*I like to break my trip up in to 250-300 mile block chunks. Essentially four hours of driving. Example: Leave at 8:00. Stop at 12:00 for lunch. Preferably a place that has a play area. On road trips McDonald's is your friend! Let the kids out. Potty, play, eat. Get gas as you drive out of town at around 1:00. Stop at 5:00. Again a place where the kids can get out and stretch their legs. (In the summer months Dr. J and I like to bring food and stop at rest stops where the kids can run around). Potty, eat, gas. Load up at 6:00. Drive until 10:00. Stop for gas and a potty break. Drive until midnight, or one, or two, however late you feel comfortable. Stop at a hotel.
*Potty Breaks. EVERY PERSON HAS TO GO AT EVERY STOP RIGHT BEFORE WE GET IN THE CAR! There is no exception to this rule. Even if you went when we first got to the stop if you want to get back in the car you sit on the pot before we leave. I will occasionally stop at a rest stop if needed and more than once I've had to let a child pee on the side of the road, but more stops mean more time so I try to make sure everyone takes advantage of our scheduled stops. Speaking of peeing on the side of the road, the easiest way to do this with a young daughter is to pull their pants down, then with them facing you, reach down and grab the underside of their thighs. Have them grab your arms upper arms for stability. You are holding them in a seated position above the ground. Then spread your feet apart, lean forward and have them go, moving them around to angle their stream away from you. No pee on them, no pee on you. When they are done stand back up, step back and put them down on the ground. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many times I've had to do this on the side of the road at ten at night but it works and eventually (Gigi is six now) they figure out how to squat and pee on their own). We actually used this trick just last week when coming home from the dunes. A rest stop was only two miles away but neither of my middle girls could wait so at 10:30 at night I was holding Peach in a squat and Gigi was peeing right beside us. It was nuts. If you have a son you can have him run off on his own or if he is little you can even have him pee just standing at the edge of the van door. When in restaurants or gas station everyone goes in. I'd take the girls to the bathroom and now because Captain E is nine I'd have to let him go to the bathroom on his own. I'd tell him, "Ok, go in, do you business and then come right out and stand right here by this door. If anyone tries to get you to come with them you start screaming!" It sounds silly but I'm not going to lose a baby on one of these trips.
*Forget a diaper bag or purse, carry all your valuables in a backpack. I always bring a backpack that has my diaper changing mat and diapers and wipes, my wallet, my phone, my camera, any important papers I need, my keys, and our toothbrushes. If you are in a bathroom with three little kids you will be glad to have your arms free, a backpack provides that for you. It keeps all you stuff together, zips up, and is hands free almost eliminating the chance you will leave something behind or drop something. Also if you find yourself at two in the morning to tired to drive the last hour and half home and known you must stop you can just walk into a hotel carrying that backpack on your back with two kids in your arms and get a room, knowing you at least will have your toothbrush in the morning.
Hotels-The first night I stayed with my sister and actually stayed the following day. Staying with friends or family is definitely the way to go because it is free, fun to visit, and if you can stay more than one night your kids sort of forget some of the trauma of the drive and don't cry the next day when you go to buckle them into their car seats. The first night I stayed with my sister, and then stayed another day for good measure, but the day following that I had to stop at a hotel. Here goes.
*Hotels with continental breakfast are you friends. Some advertise themselves as such on signs, but I also would use my iphone to check if I was unsure. When you have five people to feed in the morning, nothing beats "free".
*Keep a small bag with just one change of outfits and other toiletries. Nobody wants to bring a huge bag into a hotel they are just stopping at for one night, especially if that person is going to be carrying more than one child.
*If you have a smart phone you can check rates before even going in. I've even called their numbers from the parking lot to make a reservation.
*When travelling alone with children cheapest isn't always best. I like to go to a cluster of hotels and pick one that is brightly lite and looks clean/well maintained.
*Bed bugs are real so be careful. I always leave my bag by the door or on a desk or table. Then I'll pull up the sheets to check for bed bug waste. I used to think I was maybe overreacting but recently my friend staying in a suite in Nauvoo reported finding a bed bug in her hotel. So yeah I'm going to stay on the lookout.
Entertainment-Long road trips are especially trying on children, entertainment is a must!
