I am a rookie mom about a lot of things, but after traveling more than 1,600 miles in the car last week with my family of five – including three sons under the age of 3 – I’m declaring myself a veteran when it comes to the dreaded phenomenon: the family road trip.
I dragged my whole crew all the way from Charlotte to Cooperstown, N.Y. because I wanted to be there in person when Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I am a former baseball writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the highlight of my professional career was getting to co-write Chipper’s biography Ballplayer, which came out in 2017. I certainly didn’t want to miss the moment when he got his only special piece of baseball immortality. As it turned out, Chipper let me help him write his induction speech as well, which made Sunday’s ceremony all the more poignant as I sat there and listened with 53,000 other baseball fans who made the trek.
My husband and I didn’t even take our nine-month old twins to the ceremony – they stayed back at the rental house with my sister – and I’m pretty sure our 2-year-old won’t remember it, but some day we will be able to tell our boys we were all in Cooperstown when Chipper got inducted. And now that we’re home again, I realize how much more we got out of the trip than that. Some people might think we are nuts, or wonder why we didn’t fly instead (um, no thanks?!), but what we got was the shared experience and a chance to make memories together.Traveling draws you closer to people, whether it’s with high school teammates at an away game, co-workers at a convention, church members on a mission trip, or heck, your husband on a honeymoon. You get to know people better when you are away from home, going through an adventure together.
As moms and dads, it’s not easy. Trust me, I get it. There were moments during this trip I thought I was going to pull my hair out. But let me offer some advice based on my experiences over the six days we spent on the road, including two days going up and two days coming back. Here are 10 things I now know to be true about road-tripping with your kids.
1. The prep is more stressful than the actual trip, at least it was for us. (Note our pre-trip photo in which only one of us is smiling!) Just ask my mother, who was the picture of patience and understanding while entertaining all three of our boys while my husband and I ran circles around our house trying to load the car. The more you can do in advance the better. I thought I started early, but it wasn’t early enough!
2. Don’t feed veggie straws to babies. I thought I was being a cool and resourceful mom, feeding my babies a snack their older brother could eat too and watching them quiet down the instant I gave them one. It only took me 800 miles to figure out why poopy pants and a diaper rash accompanied us to NY! Thank goodness for a pediatrician on speed dial and the magic of Lotrimin.3. Take a friend, a nanny, or better yet, your sister. There’s no way we would have survived this trip without my sister’s help. She had accompanied us on a family trip to New York for a funeral when we had just Wade, and having the extra hands for diaper changes on pit stops was invaluable. Having her there to share kid duty in the car and to stay with the babies while Mom and Dad and sometimes Wade enjoyed time out together was priceless. She is a rock star.
4. Communicate with your spouse ahead of time about how you want to handle meals on the road. I learned this the hard way, after several knockdown drag-outs with my husband over whether we were going to stop and eat or eat in the car. I thought stopping for lunch was a good way to stretch legs and refresh everybody, but I found out on the way home that in-car picnics make the miles go by faster, which was an even better strategy. As long as you’re both on the same page, whichever way you choose is the right way.5. Lollipops are great for bribery. Look, I’m not big on using food as a tool (veggie straws notwithstanding) and my son Wade doesn’t eat a lot of sweets. But he has never napped well in the car; he slept exactly 45 minutes of our previous 11-hour trip to New York. This time I offered him a lollipop every time he took a nap and it worked. He didn’t given us his usual two-to-three-hour afternoon nap, but he got 30 or 45 minutes every day which took the edge off. I’ll take it.
6. Don’t be afraid of the Ipad. Cringe if you want to, call the electronics police on me if you must, but thanks to the “KidloLand” app with all kinds of toddler-friendly games and puzzles, I had a quiet 2-year-old for almost our entire trip. That eased a lot of stress on the driver and kept big brother quiet while the babies napped (they still take two naps to his one.) I had asked our pediatrician about giving Wade an Ipad to use on our last trip to New York, which we ended up not needing, and she told me not to worry about it. In the case of a long trip, it’s sanity and safety first. So enjoy the free pass!
7. Here are some things I was happy we tried this trip: shipping Amazon and Target boxes ahead; it saved room on disposable stuff like diapers, wipes, baby food, etc. Suite hotels – they aren’t that much more expensive and allow a lot more flexibility for sleeping arrangements. Putting our twins in the third row of our minivan – it separated them from big brother and still allowed easy access for sitting between them to feed bottles and play. Letting my 2-year-old wear my neck pillow – his sleep was far more important than Mommy’s. And most importantly, NOT traveling at night, we had everybody in bed by 8:30 or 9 p.m. going up and much earlier coming back. The quality rest made the car a much happier place.
8. Twins can be better travel partners than singletons – yay for twin moms!! As a baby and young toddler, Wade used to cry off and on all night the first night we traveled anywhere, adjusting to new sights, smells and surroundings. It was miserable. My twinsies? If Wes looked over and saw Johnny in the pack-n-play next to him, he was good to go. Our whole crew actually slept peacefully throughout the trip and it made all the difference.
9. Don’t tell anybody (especially Daddy!) but being trapped in a car for hours at a time is actually easier for Mommy! You have time to enjoy your little kiddos – cooing, feeding, playing and reading – and there aren’t dishes to wash, calls to make, errands to squeeze in, etc. And during those times when everybody is blissfully sleeping, you might even get time to read, peruse social media, or just enjoy a little peace!10. Expect some unexpected fun! I spent so much time preparing for all contingencies and worrying about what could go wrong, that I didn’t realize the change of scenery could be a positive for little tots, just like it is for parents. When we divided up for the first night in a hotel and let Wade stay with his Daddy in one room and the twins stay with my sister and me in another, I prepared myself for a meltdown, that Wade would want Mommy. Instead, he was so excited to have a boys’ night. Just being in the hotel hallways and pushing elevator buttons brought a huge smile to his face. He was finally old enough to see the entire thing as an adventure. One of my favorite moments of the trip came in our hotel room on our way home. Wade and I were lying on our tummies, side by side, on a king sized bed for goodnight reading. We were both tired and long due for some sleep but it felt just different enough – and fun enough – that we looked at each other and giggled. That was one of the countless memories I’ll take with me from the trip.