Thursday, September 10, 2015

Road-Tripping with Three Toddlers: Tips for Avoiding Highway Robbery

To say I was 'anxious' about our first six hour + road trip of this season with our three girls (ages three and eighteen months) would be a huge understatement. While traveling with our children is par for the course with our semi-nomadic lifestyle, most of our traveling is done in our home (aka our boat) meaning moving from point A to point B is relatively easy (barring no mechanical breakdowns or bitch slaps from Mother Nature.) Traveling by car? This is not something we are used to. The first time we pulled it off without me having to pop a Xanax and/or tuck-n-roll out of the vehicle I chalked it up to luck, but after three more successful six hour road trips (complete with major buzz killers like flat tires, traffic jams, and Ark-inducing downpours) I think it might mean we are doing something right. Maybe.

Before I go on, you need to know a few key pieces of information: we drive in a (borrowed) SUV with only one row for the girls, meaning they are jammed in the back seat like sardines. We also do not have the luxury of any sort of portable (or built-in) DVD players, and - while we have been blessed in many, many ways - we were not blessed with good car sleepers. To add insult to injury, our girls despise their car seats (what kid doesn't?) we weren't dealing with the greatest of odds going into our travels.  Knowing this, I prepared for the worst and spent many a night laying awake dreading these car trips. I did a lot of worrying beforehand and this list is for fellow mom's and dad's embarking on similar trips in the hopes that I can alleviate some of that stress for you. I hope it helps another family hit the road because, for us, it was so worth it...


#1. Relax on the Rules. When we are road tripping, keeping the peace is our number one priority. I cannot tell you the hell that is being enclosed in a car on a highway with three screaming kids. We now do everything in our power to avoid this. Don't get me wrong, toddler anarchy does not ensue in the car, but our strict rules on sugar consumption, constant snacking, and watching electronics do not apply when road tripping. For example, I'm a total 'neat freak' in our home, but that flies out the window when road tripping. If playing the iPad longer than usual keeps Isla happy and quiet, then the iPad she shall play. If sugary snacks (I'm talking yogurt melts, not Twizzlers) are what keep Haven from having an epic meltdown, then sugary snacks she shall get. If a cheap, blinking and beeping toy keeps Mira from screeching in her highest Mariah-Carey octave, then that toy she shall have.  Keep. The. Peace.

#2. Organization is key. My list-making has become something of a joke around here, but being organized makes what can be a very hectic day less hectic. That means prepping for the trip in advance (buying the snacks, selecting the toys, deciding what needs to come and what doesn't...etc). We pack up our clothes, tick items off our list, and try to have the car packed the night before. I load up our SailorBags backpack /diaper bag with everything I might need handy (diapers, wipes, spare clothes for each girl, Tylenol, and snacks) and keep it with me the front seat for easy access. Traveling with three little kids can be stressful so doing whatever you can to alleviate the stress ahead of time is worth it. Tip: I make a list with categories for myself, the kids, the diaper bag, baby gear, medicines, last-minute packing reminders, electronics and car entertainment so we don't miss anything important.
This list is one of about 100 that I have on file. Crazy, I know. This simple template is built into Mac's version of Word
#2. Dramamine is your friend. Yes, I realize this is probably a little controversial because I am basically saying "drug your child" but, hey, if you have ever been in a car with three crying, screaming, and very unhappy toddlers then you know you would do just about anything to avoid it. People have suggested Benadryl to me but I've heard it can have the opposite effect on some children and I don't want to play those odds while contained in a car for six or seven hours. I do, however, have experience with Dramamine and know that it makes my girls drowsy. As I mentioned, none of our girls are good car sleepers and sleep is your friend. Before departure, I give the twins 1/2 dose of children's dramamine and Isla a full dose (one pill). This guarantees at least an hour and a half of sleep once we hit the highway and when the girls wake up semi well-rested, they are 1000% more pleasant for the rest of the trip. Note: Children's dramamine is not recommended for kids under the age of two. I used it at my own discretion and you should do your own research. I am NOT a doctor!
This moment is brought to you by Dramamine.
#3. Try to time the trip around naps and/or sleep. As I mentioned, car sleep is your friend. Many people suggest driving overnight to reach a destination of over five hours or more so the kids sleep the whole time, and this is a great option for those who can swing it. Unfortunately, Scott fell asleep at the wheel as a teen and got in a horrible car-wreck so he understandably is against overnight driving. What we do instead is try to schedule our departure right before nap time. We eat lunch at home around 11am, I dose them with Dramamine right after, and we hit the road by noon. The girls usually are asleep within thirty minutes and we have anywhere from 1.5-2 hours of blissful quiet. We also try to time our trips so that only one "sleep" is interrupted, thus leaving before nap so that we can arrive at our destination in time for dinner and bedtime in a proper bed. Once, we woke the girls at 3am to arrive by noon and despite the fact that the girls did not sleep at all in the car (this was before the Dramamine lightbulb went off for me), it was a good trip and they fell right back into schedule upon arrival with zero issue.

#4. Make them comfy. "Comfy" is a relative term here. Car seats suck. They are constrictive, awkward, and a (very) necessary evil. We do what we can to make our girls comfortable in the car. We travel in light jammies and take our shoes off. While we usually don't let the twins use their paci's for any time other than sleep, for road trips they can have them all day (see #1.) We also bring their "lovies" and blankies for them to snuggle. Note: YOUR comfort will 100% be compromised as a result of trying to keep your kids comfy (hashtag 'parenting'). The person in the passenger seat will need a chiropractor by the end of the trip from having to twist and turn and retrieve and pass and wipe and give... All. Day. Long. But the peace will be worth the neck and back ache, trust me.

