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Sunday, July 09, 2006

travel guide

So I take road trips. Long ones. With my children.

I get all sorts of reactions, but the two most popular are:

"Wow, you're brave."

"Wow, you're crazy."

Yes, and yes. I've actually had people ask me for tips on taking long trips with wee ones, so I thought I'd pass along some of my wisdom to you, the reader. These suggestions and other golden nuggets o' truth have not been scientifically proven, EXCEPT BY ME, who has driven quite a bit with the kids. Flat tires, no room at the inns, kiddos peeing through all their clothing, you name it. The result is that I have traveling down to a kind of science. That being said, I don't think I'll be driving any further than to maybe Disneyland next summer or something.

And now,


~Before you leave, plan your trip. Mapquest is a great tool for guesstimating how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B. In general, a six- or seven-hour driving day is most effective, ie, will not drive you OR your children completely out of your/their mind(s). Also, take into account that what mapquest logs as being 6 or 7 hours driving time could very realistically end up, with stops and such, being a 9-hour day. This is okay.

~Decide how much money you're willing to spend. Things can add up, and they're all things that should be considered carefully. (My latest is: Will driving cost more than x number of plane tickets plus a rental car?) Are you going to bring your own food or buy it along the way? Stop at any hotels? Sightseeing? Souveniers? Little things really can add up, but in a lot of cases, the money isn't worth as much as the hassle (I almost always prefer to stop for food rather than deal with re-loading a cooler every day).

~In planning your trip, PLAN TO STOP. Now, if you're someone who considers yourself to be efficient, this will be very difficult for you; you'll think that driving around the clock would be best. Okay, maybe for you. In my own case, I have a daughter who regularly (well, not now was much as in years past) wakes up screaming from the pain of leg cramps. Having her sit in a carseat with her legs dangling in front of her for long stretches didn't bode too well for her cause, and great was the pain thereof. Two types of stops should be considered and planned:

1. Nightly stops. At a hotel or, if you're lucky, at a friend's house along the way. Doing this not only gives your kids a good night's rest, but also gives you one as well. Think about it: even if your kids do amazingly well on the trip and can stay in their carseats for hours on end without complaint so that you can drive straight through, what's going to happen when you reach your destination? You are going to crash and want nothing but sleep, while your kids will want to use up all of their last three days' pent up energy: and when that happens, nobody wins. The idea is to get to a place where you and your kids can spend energy and then rest well. What works very well, I've found, is to stop driving around dinnertime, get a hotel room, go swimming, if it's available, and order a pizza or some other delivery food. (Delivery so that you don't have to, of all horrid things, get back into the car to look for food.) Get a great night's sleep and hit the road in the morning when you've all sufficiently rested.

Things to look for in a hotel:
-reputable name (you don't want to stay in some no-name place with your kids), but also check out photos on their website. We once ended up at a real shack that had recently been acquired by Best Western, but was still in shack-like condition.
-first floor room: so as not to annoy the folks downstairs whilst your kids run circles around the room.
-swimming pool: indoor/outdoor, depending on your preference, etc., if you're in to swimming. Also, call to check that the pool will be open/able to be used during your stay.
-free crib use upon request
-free continental breakfast
-in-room refrigerator (especially if your kids are drinking milk)
-and don't forget to make reservations ahead of time. Because you wouldn't want to drive from Provo to Cheyenne only to find that - oops! - it's Memorial Day weekend and all the hotels are completely booked, now, would you? No, of course you wouldn't.

2. Stops during the day. It's inevitable that you'll have to stop to re-fuel (gasoline & food), and also have bathroom breaks. Here is my advice, the most difficult thing I've had to learn: Make each stop last as long as you can. There is a reason for this, which is that the longer your stops, the less infrequent they are. On one trip, I tried to make the rest area stops really fast, going into the bathroom and back out to the car to make the most of our driving time. Without fail, I ended up pulling over 15 minutes later to change a diaper or feed a kid, and it was very frustrating.

When you stop at a rest area (or wherever), get everyone out, take your time walking around, give snacks, fill juice cups, change diapers, use the bathroom, and run around the grassy areas for at least ten minutes or so. It just works better this way. Your driving times will be much longer and more effective. Also, when you stop for a meal, rather than eat in the car, get out of the car and go in to wherever you're eating - a restaurant (if that's your choice) or stop at a picnic table if you brought your own food. Again, it just works easier if you get everything done at one time - but that takes time.

When it's possible, fill your gasoline tank when you pull over for some other reason, usually to eat. That way you're not wasting time driving on side streets off of too many exits.

Malls can also be a nice break. For instance, if it's raining outside and you can't run around, or if it's really hot and you need some air conditioning. Columbia, Missouri, has a really nice mall for a driving break (Columbia Mall, I think it's called). It's close to the highway, and gas stations (to fill up before or after your mall trip), and they've got a nice kids' play area and a carousel. (I'm sure there are other malls and nice places to visit, this just happens to be one that we visited on this last trip.) We've also made stops just to walk around Wal*Mart. (You must know how desperate I was for a break in order to stop at Wal*Mart.)

