We made it home from our Spring Break trip.
This was a good one. A really good one. I could have stayed there forever. That road up above? That was as we drove through Folsom. I could live there someday. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
April in California? It's the best.
I'm not kidding, guys. It's the best.
Kent's parents' house is a twelve hour (give or take) drive from ours. This is the third time we've done this drive in the past six months.
So while that in no way makes us road trip experts, I do feel like we've got a nice streamlined approach for our family.
So, here's how the Andersens road trip with a four-(and a half! he won't let us forget the half!) year-old and a two-year-old.
1. Surprises. a.k.a. the secret bag of new cheap toys and trinkets. I try to have enough to give them each a surprise every 2 hours or so. I put them in a small zipper duffel bag that is in my reach in the car.
I like to rotate through entertainment for the kids as we drive somewhat--snacks, movies, surprises, repeat. Unless, of course, Ellie is screeching to watch UmiZoomi again or Nicholas tells us he can hear his stomach talking and it's telling him he needs more food. In which case we throw rotation out the window and go for whatever works.
Our favorite surprises (the ones that keep them quiet longest) so far have been any cheap toy still in it's packaging--makes it more exciting for the kids, glow sticks for driving at night, stickers-especially the puffy kind, pipe cleaners, beads and stretchy string, and a duck whistle, like this one. Maybe we'd just been in the car together too long, but that duck whistle was hilarious.
A little disclaimer--as a mom I've learned that as long as it's happy noise, as long as no one is screaming or whining, I can pretty much tune out any other obnoxious repetitive noises. The duck whistle probably isn't such a good idea for some people. I'm 100% sure Kent didn't find it quite as funny as me and the kids did.
I bought several $0.97 pencil holders from walmart to keep the beads in-we didn't have any big spills, so I call it a success.Nicholas made me probably a good fifteen or twenty necklaces throughout the trip. Because our bead supply wasn't endless, in between each bead session, I'd sneakily cut the strings and dump the beads back into his box. He never noticed. I hope this doesn't make me a terrible mother.
Pipe cleaners. My mom used to bring these for me and my siblings on road trips (back before DVD players--talk about road trip experts! My mom was a pro!) I remember making them into all sorts of shapes and even making little dolls with them.
Nicholas isn't that advanced yet. He mostly just twists them together and then asks us to pick which one is the best.
Just so you know, when a four-year-old asks you to pick a favorite like that, you're doomed no matter what you answer.
Moving on, to tip number
2. Let it slide.
A road trip with young children is not a time to enforce. If you are trying to get them to give up the binky, for example, but a binky will keep them quiet for hours, minutes, or even seconds, just do it.
These kind of trips are all about survival.
She spent most of the drive with that pacifier. But she was quiet and content and we were all happier for it.
3. Find your zen.
This is the advice (given to me by my sister-in-law Shannon when Nick was a newborn) that has saved me pretty much every single time I've traveled anywhere at all with children.
The idea is, just face the trip knowing that there will be crying. There will be tantrums. There will be stops and delays and lost credit cards that make you turn around and backtrack for half an hour. There will be traffic jams.
But you, as the parent, just chill.
You can't always fix it, you can't always prevent it. Your kids will cry. And you will survive and you'll get to the end of the trip eventually. Take a deep breath and just be.
And when traffic gets really bad, turn on some dancing music and have a little family jam session.
Traffic--only thirty minutes from home--nearly torture.
4. Stay in a big(ger) city
We don't make the whole twelve hour trip in one day. Our kids are too little for that. 8 hours is about their max. And mine too.
BUT, the cities that are technically "halfway" from here to there are tiny. In Nevada.
We've found that if we find a good deal on Hotels.com, we can actually stay somewhere really nice for cheaper than staying at some "Paradise Motel" in Winnemucca.
I don't really have any fond memories of Winnemucca.
So, we press on to Reno. 8 hour drive the first day, but we get to stay somewhere cleaner, nicer, and happier, and then the next day is just a short 3 1/2 hour drive.
Coming home that's reversed, but it's still worth it to stay somewhere more restful to us.
Our room. The kids think it is so fun to stay somewhere fancy.
Actually, I do too.
Ellie dances in the foyer, and Nicholas tells me that the light fixtures look like jellyfish.
Life with littles is really just so much fun.
Admiring the hotel's pool from our window. Ellie had just finished saying
"Me wish me how fwim. Sometimes, me will know how fwim."
5. Pack a hotel suitcase.
Just one suitcase with everything in it that you'll need for the one night's stay. A change of clothes, all your kids' blankies and pajamas and everything. This way you can leave all your other luggage in the car and getting in and out of the hotel is a breeze.
It's also nice to have a few breakfast-type snacks (cheerios, bananas, yogurts, granola bars, pop tarts) in the hotel bag for the kiddos for when they wake up in the morning and you aren't ready yet to take them down to breakfast. For Ellie, this is essential. She must be fed.
She loves books. I made sure to put plenty of them, particularly ones she hasn't seen for a while, in her bag next to her seat.
6. Access to clean stuff.
Clorox wipes (I put these in my hotel bag-hotel room light switches and tv remotes are nasty), a clean set of clothes for the kids, paper towels, garbage bags, zip-locks, baby wipes, etc.
I make sure that all of these things are in easy reach for me while we're driving or easy access if we make a stop and need to change someone's clothes.
You don't want to be pulling all the bags out to get to someone's clean pants while you're stopped on the side of the freeway.
I make sure to have all these things,
And plenty of movies, books loaded on my kindle, and snacks. Our road trip snacking essentials? Kent just needs a diet soda and gushers candies. I like twizzlers and cheese and crackers. The kids love pirate's booty, fruit snacks--they never get these at home so it's a fun treat for them, raisins, and fruit, like strawberries (I bring little bowls and plastic forks), apples, or bananas.
It's a long drive, and we had our fair share of freak-outs from kids and parents alike, but we made it.
We were talking to our friends at the cabin about this--when you do something like this as a family, you can't really call it a "vacation." It's more like a family trip. Tons of work. Not relaxing in the typical sense of a vacation, but totally worth it.
All things considered, I kinda love our family trips.