Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Road Trip! 5 Mom-Inspired Driving Tips

I've been wanting to take the kids on a long road trip forever. I know this may sound nutty to some, but I have this little fantasy built up in m
y mind about how much fun it would be to be in the car with my kids for 3,000 miles. Doesn't it sound magical? No? I really am nuts? Ah well, so be it. By the time I was nine I had been back and forth across the country four times (two round-trips) so I naturally feel that my kids are deprived. Never mind that they've been on airplanes many times, and I was 16 before I ever set foot on an airplane. And also that I have no particularly wonderful memories from these trips. I'm pretty sure being crammed into the backseat with my mom, my hamster, and most of my worldly belongings doesn't count for much.

While I really want to fulfill this dream of mine, I'm also pretty nervous about it. My kids are good travelers, but the trip I want to take this summer is literally thousands of miles away and would require over 30 hours of driving. I have a lot to think about and plan if I intend to make it happen. To help get me pumped up about the trip, I'm offering up Five Mom-Inspired Driving Tips that will come in handy for any trip.
  1. Keep the kids quiet  Okay, maybe this sounds bad. But I get easily frazzled if I'm navigating unknown territory, and the noise of squealing children certainly doesn't help. Even if we're only driving an hour or two, I make sure everyone has certain essentials to keep them comfortable in between stops - and if I'm lucky, comfortable equals fairly quiet. Everybody gets a small pillow and blanket, a water bottle, and a bag of entertainment items. This generally includes books, small toys, and electronics. Thank God for the electronics. I also have a bag of snacks readily available, because for some reason being in the car for any length of time suddenly makes my kids think they haven't eaten in days. CD's are great to have too, especially because there isn't much in the way of radio options in some rural areas, and books on CD are fun too. The library is a good resource in case you don't have any and don't feel like spending any money.
  2. Know where you're going  As I've already alluded to, I tense up when I don't know where I'm going, but I feel much better if I have clear directions readily available. A GPS is a useful tool to have, and I wouldn't travel across the country without one. But those things are not fool-proof. Actual printed directions and maps provide back-up in case satellite coverage is suddenly and inexplicably lost.
  3. Take frequent breaks  Unless the kids are sleeping or thoroughly absorbed in their activities, stopping every few hours helps to break up the trip and gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs. Sometimes the monotony of the open road is so mind numbingly dull that it can cause drowsiness. Stopping to use the restroom, have a snack, and maybe chase the kids around a grassy area at the rest stop can help to revive a sleepy driver. But if you're too tired and feel like you can't keep your eyes open, either switch drivers or don't get back on the road until you can rest a little bit. Lock the doors, give the kids a treat, put on a movie if you're lucky enough to have a DVD player, or give them a quiet activity to do if you're not, and close your eyes for 20 minutes if you have to. Then when you're refreshed enough to drive safely, get yourself to a hotel! It is not worth the risk to get on the road if you are in danger of falling asleep while driving. 
  4. Establish rules   If the kids know what to expect ahead of time, it'll be a lot easier to get them to cooperate. For example, my kids know that the car doesn't move until everyone is buckled up. No screaming and being overly loud while the vehicle is in motion, no touching each other, and no kicking the seat in front of you either. Don't be afraid to pull over if someone is not following the rules. They want to get to the destination as quickly as possible, judging by the numerous "are we there yet?" inquiries, so let them know that disobedience will make the trip last even longer.
  5. Know your vehicle  This is one I need to work on before I drive anybody across the country. Besides making sure your insurance and registration are up to date, and that you have proof of both readily available, check to see if you have a road service plan and what it covers. Have an idea of how far you can push your car once that low fuel light comes on. Know how to put air in a tire and jump start a dead battery. We have a little portable air pump that hooks up to the lighter, which has come in handy more than once. Knowledge of how to change a flat tire is important too, as I can attest since I once got a flat tire, with a minivan full of kids, in the middle of the boonies. Luckily my friend was with me, driving separately, and we managed to get my tire off and drive it (in her van) to the closest gas station (which was more than 5 miles away, and might I add that my cell phone had no coverage) to be repaired. Allegedly there is a spare somewhere on the underside of the van, but we never did manage to figure out how to get it off. Some other things to think about: figure out how to check the oil and add some if you need to, add windshield solvent, change wiper blades, and change the bulbs in your headlights, brake lights, and turn signals.
You probably have your own driving tips as well, and I'd love to hear about them in the comments. Friendly advice on driving cross-country with four kids is also welcome.  You can also visit the Esurance blog and Facebook page for more ideas.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Esurance blogging program for 8,000 My SocialMoms Rewards Points. For more information on how you can participate, click here.


ThurberGang said...

I've done that cross-country drive with children *many* times... and with four children... at least 3 times... plus several 10-18 hour drives. We've done it since we had just one baby and now our kids are 13, 11, 8 & 6. I agree with everything you've suggested. Running around at rest stops has become a favorite part of trips for us. We've found frogs, had different kinds of races, thrown balls and frisbees, and sometimes have 'challenges' (balance on something, only hop around the building, etc.) I'll bring new surprises (almost always a new dvd they haven't seen) that I can pull out in intervals. I try not to wait until they're too far gone before I give them... Sometimes I set a little alarm and every 3 hours I'll pull something out. New pencils, lip balm, car games, the dvd, a new book, etc. I'll also bring snacks and treats that I don't usually buy - just to make the idea of driving fun!! If I'm on top of things enough before we leave, I'll even wrap things so that they have another element of surprise. I *LOVE* to get books on cd from the library and we'll always listen to at least one as a family during road trips. You can find things that will satisfy most everyone all at once. My family loves to do this. I also keep a myriad of magazines, activity books, etc in the van so that there is always *something* they can do. When it gets dark and late, we'll play soft, classical music so that they can go to sleep (or at least have some peaceful time if they don't.) We try to intersperse bits of trivia as we travel, talking about things that we are passing. If we have the time, we do our best to make it to famous or interesting landmarks. For a while, we were taking the kids picture in front of every state sign (Welcome to ...) that we passed. Sadly, we haven't done it every time, so there are many states we don't have pics of... but that is always really fun.

I hope that your trip this summer is super memorable - not only the drive, but also the *destination*!! ;-)

Anonymous said...

These are all great tips. I make sure I leave plenty of time available while we are on the road to spot and see the attractions and views. I like to make those stops so the kids can get out and stretch their legs. I bring plenty of snacks and entertainment with me as well. My iPad becomes a lifesaver on the road when it comes to entertaining the kids. From what a co-worker at DISH told me, I can now stream my Blockbuster@home service on my iPad. Now I won’t have to download movies and they can play games, and watch TV. With the Sling Adapter hooked up to my receiver I can access all our subscription channels from anywhere I am. The kids can watch all their favorite shows live from anywhere we can get a Wi-Fi connection. I strap it to my headrest and the kids are set for the trip.