~Play games. Really. Your kids may not be old enough for some games, but I kept myself quite occupied this trip by writing down each state's license plate as I saw it (47 States and 3 different Canadian plates - not bad for driving in 9 states; the missing 3 were Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Vermont). I spy was a favorite, but can get boring depending on where you are ("I spy...something...brown." "Um, everything around us?"). Another that I played this trip was Give the State a New Motto. This is based not on the history of the state, but the current state of the state, if you know what I mean. Example: Missouri is called the 'Show-Me State,' but on this trip, based mainly on the billboards I saw, I've dubbed it: "Missouri: Specializing in Antiques and Porn". Make up some games to pass the time.

~Get a DVD player for your kids. Put aside your apprehensions about them watching too much t.v. and trust me that this is a wise investment.
~Take care of your vehicle. This may seem simple, but make sure to pay attention to what your car may need. Get an oil change before you leave (I drove 3 months-worth of driving in two weeks), and another oil change either when you get to your destination, or before you leave to drive home, or when you get home (can you tell I've had to do all three?). Know what your vehicle needs. Check your tire pressure every morning before you start driving (in the morning before the tires expand from the heat).

Off the top, that's all I am coming up with. If you have questions, please submit them and I will do my best to address them. Happy trails.


Anonymous said...

A tip from a fellow "lover of road trips" - a medium sized cooler (you know, the kind with a handle that comes up and locks the lid down)filled with cool drinks and snacks, placed on the floor in front of "carseat child" makes a perfect "stool" for the kids in carseats to put their feet on while driving - no more hanging feet that can make their legs hurt so badly. Also - easy snack storage!

La Yen said...

I thought that W and I invented that motto game in Idaho (Idaho: Smells like dirt! Idaho: Gateway to somewhere else!) Great minds think so alike.

Amen to the stops--Jooj is only a toddler, and we still know that we have to stop and plan on being out and about for half an hour. She needs to see things besides the back of my head. Also, the ONLY time she gets fast food is on road trips--hopefully that will be a good incentive when she gets bigger. (Don't think I'm all hoity toity--we're just broke.)

~j. said...

anonymous - thanks for the tip, but I've got three carseat children and #4 on the way. I've never seen a cooler that size or shape. For the record, we usually do bring a cooler, but it's just a pain.

~j. said...

I hate when people log in as anonymous.

~j. said...

yen - I had a complete blow-up at Rae when she complained about "going to Sonic instead of McDonald's". "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! YOU'VE HAD MCDONALD'S 3 MEALS A DAY FOR THE PAST TWO DAYS!!" But then I took into account that while six meals a year from there isn't too bad of a deal for me, it just stinks for a 7 year-old.

Unknown said...

Great tips. Can you believe how long kids have to stay in thier carseats? They are just about to change the Connecticut law to eight years old. How do you fit four carseats into any car?

ps. love your blog

Anonymous said...

it's cool to be anonymous. right? and i have a cooler like that. it's called a cube. who'd a thunk getting a cooler of snacks and cool drinks would help that cause... THANK YOU ANONYMOUS!!! friggin' brilliant.

Anonymous said...

I was actually speaking from experience with the cooler/foot stool thing.....I travel with 3 - a cooler for each.....

Anonymous said...

Also - Cooler/ foot stool is a great place to store toys and crayons and books and things for traveling....

This is me said...

This past Christmas, my grandparent's gift (a hefty check) arrived the day before we were leaving on a 9-hour car trip with our then 2 1/2 yr old and 6 week old (which made the trip into about 11-12 hours). I ran to Wal-Mart and purchased a DVD player. A life saver, I tell you! And I had no reservations about 10 straight hours of Dora for my toddler. It has been the best $150 I've ever spent. Especially at WalMart. I say if the junk food and cartoons make them happy and keep them quiet, bring them on!

~j. said...

kayla - welcome. I think our local law just changed to 8; we still have our oldest (7) in a booster. Luckily she doesn't complain too much.

beans - you never fail at making me giggle.

anonymous - I appreciate the advice. Unfortunately, the leg cramps happen even when she's completely horizontal, on her bed, so even a foot rest wouldn't help, I'm afraid. I'm curious, do the toys/books, etc., get ruined from being in the cooler?

this is me - Ooooh...traveling at Christmas is a whole other topic. Good for you for getting the DVD player. Seriously, such a wise investment.

~j. said...

yen - another possible logo for Missouri:

"Did you know there's a Carrabba's in Zion? It's right next to the Hooters."

Anonymous said...

Not as long as I put the ice in first.

Carina said...

Here's my new favorite: take the cash you would have spent and buy a plane ticket for your mother-in-law. No traveling, except for picking up at the airport and a return leg.

Also, buy some new toys, and bring some noise cancelling headphones for the shot-gun passenger. If you can tune out the noise for just a little while, sometimes it makes everything just a little better.

Lyle said...

