Hello-o-o-o summer! Bring on the sun, sleeping in, swimming, hot dogs and lots and lots of travel.
Last summer, when my son was 10 months old, my boyfriend and I got the hair-brained Griswold’esque idea to drive our little family to Maine, 20+ hours and 1,250 miles away. That means it’s 20+ hours and 1,250 miles back. Pretty much, we planned a 10-day trip and spent four and a half days in the car.
A lot of time for a little guy to behave. And a lot of time for a little guy to misbehave.
Thankfully, our mancub was an angel! He took the trip like a champ and even used the car time to learn to read (re: turn pages in a book and jabber at the pictures.)
There were a few meltdowns, but all were understandable and within reason. I believe, overall, the trip was a success. I mean, we’re planning to go back, so it must have been OK, right? Here are a few tips that worked for us, so I hope they work for you.
1) Travel at night. This was by far the best decision we made the entire trip. We left Charleston at 2 a.m. (after I got off my night shift at the paper) and made it to Hartford, Conn. by lunchtime. That gave us time to get a bite to eat and crash at the hotel, while the baby ran around the room and jumped on the bed. Traffic is also lighter at night, so we could pass through larger cities without sitting and waiting for hours.
2) Pack plenty of snacks. Not only do snacks appease hunger, but they also entertain. At 10 months, my son could open his puffy snacks and take them out of the container. Some even made it in his mouth. There are roughly 150 puffs in one container. We had three containers. When the trip was over I found 876 puffs around the car. They’re like rabbits. Be sure to pack a variety of soft and crunchy, sweet and salty, and kid and parent snacks. I also bought powdered formula and could mix up a bottle with bottled water we kept in the car, so the baby could eat as we drove.
3) Remember books. There were no sing-alongs with Grandma in our car. Well, Grandma wasn’t in the car, but that’s beside the point. We don’t have a portable DVD system, so we relied on books to entertain the boy. Baby Einstein and touch-and-feel books were the best ones. For older kids, Gameboys are a lifesaver. Videos on the iPhone also help make everyone happy.
4) A cooler in the back makes Daddy a happy boy. While the cooler may not be packed with the things that normally make Daddy happy, it’s still a mini-vacay in the middle of the vacay. Send Dad back for a can of pop, cold bottle of water, string cheese, etc., while you stop for a potty break. You’ll return to a happier travel buddy.
5) Stop when the kids need to stop. This might make the trip longer, but it will make it more pleasurable. Sometimes, when a kid goes potty at one rest area, they might really need to go again at the next rest area, OK mom? Especially if they’re being stuffed with juice boxes and snacks to keep them quiet. A wet accident make everyone more miserable than being a little “late” for vacation. We took the scenic route up the coast of Maine, which allowed us to stop at little beaches and ocean inlets to refresh and re-energize. It took much longer than the straight route, but was my favorite part of the trip.
6) Know your family’s limits. If you think you need to stop, stop. Friends recently went to Disney World and hit the meltdown moment, so they decided to find a nice shady spot on a grassy knoll in the park and grab a nap. Plan accordingly so you’re not missing meals, naptime or rushing everyone to get to a certain “fun spot” that won’t be so fun if you’re herding a group of grumpy pants. For our long trip, we knew that we’d have to break up the drive over several days. That’s fine, because that meant more stops for lobstah rolls.
7) Be flexible. Definitely the best piece of advice I have. I am a planner, so I plan our out-of-town trips as much as possible. But I’ve learned to stray from the plan if we need to. This covers everything from meals to … everything. Just look at your family’s beautiful faces and you can tell if they’re having a good time or not. If not, change what you’ve been doing.
Family vacations are a time for bonding and building memories. Don’t make them miserable experiences that get made fun of at your family’s Thanksgiving in the coming years.
All that being said, we’re flying next time. Any tips for me?