Road Trip Survival Guide

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Just last week I made a five hour trek on the 99 highway with both kids. Alone.

Was I nervous?

You bet.

Was I racking my brain for every possible way I could make the trip bearable?

You bet.

Was I successful?

You. Bet.

See, since we live five hours away from all family, my husband and I have made the trip on multiple occasions. We don’t want to miss my niece’s first birthday party. Also, I really want to be there on Mother’s Day. Then there’s Christmas. Needless to say, we are always driving the great 99 highway.

I’ll be honest: that drive is a brute. Five hours doesn’t sound too bad, but the problem is that after driving about three hours you feel like you should be there. This is in part due to the fact that all towns along the 99 look identical.

And smell identical. Lots and lots of dairies and farms along the 99.

Anyway, because we’ve made the drive so much, there are a few things that I make sure I do beforehand to ensure a less miserable trip. These are my survival tips.

1.) I buy lots and lots of snacky foods. Animal crackers, Goldfish, and raisins usually don’t become choking hazards in the hands of my children.

We start the drive and I make them wait as long as possible to eat. This builds the suspense and makes animal crackers all the more seductive in the eyes of a four and two year-old.

Muahaha.

After a while, I toss the fish their way and you’d think it’s Christmas, they are so delighted. I have yet to discover how to build similar enthusiasm for raisins, but you know, a mom can try.

2.) I minimize the beverages. Obviously, I don’t want to stop four hundred and thirty eight times for potty and diapers. Therefore, I usually give them one sippy cup of water or juice and that’s it.

I am, however, another story. I just cannot survive the drive without a nice, icy fountain-drink Diet Coke, or an Americano or something. I get really bored at the wheel staring at endless farms and semi-trucks. Thus, I sip. And sip. And sip.

And? You guessed it.

Ye olde bladder rats me out.

I had to use the facilities at about an hour and a half into the trip the last time I made this drive. I didn’t stop until hour four, and lets just say my eyeballs were practically swimming in my own urine. Eww.

This brings me to the next rule.

3.) I only stop for toilet breaks at Starbucks. Yes, in this scenario I am extremely exclusive. Why Starbucks? Glad you asked.

First of all, Starbucks has a one-room bathroom that I can take all my kids in and lock up. I don’t have to worry about my son shimmying underneath the stalls and paying visits to all the patrons.

Second, Starbucks usually has clean facilities. I never know what I might encounter at a gas station or fast food joint. Starbucks is the safe choice.

Finally, I can get another beverage to taunt my bladder. And, I love how Starbucks will give you free, delicious, iced water upon request. In a world where nothing is free, this mama loves the luxury of clean, free water for herself and her children. Starbucks, you done good.

4.) I charge up the laptop and rent a movie on iTunes. We don’t have a portable DVD player, so we use our laptops for the kids to watch movies.

While I could easily grab one of our semi-scratched films from our home library, I like to use the power of novelty with my children. Like the suspense with the animal crackers, a movie that they haven’t seen before creates the same kind of hype and mystery. For just a few bucks you can rent practically anything on iTunes and save it to your computer for 24 hours.

Let me just say that the $3 is well-spent. I prop the laptop up on our middle console and the kids are amused for 90 minutes.

5.) BBQ Sunflower Seeds. Huh? After making this trip dozens of times, my husband and I have had our share of exhaustion at the wheel. One time, at about 2 a.m., a police officer pulled us over for drunk driving. Neither of us had even taken a sip of alcohol that day, we were just exhausted. It’s a scary, scary thing to find that you’ve been weaving lanes with two sleeping kiddos in the backseat.

There is, however, a remedy. Sunflower seeds! Those little suckers will keep you busy and awake. I’m not kidding, next time you find yourself falling asleep at the wheel, pull over and get some seeds (we like the flavored ones.) Just make sure you check your teeth before you get out and have to talk to people. Seed particles can be very off-putting when lodged in your smile.

There you have it. I find that these five, simple tricks really pay off on a long drive. How about you? Do you have any tricks for surviving a long car-ride with children? I’d love to hear!

This post is part of the BlogHer Family Fun on Four Wheels editorial series, made possible by Mazda and BlogHer.


26 thoughts on “Road Trip Survival Guide

  1. Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms

    The sunflower seeds are brilliant! I suffer badly from highway hypnosis. Will try this for sure.

    And when there is no Starbucks? I stop at hotels to use their lobby restrooms. Much better than fast food places. Ellen

    Reply
  2. Anna

    great advice! we always drive at night so the kids sleep the whole time, but it is hard on the driver. we’ll have to get some sunflower seeds for our next trip!

    Reply
    1. hillary

      We try to drive at night sometimes but man! It is so brutal when both the driver and the passenger are fighting sleep. We swear by those seeds.

      Reply
  3. Jeanne

    When the kids were young we would make a scavenger hunt of fairly common things you would see on a road trip. Of course there would be a prize for the winner… a movie (they could watch during the long ride)!