*When we first get into the car I don't give the kids a thing. That first hour or so they are at their very best and I want to take advantage of them just looking out the window. We play games like I spy, road trip bingo, or the alphabet game. Then I will often hand/throw out activity books and real books. If we can make it to lunch with no media I call it a good trip. I wish my kids could read more in the car but both of my oldest get horrible car sickness so I'm trying to balance non media time with potentially puke factor. After lunch I'll pull out the DVD player. They will usually watch three movies at this point. They are pretty happy though the first one, getting grouchier by the second, all out fighting over the third. Hopefully by this point we've made it to to dinner. After dinner I hand out other media devices. On this particular trip I was lucky enough to have two itouches, an ipad, and a kindle. My kids then have a couple hours of game time. I have chargers in the car so if their device dies I can trade it out for another and charge it while I drive. For myself the hardest thing I've found about driving alone without another adult is the boredom and the tiredness. Two things I found that help the most, books on tape and dance music. I will put two or three books on my phone to listen to as we drive. If I ever start feeling a little down I'll put on some dance music which will usually lighten my mood. The truth is electronic devices are a life saver for me on these trips. I don't remember how we used to do it pre media entertainment but I do remember we didn't use to have to be in seat belts and car seats so maybe that helped and I also remember I listened to a ton of beach boys as a kid so maybe it was my mom who taught me dance music helps things go faster.
Like I said before I like to use meal times as a chance for the kids to get out of the car but road trips also involve a lot of snacking. We always bring a cooler full of things like cheese sticks, gogurts, frozen juice boxes and pepperonis and ham. We have a bag full of foods like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, cookies/crackers, popcorn, even candy to help keep people happy. I'll divide the snacks up into individually bagged portions and if the kids ask for something have been known to toss it back. This last strip was really nice because Captain E sat in the middle and I could easily have him reach into the cooler and bags to hand snacks out. I also have a small water bottle for each kid so they can take care of their thirst. It is a tricky line you walk, trying to keep them hydrated but not having to stop every hour for someone to pee. My other rule of thumb is play place trumps anything else. So if there is a play place that is where we stop. It can get super annoying as an adult, especially if you are one like me who any type of variation to the schedule causes your intestines to decide to quit functioning but I've found ways to get the fiber I need. Almost every place you stop has a soup or salad option. My favorite is actually chick-fil-a. They have not only a playground but I chicken noodle soup option. A win/win for me. If you are in smaller towns you are going to be more limited. McDonald's Asian chicken salad and I go way back. Steak-n-shake is another family favorite. They might not have a play place but they have these little paper cars the kids love, roomy booths, chefs' hats, milk shakes and salad :) Also road trips are the only time when I indulge in a lot of soda drinking especially the caffeine kind. Let's face it. Stay alert on a road trip is hard. For me caffeine can help.
Things To Keep Close At Hand
Cell phone. I know back in the day people didn't have phones that could travel with them, but we do. I would never again do a road trip without a phone. I always keep it charged. Especially in the winter you do not want to get stranded on the side of the road without a way to call for help. Speaking of getting stranded on the side of the road, some extra blankets, water, food, and small first aid kit. And don't forget the lip gloss. I have never been on a road trip where I did not get chapped lips. Finally my gps. Not only does it tell me the way to go but it also tells me the closest place to eat or potty, information far worth the cost of your GPS.
Finally Safety. Don't drive when you are falling asleep. The best time to drive is when the kids are sleeping but don't let that fact make you do something stupid. If you are tired stop to get gas and walk around. Get some caffeine. Eat a snack. Listen to some upbeat music. Use your phone and chat hands free with a friend or family member. If that doesn't jog you out of your fog then it is time to stop. I was 1 1/2 hours from home on a 26 hour drive and I stopped. I so wanted to be in my own bed but when driving with precious cargo it is worth the headache of stopping to avoid falling asleep on the road. Avoid out of the way roads. You don't want to go off the road on a poorly traveled route. For the most part I stick to the interstate or really well traveled highways. Never let your tank get lower than 1/4 tank. You don't want to risk running out of gas when you have a bunch of whiny kids in the car. Sometimes your kids are just going to scream and cry. Especially your nursing baby. Be prepared to accept this is ok.