I get asked quite often how I can take these 8-10 hour trips with my kids, back and forth constantly from San Francisco to San Diego. Both kids are seasoned travelers at this point, hardly any complaints.. maybe just one stop for gas after we grab some food somewhere, and they know that the trip will be long, but the destination is worth it.
I have to admit, that with my work and travel schedule these past two years, the kids also have had to get used to me leaving, which they’ve never liked (at least past the first day or two 😉 ) and I remember looking back at Amelia last Summer just sitting in the car being well-behaved, I said to her, “we have 6 hours left Baby.” She responded with, “that’s okay Mom, we’re just happy you’re taking us!” 🙂 Parents… ::ahem:: maybe consider a trip or two away from your kids if you’re able to break free, as hard as it’s gonna be on you, I just can’t contain the happiness I feel when my children have grateful attitudes like this about traveling! Well, Amelia more than Seb for now, but he certainly feeds off his sister and her attitudes/moods some times, so her being this way really helps. She even explains to him and puts him at ease on these rides with things like, “Just three more Disney movies to watch Sebby and we will be there!”
Tips for road trips with kids (trips that are a minimum of 7 hours long where stops have to be involved):
- ENTERTAINMENT. (as you read above) Our van comes with a couple DVD players installed – BUT! Even when I had a rental car last month when the van was in the shop, my husband “installed” one of those portable DVD players. He hung the bag across the two front seats and then propped the DVD player in the middle and strapped it down, ohhh I should’ve taken a photo of that. We made it work! It was a little tougher having to change the dvds because I would have to pull over and go back there, but after two stops where I pulled over, little Amelia had been watching me and by the third time she was the one adjusting the DVD player, changing the movie, using the little remote and pressing play or stop or NEXT. So proud! Kids can figure this stuff out better than we can, and they have more patience with technology!
- A SNACK BAG – This one has got to have the snacks you want your kids eating. How many of us are stopped at a gas station and then feel so limited with options… hmm.. you can have Doritos or Cheetos. These are by no means bad* options, but an entire pack of Doritos that I cannot monitor can lead to tummy aches that I don’t want to have to deal with. I’ve learned this past year to already pack what they like, giving them at least 2-3 options along the way. Throwing in a couple bananas or apples has really kept us going and held the kids off until we stop for food or at least long enough to get through LA traffic.. which we’ve sat in for long periods of time. Little water bottles are usually kept in the back as well, and Amelia opens them for her and Seb when they’re thirsty. Amelia already knows not to drink too much liquid when we travel, I think she’s slightly traumatized from the plane trip last year… where she just couldn’t hold it.
- IT’S YOUR SCHEDULE AND NOT THEIRS. You are the driver of this trip, the pilot, if you will. The pilot of a plane will not pull over or stop the plane if a tantrum is being thrown, if the kids are in a bad mood or ready to get off.. so, I like to think, “why should I?” This mentality prepares the kids for future flights. In the beginning it was rough. Sebastian would sit there and just cry and cry – but as mothers, we can tell a real cry from a fake one, and this was that “tilt-your-head-back-and-pout-and-wail-but-no-tears-are-coming-out-and-with-every-passing-second-of-you-being-ignored-you-get-angrier-and-angrier”… well guess what folks? The crying DOES eventually stop, you just have to power through it. Amelia had it the toughest having to sit right by him and not do anything. After a few instances like this with Sebastian, he stopped doing that. We’re also those parents who say, “use your words” and don’t respond to whining sooooo that’s in our favor too. Now they just have to tell us.
- USE COMMON SENSE when filling up on gas or stopping for anything. I have one of those throw-away toilets in the car (picked up 4 at IKEA!), because if I am ever not sure or uncomfortable with having to stop the car and unload both kids to take Amelia to the bathroom.. she’s using that toilet. And depending on what she has to do, well, that is how I decide if I keep it or not, or chuck it in a trash can. Haha! I know that I am small and look like a teenager at times (especially traveling!) so I do not want to chance being that vulnerable mom taking her kids around.
