Family Road Trip 101

Feb 05

My childhood is packed with memories of driving to Florida with my parents and four siblings.¬† Back then, we’d squeeze into the station wagon, luggage roped atop, with books, games, and music to keep ourselves amused.¬† Perhaps it’s because of my fond memories of sitting in the backseat of the wagon that I’ve continued the tradition of driving to Florida with my husband and three young boys.¬†

This past spring we drove there for the third time in three years.¬† When we tell our friends and neighbours that we’re driving south, their response is typically an incredulous “You’re driving?¬† With three kids? How do you do it?”¬† Well, it’s really not that hard, thanks in part to electronic gadgets, rooftop carriers, and Map Quest. ¬†Over the years, my husband and I have¬†learned a few¬†things about how to survive a lengthy car ride with young kids – without losing our marbles.¬† Here’s the skinny on what works for us:¬†

  • Electronic gadgets – Throw your nostalgia for the good ol’ days aside and purchase a portable DVD player (hand-held electronic games, such as the Leapster, are also a worthy addition to the car entertainment arsenal).¬† Face it – if a grown up needs to watch a full-length feature film during a three-hour flight, shouldn’t some antsy kids be allowed to watch a few Sponge Bob flicks over a 22-hour drive?
  • If ever there’s a time to break the healthy eating rules, it’s now.¬† Carrots and rice crackers just won’t suffice.¬† I hate buying junk food, but nothing stops a chorus of backseat whiners like a pack of dunkaroos.
  • A good throw – the immobility of children fastened into car seats requires an accurate toss to ensure that granola bar (I don’t only buy junk food!) lands on their lap, not in the no-man’s-land between the front and back seat of a mini-van.
  • Hit the road before the sun rises – not because the kids will sleep for the first four hours (they won’t) – so you can squeeze in as much of the drive as possible during the first day, and more importantly, before they start asking “Are we there yet?”
  • Expect the unexpected.¬† During our first road trip to Florida, we discovered our three-year-old had car sickness.¬† Between Pennsylvania and Georgia, he’d vomited six times (sans barf bag.)¬† A poor sense of smell comes in handy too.
  • Keep on driving – don’t “spoil” them with a plane ticket.¬† Our kids have grown so accustomed to long road trips that they barely require our attention anymore.¬† And, as long as they stay naively unaware of the convenience and comfort of an airplane, we don’t have to answer the question: “Why can’t we just fly there?”

A version of this article was published in the National Post in 2007.

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