Road Trip Dos and Don’ts

Here’s a fun math question for you:  If you have 8 people (6 of whom are 10 and under) + 2000 miles + 2 overnight stops + 20 sq. ft passenger van, how long until more than 50% of the group goes stark, raving mad?

We just got back from a Connecticut-to-Georgia round trip.  And while no one suffered actual insanity, we were all very content to put a little space between each other by the time we got home.

The kids often try to convince us to get a DVD player for the van, since trips like that one are not unusual.  We do travel a lot.  With family and friends in more than eight states, and none of them here in Connecticut, we find our motley crew of merry men on the road quite a bit.  However, to our children’s continued disappointment, we refuse to put a TV in the van, for reasons that are probably better explored in a different post.

So with the above credentials in mind, I now present to you the closest thing to parenting advice I’ll ever write- just in time for those end-of-the-summer Labor Day trips you will probably reconsider after reading this.

Clan Donaldson’s Expert Tips for Traveling with Young Children:


DO: Take the time to clean and organize the car before the trip.  If you have children still in diapers, have a stash up by the front seat and a secondary stash in the rear of the car.  Wipe down the windows.  Remove the car seats and send what parts can be washed to the laundry room.  Vacuum.  Spray some Febreeze.  A bottle or two should suffice.

DON’T: Expect your vehicle to remain clean for long.  No farther than your driveway, really.

DO: Encourage each child to pack a bag or shoebox of activities to help them pass the time.

DON’T:  Expect this to actually occupy them for any significant amount of time.  Unless you count the time spent making statements like: “That’s MY toy, why is it in YOUR bag” or “I’m sick of this book- let me have yours, I don’t care that you’re not done with it” or “MOMMY!  HE THREW A MATCHBOX CAR AT MY HEAD!” as “passing the time”.

DO: Provide snacks to help break up the monotony.

DON’T: Offer liquids (unless you enjoy visiting every rest area on the highway, since physics has revealed to us that any liquid consumed by a child on a road trip will result in 4x the bathroom visits the same amount of fluid consumed in front of the TV at home would require).  If they start to whine about irrational things like “being thirsty”, take the opportunity to discuss the flawless order of God, who provided us with saliva so we could just go ahead and swallow that for a while, and isn’t it odd that you can’t talk while swallowing?  Maybe we should all take this time to extra swallow, and silently thank God for His blessings.

Also, do not offer cotton candy, even if it’s the end of a long, sweaty trip to the zoo and you’re certain the kids are so exhausted from it that a little bag of spun sugar and barely-legal food dye isn’t going to prevent them from dropping into heat-induced coma.  You will be wrong.  So very, very wrong.  And you’ll have a carload of children hopped up on sugar as your consequence for poor judgement.


DO: Find music the whole family can enjoy.  Like this little geeky gem we stumbled upon somewhere in Maryland.

DON’T: Find music only the kids will enjoy, no matter how much they love it, yes, even the picky 4 year old, and hey look, it’s available on iTunes, and only a dollar!  I’ll just download it real quick, and it’ll keep them quiet.

It’ll keep them quiet, but only on permaloop.  And at a terrible price. (Go ahead, click on the link. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

DO: Find audiobooks that manage to be both intellectually stimulating for the adults, and with a plot accessable for the kids.  This is the perfect time to catch up on all those classics you thought you should probably read at some point in your life.  Consider something like Dracula– a fascinating story for adults who may not be familiar with the granddaddy of all these modern vampire tales, and priceless exposure to rich language for the kids.

DON’T: Find modern sequels to classics.  Case in point- even if the sequel to Dracula was officially endorsed by the Stoker family and written by a direct descendant, it is still never ever ever ever going to be acceptable for anyone under the age of, oh, infinity to listen to (here’s a solid review to illustrate the point).

DO:Play games the whole family can enjoy.  There are the classics like car bingo and the license place game (let me interject my own feelings of frustration here.  I accept that Alaska and Hawaii will always remain the holy grail of license plates, but North and South Dakota?  What?  Are there, in fact, any licensed cars in either of the states?  And if so, do the drivers of said cars ever leave?  Are the Dakotas some sort of earthly Paradise, and so lucky residents never have the urge to venture outside the state line?), but don’t leave it at that.  Inventing family games often has better results.  For the trip down to Georgia, we came up with a game called “One Picture, One Shot”, where at the top of the hour, the camera phone was passed around to each family member, who got to take one picture.  One.  I then stuck the pictures into a montage and we all got to chuckle at each person’s take on it.

DON’T: Play any games involving small pieces or balls.  This includes, but is not limited to- dodgeball, Chinese checkers, badminton, croquet.  Trust me.  It’ll end up badly.  Particularly the dodgeball.


DO: Come to terms with the fact you will, at some point, be riding dirty due to the needs of breastfeeding or diaper wearing children.  It’ll happen.  Just embrace the horror.

DON’T: Ride dirty because of, you know, drugs.  Even if you want to take some.  Or administer them.

DO: Expect to make family memories that’ll last a lifetime.

DON’T: Expect them to be funny for a couple of years.

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Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a website for her farm, Ghost Fawn Homestead.

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