#5. Have dedicated "car entertainment." Before our first road trip, I went to Target and got a few super cheap toys and dollar books to have in the car. Knowing that we had three girls and knowing that the attention span for each toy was about twenty to thirty minutes, I got six toys to rotate between them. This worked well. They made noise and beeped and flashed lights and all that stuff that I tend to avoid in our kid's toys, but they did the trick. The best part? Each one was equally appealing so there were very few jealousy "I want that one!" issues. It was all "Yeah! Something new!" The toys now stay in a bin in the car, only to be used when in the road so they don't lose their luster. Also, the iPad is a lifesaver for the three and older set. Isla is a piece of cake to travel with because she can easily entertain herself with it. Tip: Try to stagger the introduction of new toys to once an hour, that way you don't crash and burn with the "newness" too early. Always have something left in your "bag of tricks"!
Our "car toys". A small shoe bin of dollar store toys and a small backpack of dollar store books.
These are the toys. They make noise and light up and are, for all intents and purposes, crap...but they do the trick.
Dollar store books and the Melissa & Doug Water WOW Kit.
#6. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks. When the toys no longer cut it, it's time to bring out the snacks. We load up on snacks for a road trip like preppers load up on freeze-dried food for the Apocalypse. It's better to have too much than not enough and the key is in variety. Each of our girls has a snack catcher that I fill with finger foods like cheerios, raisins, popcorn, and goldfish (I refill and rotate as needed). I also bring things that are easy for the girls to eat with their hands, such as: graham crackers, animal crackers, cheese sticks, bananas and yogurt pouches. Grapes, apple slices, and oranges are also great. My piece de resistance, however, are the sugary "organic" yogurt melts that you can find at any grocery store. Sure, they are more like candy than a healthy snack (remember, normal rules do not apply for road trips! The goal is to do anything you can to stave off mayhem!) and I bring no fewer than five bags of these things (they'll go through a whole bag in ten minutes). I try to save these as long as possible for when meltdowns are imminent. Tip: Save the good snacks for when you need them the most!
A small sampling of the types of snacks we load up on.
#7. Include a well-timed pit-stop. We stop only once for a six hour trip and drive as long as possible before taking a break. Psychologically, it feels better to stop after 3.5 hours and say, "Phew...only 2.5 more hours to go!" While Isla is potty trained, we put her in a pull up for the car trip, just in case. But even if a potty break isn't necessary, it's nice to stop for a ten to fifteen minute break and let the kids stretch their legs, change diapers, and get a cup of coffee for mom and dad. For most of our trips, we stopped at rest areas that had green space. But on our last drive home, it was pouring rain so we let the kids run free in a grocery store. They loved it (and the fruit samples in the fresh market department!). Tip: Your kids will NOT want to get back in their car seats after this break. We bribe. Here is a good opportunity to use the "good" snacks. See "yogurt melts" above.
This particular stop was a good one, these were outside the grocery store they ran around in.
#8. When all else fails, distract. Scott and I have become master toddler distractors. Music is a good one, and our girls are big Taylor Swift fans. Busting out a little "shake it off" will have them car dancing in no time. Other good distractions are simply excitedly talking about what is going on outside, "Look!! A red car!! Oh. My. Gosh! A RED CAR! Yeeeessssss!" and asking the kids to look for things like bears, giraffes, hippos and deer (I know, we're evil). Scott's claim to fame is opening and shutting the back windows and/or the skylight. That, too, will usually stop them in their tracks for a bit. Tip: When we are getting super desperate with the twins, our final "Hail Mary" is to give them our iPhones (which have LifeProof cases on them). We don't do it a lot and haven't had to resort to handing them over in a long time, but in dire straights, they do the trick.

#9. Xanax, for you, to 'take the edge off' I kid, I kid! .... (Hushed tone) But, really, do you have a script for Xanax? You *might* want to bring it just in case.

Carseat tip: If you, like us, don't have a minivan and need to fit three kids across one back seat, the Diono Radian Convertible Car Seat is a great option and will fit three in one row! (We use two bucket seats right now for the twins, and one Radian for Isla but as time goes on, we will have three Radians as a minivan is not in our future right now!)

What are your tried and true tips and tricks for road-tripping with toddlers? Please feel free to share in the comments!


Unknown said...

Our grands are a bit older, but the youngest is three and she lasted 7 hours watching her favorite videos on the DVD player we rigged between the front seats! I will never go on another trip without it! The snacks are a great idea as well as the bin of "new" toys. Boy, I could have used the Dramamine trick 30+ years ago when I drove alone with a baby, toddler, and 4 year old 1,700 miles to our new home. I almost didn't survive that!

Tasha | Turf to Surf said...

That photo of the three kids asleep in the two mirrors is the BEST. A piece of art... both in parenting and in photography. Brittany, you are a frigging heroine. xx

jamies said...

Nice Article! Thank you for sharing!

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Rebecca A. Maynard said...

So, the doctor check on my spine and define the exact area/point that I have problem with (and while doing this, Chiropractor and Massage

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