I’m writing this as we road trip, thanks to the power of technology and an exceedingly tolerant husband who does not mind long stretches behind the wheel. Three of our five kids are packed in the back, and even though it’s around noon and, as such, a prime time for a squabble, they’re quiet and – gasp – content.
Our long drives have not always been like this. We’ve heard our fair share of “I want to get out!” from those strapped into car seats and “This is not my idea of fun” from sulky teens, and it goes without saying that all of the kids, from teen to toddler, usually ask at least a couple times, “Are we there yet?” Here’s how we’re keeping the chorus of complaints at bay today:
1.) Plenty of room. Smaller cars are more fuel efficient, but I’m willing to give up a few gallons of gas in order to have a more peaceful ride. We’re in my husband’s gigantic Suburban. I balked, for a moment, until I realized that the price of diesel is about the same as the price of regular gas right now, and the truck’s diesel engine gets more miles per the gallon than does my Honda minivan. Pre-Suburban, we’ve actually rented a larger vehicle to let the kids have enough room to ride comfortably.
2.) Plenty of snacks. I spent a lot of time this morning packing individual lunchboxes for the kids, but the instant one of them said she was hungry and then reached over and got herself a snack without bothering anyone else, I remembered why it was worthwhile. Pack as if you’re sending them off to school – a full meal plus a snack or two and an extra drink – and you’ll be good to go. Don’t forget the ice pack, and keep some treats (lollipops and fake fruit gummy things, in my case) hidden for doling out as bribes or rewards. And don’t forget to pack something for the adults in the car (I forgot, and the extra string cheese sticks and juice boxes are going to look mighty attractive to me in another hundred miles or so).
3.) Some cool apps for your iPhone or iPod Touch. My husband is a NPR junkie, and the minute we cross the border from Massachusetts into Connecticut and he loses his favorite station, he starts twiddling with the radio, looking for his fix as the stations fade in and out. This trip, we hit the dead radio zone and I pulled up a great little live-streaming public radio app on my iPhone. Best of all: It was free. (Check out some other great apps in this Work It, Mom! slideshow and a couple of great member articles.)
4.) A portable DVD player and a bunch of DVDs. I got my dual-screen DVD player at Target; the screens strap to the backs of the front seats, and they’re connected to each other so that two kids can watch the same movie. Important detail: Each screen has its own headphone jack, allowing my preschoolers to watch “The Wiggles” while my nearly 16-year-old listens to her iPod behind them without going crazy.
5.) A power inverter. This handy contraption plugs into your car’s power source (formerly known as the cigarette lighter) and allows you to plug anything else into it using a regular plug. (Like my techno-speak?) The big reason for bringing one of these along is that you can recharge your cell phone or laptop or iPhone or whatever you don’t have a car adapter for.
6.) Non-electronic entertainment. Even with a power inverter, there’s only so much battery-powered entertainment you want to deal with. Stash a few new (or new-to-you) age-appropriate books for your kids in the car, and pull them out when the whining starts. Also bring blank notebooks and pencils – they’ll come in handy for anything from writing a short, silly story (each person in the car contributes a sentence, one person reads it out loud) to a game of I Spy where the players have to write down (or draw pictures of) what they see. Other excellent car-ride choices include Water Wow books (paint with water, let dry, do it again), finger puppets, and magnet boards.
7.) Pillows and light blankets. The air conditioning can make the car a little too chilly to nap (but if the car is warm, it can get too cozy to drive). A small pillow keeps kids comfortable in their car seats, and can be used for lumbar support if grownups need it.
Working moms (and dads), share your tips and tricks: How do you make long car rides go more smoothly?