I will admit that another trip happened just when Frozen came out and let's just say we all know all those songs pretty well.
Limit tech time: I know this sounds like the opposite of a good tip. Our reason is that the car is a great place for family time. There's lots of talking time and nowhere to go. We do funny questions, play games and sing and have great conversations. We are blessed that all of our kids can read in cars too so lots of books get read on our road trips. Once it gets dark the kids can bust out their technology and the car pretty much gets silent. One of us drives and the other sleeps so we can keep going longer.
Get a roof rack for your stuff: We packed the car to the brim on our first couple trips and people were miserable because of the lack of foot space. The roof rack allows you to bring things like ice skates, winter clothes, or the occasional santa suit when you will be gone on Christmas! Click here to learn about some of the roof racks we've liked best.
Our first roof rack was soft-sided. It held a boatload and stored easily when not in use. The more you shove, the more that fits.
Let the kids chose their car activities: Each kid gets a small "carry on" bag to have by them and they are in charge of choosing what they want to do. This started once I realized that they didn't do half the stuff I thought they would. Our little girls, who end up in the back row, pulled out a Barbie car, Barbies and stuffed animals and played for 5 hours straight one trip. I would have never packed any of that!
Bribe them: After a couple hours in the car I hand them their treat bags and they can go to town eating as much as they want when they want it. I include slow foods like suckers and combine treats with healthy snacks so no one is ever hungry. We have also had contests where the best behaved child gets to pick something at the gas stop. It continues for each segement.
Limit long stops: We bring one meal with us so the passenger can just hand and we can keep driving rather than stop and waste an hour for a meal. When we stop for gas we make it as quick as possible and require everyone to use the bathroom. Once done, they jog in place or run around in a grassy area until we are ready to leave.
At some point in our road-tripping adventures, we decided to include the dog. Most times she's the easiest and happiest of the bunch!