5 survival tips for long drives with kids

By Jen Rouse
The Short Years

Oregon Blog

I just got back from a road trip with three small children. And yes, I’m still (reasonably) sane. We drove from Albany, Oregon, to Stevensville, Montana. And then back again, five days later. That’s 644 miles one way. Twelve hours in the car, with three children ages 6, 4, and 2.    And you know what? It went great.

There was a little bit of whining. A little bit of complaining. One urgent request for a potty break that turned out to be completely fictitious. But overall? Awesome. There was no puking, no total meltdowns. Not once did we have to resort to “I’m going to pull this car OVER if you don’t stop…” (Although I did once threaten to throw a My Little Pony out the window).

Here are the things that I think contributed to our success:

1. Sleep. We got up before the sun and were on the road by 3:30 a.m. We kept the kids in their pajamas, covered them in blankies, and they slept through the first several hours on the road. They would awaken later in the morning, we’d stop for breakfast, they’d be awake in the car through the morning, we’d stop for lunch, and then post-lunch they’d nod off again. They were asleep through at least half of the hours we were in the car, and I think that made a huge difference. Sleeping children are happy children.

2. Books on tape. We don’t have an in-car DVD player, nor do we have a good location in our vehicle to install one even if we wanted to. But we do have a perfectly fine sound system, and a local library that has dozens of free audiobooks to check out. Having a good story to listen to in the car makes the miles pass so much more smoothly, for the adults as well as the kiddos. We listen to audiobooks constantly, not only on long trips but just around town all the time. On this trip we listened to “Peter and the Shadow Thieves” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pierson; “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder; and I read aloud a few chapters of “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” by Betty MacDonald.

3. McDonald’s. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Our kids just love McDonald’s. Our first food stop of the trip was at a little local diner in some little Eastern Oregon town. They served these truly yummy home-made versions of Egg McMuffins–fried eggs on toasted English Muffins with cheese and bacon. They were so good. Our kids would not touch them. All Lucy ate that entire breakfast was some orange juice. Our next stops were at McDonald’s (oh, and one at IHOP) and the kids were filled with joy. They got familiar food that they liked, plus they got a little plastic toy to take with them in the car. They sat in their seats and played with Happy Meal Toys for hours. I am not kidding. I am normally all about supporting local businesses and exploring undiscovered local treasures…but on a long car trip, it really was easiest to keep my kids happy by stopping at a place they already knew they loved.

4. Limited fluids. Before you call Child Services on me, don’t take this to mean that I am purposefully dehydrating my children. Not at all. They got to have juice, milk, or whatever else they wanted to have at meal stops. And I also let them have a bottle of water in the car. But we did not bring juice boxes for the car, and we did not give them a whole lot extra to drink. Extra drinking=more potty stops and more likelihood of accidents. No thank you.

5. Patience. This is for everyone. For them, patience with the endless miles rolling by. For us, patience with the shrill voices from the back seat. I let them get away with a lot more loud, annoying giggling and squealing back there than I normally do. I mean, they’re sitting strapped into a car seat for an entire day. They need to be able to get their giggles out.

I’m proud of my girls. And I’m hoping our road trip success was not just a once-in-a-lifetime fluke. Now that we’ve found out our girls CAN tolerate extended car rides, Eric and I are excitedly planning all kinds of places we can take our crew. Watch out, world! The Rouses are on their way.

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