- START YOUR TRIP WITH A FULL TANK OF GAS and plan for a stop for food at a restaurant close to a gas station. What we do is we stop to eat first. We park close to the front or by the windows so we can see our car from the table (yes, I am that person!), and even as much as I don’t want to eat at Denny’s or IHOP, if that’s my choice versus the Jack in the Box down the way I will take it. I know there is a restroom for customers, and it’s at least (somewhat) clean, where as gas stations it’s at your own risk. If you have never experienced having your 3.5 year old daughter (at the time) and helping her use the gas station toilet while freaking out every second that your 1 year old son is going to touch everything in that stall … ohhhh you lucky thing! I cannot explain the horror and disgust that goes through you, like you think about the bottoms of their shoes and all you want is a can of Lysol for your entire body. There have been times that I have stopped at Harris Ranch to eat, just for the clean restrooms! Yep, paid $40 for a bowl of soup and a plate of chicken strips for the kids to split, just because I wanted to feel safe and clean. SAFETY, my friends, when traveling with kids, takes priority over anything else, I promise you. After we eat and Amelia and I use the restroom, we get everyone in the car and then head to the gas station. From there I hop out, fill up quickly and we are off. I don’t lag at these middle-of-nowhere gas stations. I really don’t bother for anything else. There have been one or two times where I have HAD to stop at night and hated every second of it. Every bad thought goes through your mind and you think that you just cannot get that tank filled fast enough… in times like this I park where it’s well-lit, and I carry my wine key between my fingers. I’m not joking. I will gauge someone. At times it’s a pocket knife, but always at least a wine key. I also like to say things out loud as if I am talking to my kids like, “DAD IS JUST PAYING AND HE WILL BE RIGHT OUT!” I can’t tell you how many times people must’ve looked around after I left thinking, “did she leave her husband in the store?” 😉
- HAVE THE ATTITUDE LIKE YOU’RE IN A HURRY at every stop you go to. You’re someone who isn’t distracted, you are on a mission, and this definitely makes you less of a target. If we stop in a restaurant for instance, I throw a diaper or two in my handbag (that’s more like a backpack) and leave the chunky diaper bag in the car. I have taught my children that when mama is on the move, she’s on the move. So Amelia is my shadow. She knows that if she cannot hold my hand because it’s full with either carrying her brother or a bag, she knows to hold on to my jacket, shirt, whatever. Her hands have to hold on to me, even if mine cannot hold on to her. I love that she does this, I love that she is just alert. These kids know: THERE IS NO STALLING OR DAWDLING WHEN WE ARE OUT! This is a good tip for wherever you go, not just road trips by the way. This applies when I have to take them to the grocery, etc. (I refuse to use the term: dilly-dally, but you know what I mean by dawdling, right? 😀 )
- TURN UP THE AC if you’re falling asleep! I get tired and the urge to sleep if I am in a warm car and everything around me feels cozy. There’s something about having 300 miles left on the same highway that makes you wanna just… cruise. And we do! I definitely love the Cruise Control option, but I have to be careful. If I am feeling tired, even if it’s cold outside, I turn up the AC towards ME in the front and it keeps me awake. I’m uncomfortable, but I’m awake. You can also sing to yourself, or there have been times where I’ve slapped myself across the face and umm.. yeah, that keeps you up. Some of you reading this might be thinking, “umm.. coffee works too Talia..” yes but I cannot be that person that does 3 cups or drinks those 5 hour heart attack bottles.
- **Bonus Tip for those with a VAN: (*by the way I cannot tell you what a LIFESAVER it is to have the sliding door feature, as much as I don’t like how vans look) .. I take out all the middle seats. It makes it so much easier for me just in general when I’m able to just enter back there and get the kids strapped in. Amelia runs in and buckles herself and also can help Seb now.. we did this several trips ago and I’ve never changed it back. You know how easy my Costco trips have been lately?? 😉
I’m not going to give you any generic advice like: have fun, take it slow! Every now and then, Jeff will come with us, and on those trips I am way more relaxed and we can make a couple more stops if need be. And like I mentioned in a previous post, when it’s light out and the area is safe, we do make pit stops and check things out. Of course I feel 10x more inclined to do this when I have Jeff’s help. 🙂 Safe travels to you all out on the open road!
*Below are images from a recent trip we took from San Diego to San Francisco.
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Photos by: Natalia Cruz