In a couple days, we'll be driving 6.5 hours for a friend's wedding. With stops, we think it will be an 8 hour trip. It will be our longest road-trip with the Nugget to date, but as we have been making the 5 hour drive to my parents' house since we moved back to the Midwest, we feel mostly prepared. Famous last words, I'm sure.
The Nugget is a seasoned (note I didn't say "happy") traveler. The picture above is from a year ago - he fills up considerably more of his carseat now. He took 2 cross-country flights in his first 4 months of life, which is not out of the ordinary for us. We average a 3+ hour roadtrip every other month. Several friends who don't travel often have expressed awe and questioned our sanity at traveling so far, so often with a little one in tow. I won't say it's easy nor is it sane - all of our trips cause a certain amount of trepidation for me, and my shoulders always creep a little closer to my ears after several hours in an enclosed space with our bundle of energy - but the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and we've learned and stolen some travel tricks along the way. Here are a few for the road (I'll do an air travel tip list another time - it's a horse of a different color):
1. Make lists before you pack. I start our lists about a week out. I leave nothing out, no matter how obvious they may seem (toothbrushes, bedtime giraffe, blanket, underwear). As I pack, I check things off the list. Try not to stress too much - nearly any place you go, you can pick up any essentials you forgot.
2. Make a plan for the day of departure. Be flexible, but have an idea of when you will get up, whether you will eat breakfast at home or on the road, lay out comfy traveling clothes. Try to plan things like hitting the ATM, gassing up the car, and dropping pets at the kennel the day before departure if possible.
3. Plan out rest stops in advance. Since part of our journey is on a toll road, it's a big pain to exit and re-enter. We keep a map of the rest stops in the car so we can plot out things like lunches and diaper changes. Be prepared to stop every 1.5 - 2 hours with a toddler to minimize road rage.
4. Invest in new toys! Every child is different, but all kids get bored. Something fun and new makes being stuck in a seat a lot more tolerable. For the toddler Nugget, we will bring a new pile of books from the library, and 3 brand-spankin' new toys - a Poppin' Pals, a See-N-Say, and a magna-doodle. His stand-bys include a cell phone, a lap piano, and a remote control. He doesn't get to play with many mechanized toys at home, so they are a special car treat. You can even wrap the new toys and dole one out each hour to make it more exciting. Yeah, it's kind of an expense, but we just budget it into our travel money. We rarely buy toys for the Nugget and try to hold off until we are going on a trip, then buy him something we want for him anyway (often on sale!), as opposed to random junk at rest station gift shops. The key is to look for toys that are in one piece, and toys that can't easily roll away. In the car, it's fine if they are slightly noisy. As Hubby and I agree, nearly any squeak or even annoying mechanical voice is less jarring that the Nugget screaming bloody murder.
5. Make sure you have all the essentials close at hand. You will need diapers, wipes, a spare outfit for everyone (vomit happens), a trash bag, snacks, and drinks. Nothing is worse that making a pretzel-type reach over the backseat and smashing your fingers under a heavy duffel while your baby is screeching for his pacifier that you unwisely stashed in the trunk, 3 bags under the pack-n-play. Not that that's ever happened to me. Ahem. Prioritize and organize.
6. Think about the snacks. Kids have sensitive tummies and traveling is stressful. While it is tempting to bribe and distract a traveling kiddo with all manner of junk food and new treats, you could be risking upset tummies, allergic reactions, or diaper explosions. We try to keep the food familiar and healthful, with maybe just one special treat!
7. If an adult can ride in the backseat to help manage snacks, retrieve dropped toys, play peekaboo, it makes the trip a lot smoother. I'll revisit this topic after we have 2 kids in the backseat who are playing, "He's breathing on me," a game I thought belonged solely to my brother and me, but apparently is widespread throughout kid-dom.