    Reply
  4. Julia

    Great tips! Our closest family members are 6 hours away, so we make road trips quite often as well. I like the idea about downloading or buying a “new” kids’ movie they have never seen before! I am taking a road trip with my Mon and 5 year old son in 3 weeks, and I think pit stops at Starbucks and the “Wreck it Ralph” movie are in our future ????

    Reply
    1. hillary

      It seriously makes all the difference! And you don’t have to worry about buying it, returning it, or it getting played a million times since it only lasts for 24 hours. Totally worth it!

      Reply
  5. Kate

    We have done the Texas/California drive at least once a year ever since I was little. The one thing that made them bearable from a kids view was the inevitable moment when my parents would break down and we would get ice cream at every Dairy Queen between Phoenix and El Paso… Adventures in Odyssey and MadLibs were pretty great too.

    Reply
      1. tom m

        going up to the cabin is a real blast,especially if you go up and not have to rake all the leaves in may before the fire season,it can leave you dog tired coming back,anyways,i just load up with cokes and the 200 miles flies by

        Reply
  6. Crystal

    Pipe cleaners! We’re 15 hours from home and the pipe cleaners are a treat that only happen on car trips. Cheap, easy, and at least 45 minutes of fun.

    Reply
  7. Ashley

    We have made the trek from California to Wisconsin a few times and also did a few trips from California to Ontario, Canada a few times. Talk about long trips. I mean we are talking like 7 days or more in a row of long driving days. We usually try to split the days between a really long one and a more doable one (really long is 10-12 hours, a doable one is 8 or less!).

    Reply
  8. Chris Carter

    I’ve done hotel lobbies and Starbucks too! Exactly for the same reasons!!! (especially the free water!!) Unfortunately, I literally have to pee every 30 minutes cause I suck. So I drag the kids to every nasty rest stop (fastest way) on the way to anywhere out of town. They hate it…but mama’s gotta go!! It’s really awesome when they both have finally fallen asleep…. and I gotta go bad. Like bad enough to wake their little tired cranky butts up and drag/carry them in with me. Good times.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      The worst for me has been when I’m pregnant. Miserable. Those are the times I really question God’s plan for women’s anatomy. Shouldn’t WE be the ones to have the convenient “parts”?

      Reply
  9. cheri

    I never thought about sunflower seeds to keep me awake. I will definitely have to try that. I always use my iPad to keep the kids distracted just like you have your laptop. When I was working my shift at DISH the other day I was actually talking to my friend about how great the iPad is to entertain the kids. When we are on the road they love watching movies and TV, and with the DISH Anywhere app they can stream live TV on the go. They love being able to watch all their favorite shows while we make our journey every year to my parents house.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      I had no idea you could stream shows! OMG this changes my life. So is the DISH app only for people who have DISH in their homes?

      Reply
      1. Armymama

        Yes, but you have to get one of the newest Hopper systems or buy an additional piece of equipment called a Sling adapter. Methinks that post to be a wee bit o’ spam. Find apps that let you download from YouTube (there are some for the Apple users in the App Store, for Android you’ll need to Google it b/c they’re not in the Play Store), or use free trials of Netflix and Hulu to get free tv shows, if you can stream on the road. I have a playlist of various kids’ shows downloaded from YouTube that the kids watch on the iPad, it’s great.

        Reply
  10. Kellie B.

    The way you get them excited about raisins is…..YOGURT COVERED raisins! ???? They LOOK like candy and SMELL like candy, but secretly you don’t feel guilty about them snarfing down a fistful or two. Or three. Don’t know if you have Fred Meyers out where you are, but if you do, the yogurt covered raisins in the bulk section happen to also be organic, bonus! Sunmaid also makes yogurt covered raisins in perfectly adorable teensy kid size boxes that come in six pack – that is, if the husband doesn’t get to them first! Congrats on a successful drive!

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Yum! I forgot about those! I will definitely give it a try!

      Reply
  11. Karen

    At the point when I am at my most exhausted, I put on the kids silly songs CD and we sing. Nothing like singing the Hokey Pokey at the top of your lungs to overcome the boring exhaustion of driving. The kids are entertained and their CDs can take up to 45 minutes of drive time in the car.

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Yes! We do this too! We listen to silly Disney songs and it puts all of us in a better mood.

      Reply
  12. ilene

    These are awesome tips! I am looking at a (yikes) 10 hour trip with my kids this summer and the Starbucks bathroom rule is one that I will keep with me!

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Oh, my sweet friend. You have my sympathy. 10 hours? I’d rather swallow a pencil.

      Reply
  13. Jenny @ Creatively Blooming

    We did a 30 hour drive back to Texas for Christmas. Yikes! But our kids did really well. They got to see snow along the way, and we pulled over and stopped at any random places that we saw along the road (one with crazy huge dinosaurs and teepees, another to get an up close look at some old lava rock formations). And we have the DVD players too. I always buy each kid at least one new movie for a road trip. Oh, and I rent movies from iTunes for our iPad when we fly! Love your tip on Starbucks restrooms. I never thought of that!

    Reply
    1. hillary

      Seriously, what is with those giant dinosaur statues? So weird, but I’m thankful as they keep the kids entertained.

      Reply

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