We typically use the DVD player on my laptop for road trips, but alas, my laptop is broken and we are two weeks away from a trip to Utah...what ever will we do? :-(

Anonymous said...

ice cold toys and wet books... again, brilliant.

QueenScarlett said...

This is great - I'm printing this post out..and sliding into my file of parenting tips. Thanks!

And...poor girl...leg cramps? Does she get enough potassium?? Drs had me eat more bananas when I was preggers with Kalea because I had leg cramps all the time.

~j. said...

azucar - yes, the new toys plan is excellent. And they can be cheap new toys, because, hey, they're new, right? And anything new in the car is brilliant.

lyle - ruh-roh. I'm telling you, it's a wise investment. Plus, with the car dvd players, you don't worry about any little people breaking the laptop. Ours has two screens, so that helps as well. Good luck.

queen - I wondered the same, so we loaded her up with bananas but it never seemed to do the trick. Just really intense growing pains I suppose. She hasn't had one in a while. She still screams in her sleep, but that's not because of the leg cramps. That's just who she is.

Cardine said...

We used to drive straight through sometimes when I was little, but that was before these car seat laws. I slept on the cooler once. I remember swimming pools being a "must-have" when we stayed in a motel.

Great road trip advice, I think.

We used to also play card games in the car. Maybe the kids are too little for that? Another of my favorite games was that we could have a treat when we saw a brown road sign or a blue road sign or whatever. I don't suggest green signs, though.

dalene said...

Road trip!

I spent every summer as a child sleeping my way from Eugene, Oregon to Randolph, Utah.

Day 1 would take us to Weiser, Idaho (I'm suddenly realizing it's no wonder I married a guy from Duchesne.) There was this great truck stop we'd stop at on the way home that had the best greasy breakfasts EVER!

Day 2 took us straight through to Randolph. No McDonald's. But I do have fond memories of an A&W drive-in that was uniquely juxtaposed with a cemetery on a hill.

Odd how nearly every small town in Utah and Idaho has that very same A&W on that very same hill.

Of course if we just went with my Dad we'd drive all night--I don't even remember stopping to go to the bathroom. We'd usually arrive at about 2-3 in the morning and then lay awake till we could get up and sneak off to the ranch with my Grandpa.

Now--even though I've only got 2/3 the number of kids--we do it your way. It's the only way. Nice breaks mingled with periods of power driving.

Of course I noticed that for some odd reason, if I'm driving we seem to get more miles to the minute...

Bek said...

That is great advice. I have only done "the drive" with the kids alone once. I do drive to LA w/ them by myself (5 hours).

I am all prepped for a nice long drive with my kids.

P.S. Amen to not staying in places that you don't know. BRAND NAMES people. That is all I have to say.

La Yen said...

Am I bad because, in my book, a Motel 6 is just as bad as a tent in the KOA? Because you have to bring your own shampoo.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog Jenny! It's amazing what can be learned in a few road trips. I think the cooler--sans the ice- for books & toys is a GREAT idea. Or at least worth a try. Also one the tire pressure thing-- remember that the hotter it is and the faster you go, the more your tires will expand, so it is ok to inflate to 1-2 pounds LESS than it says.
LA YEN -- I totally agree on Motel 6-- Dave & stayed in one, for about 6 hours. NEVER,NEVER AGAIN!! They are not safe for humans!

Anonymous said...

I reccomend Motel $6.50

Anonymous said...

Have you ever rented an RV for long travel (8-10 days). I am thinking of doing something like that for a church history tour.
Any ideas?

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~j. said...

cardine - I think the seatbelt/carseat factor that's required now really limits the fun we all had riding in the 'way back' of the wood-paneled station wagons, unfortunately.

cw - I think I'm the faster driver, too...

bek - I thought of you when I mentioned the well-known hotel names.

yen & ma - am I bad because I don't consider Motel 6 to be a reputable name?

sue - I have not done that. But I've just recently realized (thank you, HGTV) that there is a whole other world out there filled with RVs and their owners and the upgrades and the souped-up and the blingbling and the phat rides that are RVs. I have a friend that has one and loveslovesloves it.

As for church history sites...I have done that.

David said...

Car seats and bicycle helmets are a total racket. Who would oppose a law aimed at child safety? So the companies that make the stuff keep pushing the envelope. I heard that kids have to weigh 80lbs. to get out of a booster seat. I didn't hit that weight until 4th grade, at which time I took a lot of heat for being "big boned."

I'm sure there are girls in high school drivers-ed right now who don't yet weigh 80 lbs.

The days of sleeping in the backback of the station wagon, and riding my Cycle Pro Macho II with CroMoly frame without a helmet are long past.

I survived my own childhood. It's good enough for me, it should be good enough for my kids right?

Pretty soon they'll have me putting helmets on my kids just to drive in the car.

~j. said...

scooter - there's a poster in our pediatrician's office with a picture of a car completely smashed after a wreck. It reads something like, "Think your kid is too big for a carseat?" Right.

Bike brother, in his time, has cracked three. That's what I tell my kids so that they'll wear theirs.