Summer is here and you’re thinking of setting out on a family road trip. Maybe you’ve edited your own memories to recall only the fun games of “I Spy,” the bags of cherries your parents bought at the roadside farm stand, and the eventual arrival at the beach, the mountains, or other equally awesome location. You may have filtered out the time your sibling got carsick, you parent drove the wrong way for 30 miles, or, when you finally stopped for lunch at 4:00 PM, the food sucked. Car trips can be fun, but they can also be agony on wheels.
Avoid the following 13 mistakes, and you’ll not only get through it, you might all enjoy it.
1. Forgetting the snacks.
This is the most critical mistake you can make. Pack tons of snacks. Food not only fills your kids’ tummies, it holds their attention. While they’re eating, you can actually look at the scenery, savor the peace and quiet, or do whatever else you’d rather be doing.
2. Packing the wrong snacks.
Choose snacks wisely. If you don’t care about crumbs, go ahead and bring the graham crackers — but dairy products can get disgusting, fast. When your kid spills yoghurt all over the car seat, it’ll soon be curdling in the summer heat.
3. Not planning for a mess.
With all those snacks, the kids will eventually make a mess. Brings wipes and paper towels. And bring a garbage bag for wrappers, smelly banana peels, and the rest of the detritus. Also, remember a change of clothes. You don’t want your kid showing up at Grandma’s with her shirt smeared in chocolate.
4. Not stopping at the last rest area.
All that food and drink has to go somewhere. Your kid will tell you he doesn’t need to go until he needs to go NOW. If it’s been a couple of hours and the rest area looks convenient, don’t try to hold out for the next one 45 miles away.
5. Being too ambitious.
No, you can’t get from New York City to Myrtle Beach, SC, in one day. It’s a 12-hour drive, but don’t expect to leave at 6:00 AM and arrive in time for dinner. You have kids. Their safety is in your hands. Your days of driving over the speed limit pumped up on caffeine are over — or should be. Plan for breaks, more than you think humanly possible, plan for traffic, plan for lunch, and reserve those motels along the way — preferably with a pool to work off kid energy.
6. Expecting the kids to sleep continuously.
Some kids fall asleep as soon as the car starts moving at a constant speed. But hit a traffic jam, and you’ll hear the telltale signs that their happy nap is over. Have a contingency plan for a grumpy kid who’s just gotten up. For kids out of car seats, bring pillows, but keep the expectations low.
7. Leaving too late.
Waste too much time packing the car and you’ll be pulling out of the driveway when your kids are plenty hangry. If your kid is still a napper, you could also miss the nap window. By the time you leave, junior will have become a terror who will most definitely not fall asleep.
8. Forgetting the random toys — or books.
This is almost a critical as food. Babies and toddlers need to keep their hands busy. Bring a big bag of small, random toys they can cycle through. The more bored they become, the faster they’ll lose interest in each one. Pick rejected items off the floor and recycle as needed. For older kids, bring lots of books.
9. Not stocking up on audiobooks.
If you haven’t done your research on audiobooks, do it now. Choose the right stories and you can all enjoy it. Jim Weiss’s Animal Tales are sweet stories for younger kids. If your kids are a bit older, go for the Audible version of Percy Jackson, or another good book.
10. Not setting ground rules.
You can’t listen to kiddie stories all day. And your kids might be different ages. It’s okay to let them zone out on the iPad, but if you don’t want your kid Minecrafting for eight hours straight, tell them ahead of time when screen-time will be and for how long.
11. Not preparing for carsickness — or heatstroke.
Why don’t drivers get car sick? Because they’re looking at the highway. If a windy road is in your itinerary, try to set your kids up so they can keep their eyes on the road. This is critical. And, just in case, bring lots of plastic bags. Likewise, if your route includes driving on I-5 through central California from 12 noon to 5 PM in August, buy the roll-up shades you can stick onto your window. At least, bring a thin towel you cover the window with (by rolling the window shut with it tucked into the edge).
12. Not involving the kids.
The best way to get buy-in from the kids is to make them feel that they’re more than a piece of hand luggage you’ve tossed in the backseat. You decide where you’re going, but let the little ones help plan the pit-stops and other details. When kids have ownership of the car trip and know what to expect, they’ll be a lot happier about it.
13. Expecting everything to go as planned.
You have kids. Things don’t always go as planned. Chill, it’s vacation. If you expect some complaints, traffic jams, and bad food in advance, you’ll be a lot less stressed when you those things come up.