Answer truthfully now – would you rather:
A. Have a root canal?
B. Go on an eight-hour family road trip?
You answered A., didn’t you?
The idea of driving long distances with the family doesn’t exactly bring a happy image to mind, does it? Most of us have childhood memories of the family heading out on that long stretch of open highway, windows down, veins bulging in our father’s neck as he screams for the 19th time, “Don’t make me stop this car!”
It’s no surprise that National Lampoon turned the family road trip into a painfully funny hit movie.
But take it from someone who has taken a 9-, 12-, and even a 16-hour driving vacation with a family of five: Not only can you survive a long family road trip – you can actually enjoy it. It just takes preparation, realistic expectations and a sense of humor.
Give ‘em plenty of space
There’s no denying it; long trips require roomy family vehicles. Pack a family of five into a Toyota Corolla for a 10-hour drive and you’re just asking for trouble. In our opinion, the family mini-van is the best vehicle for family road trips. It’s especially helpful if the van has four captain’s chairs with only a bench seat in the very back.
Bench seats make it too easy for tired, bored children to get into a game of “She’s putting her leg on my side of the seat!” Captain’s chairs are spaced far enough apart that small children can’t even touch each other, eliminating the temptation to “start something.”
It’s also a good idea to have the kids take turns sitting in different seats in the van. Just have them rotate every time you stop for a break. That gives everyone a slight change of scenery and a chance to sit in whatever seat is the “prized position” in the van.
Trust us, if you have more than one kid, they will decide that one seat in the vehicle is far superior to all the others and they will fight over it. Remember however, children 12 and under shouldn’t ride in the front seat of any car or van equipped with a front passenger seat air bag.
You’re not going to make great time – get over it.
This bit of advice is geared more toward the fathers out there. We all have that co-worker who constantly brags that he can drive to New York City in about the time it takes us to get our family in the van and out of the driveway.
Usually, the braggart is a single male with a bladder the size of Lake Superior. Don’t let your competitive nature take over; you’re never going to beat him with the wife and kids along, and you make everyone miserable when you try.
Instead, plan on frequent breaks and figure them into your travel time. For an eight-hour drive, we figure in at least an hour for breaks. Remember though, the younger your children, the more stops you’ll make.
Unless they’re asleep, babies and toddlers typically need breaks after spending just an hour or two strapped into a confining car seat.
When you do stop, insist that your small children use the restroom, even if they whine, “But I don’t have to go.” We’ve all had the experience of getting back in the car, traveling just a couple of miles down the highway, only to hear “Man, I gotta go real baaaddd!” from the back seat. Insist they at least try to go every time you stop.
Bag o’ fun for everyone
Before you take off on your trip – preferably the night before – have each child pack a backpack or gym bag with his or her personal selection of items for entertainment on the road. Good choices include storybooks, crayons & coloring books, travel games, toy cars, action figures, portable tape/CD players (with headphones), and small stuffed animals.
Another excellent travel diversion is an art toy, such as Etch A Sketch® or Magna Doodle®; both come in travel sizes. These let your child to be creative in the car without making a mess.
But remember, even with all this helpful advice, there is bound to be some tension when a family is packed into a confined space for several hours at a time. Keep that in mind, and don’t get all stressed out when the kids start “acting up.” And above all, keep your sense of humor.
You’re creating family memories, and wouldn’t it be nicer if the kids remember your face red from laughter…not from yelling?