Everyone was asleep during my first driving shift from Florida to Indiana. It was 4 a.m. and we had just come up on the town of Pelham, Alabama, when I heard the worst gurgle *splat* from the backseat. My then-7 -year-old daughter had just lost the entire contents of her stomach all over the back of the passenger seat, herself and her car seat.
It was bad. One of the worst I had ever seen — and that trip became the road trip that proved that we could survive anything, making getting there by car our preferred method of travel. Not only is it more economical with four of us, it allows us to see parts of the country that we would otherwise miss in an airplane (have you ever seen the sunflower fields in full bloom in the Midwest? Whoa).
Growing up if we wanted to go somewhere we went by car, so packing everyone and everything up to head over the hills and through the woods to (or over the mountains and through Nevada) to grandmother’s house in California makes me nostalgic. My mom was a road trip expert and many of the things I’ve learned about having a successful one come from her.
Whether you’re a road-trip warrior or heading out on your first for the holidays, here’s a few things I’ve learned about how to prepare for the worst-possible scenarios on a family road trip so you can relax and enjoy the ride.
Car Sickness 1 of 8
Let's just be upfront and say that throwing up is pretty much the worst thing that can happen in any situation, and it's happened to me on more than one road trip. My best advice is to always, always have a change of clothes, plastic grocery sacks, and a roll of paper towels in your car. You can solve 85% of any vomit-related disaster in a car with these three things. If you know your kids are prone to motion sickness look into either medication or natural remedies for before you leave (so you're not looking for ginger at a truck stop in Tennessee or overpaying for Dramamine at a drug store in Nebraska.)
Ironically, a full stomach is less likely to get upset by motion sickness as compared to an empty one. Regular (and healthy) snack and meals will keep little (and big) tummies settled for the ride.
It doesn't hurt to keep some bottled water and hand sanitizer on-hand, as well.
Potty Problems 2 of 8
I can still remember going potty in a plastic bag-lined bucket in the back of our van on the way to my grandparents' house. We didn't have car seats and my parents apparently didn't want to make a potty stop. If you have a child in diapers, you'll want the same supplies on hand as you would for vomit, but make sure you have plenty of wet wipes, as well. I like to store a few changing-table covers (or those plastic-y paper towels they put on you at the dentist) in my car to put in the bottom of a car seat in case of emergency.
Now that Vivi is potty training we keep a My Carry Potty in the back at all times. We haven't had to use it yet, but it's an extra level of security knowing it's there just in case.
Potty stops are not only necessary for the obvious reason, they're a great way to stretch out your legs, refill the ice in your water bottle and get some fresh air.
I’m Bored 3 of 8
There were certain things allowed on road trips when I was a kid that weren't allowed any other time, like sticker books and a pad of paper shaped like the United States that we could check off license plates on. I try to keep toys and activities in the car just as novel as my mom did so everyone looks forward to time spent on the road.
Kid's meal toys are fun because I don't care if they go missing, get broken or become an art project -- and my kids think they're novel since they're not allowed in the house. I also keep a handful of little paperback Instagram photo books in the back, for some reason kids love looking at pictures of themselves and things they find familiar. Addie has a Kindle, Vivi has a MagnaDoodle, and together they have a DVD player that they share (but only on long drives), We load up on either Redbox or library movies before we head out so the selections are new and ever changing.
I can get just as bored as my kids if I'm not prepared so I do my best to make sure the car is loaded with things to do so they're not restless and cranky.
I’m Hungry 4 of 8
It used to be road trips meant snacks and chips and all sorts of stuff I didn't normally get to have. Then, I had kids, and had to set an example. No one wants to be trapped in a car with a kid high on sugary drinks and cheesy puffs. We always keep a small cooler full of carrot sticks, berries, yogurt, grapes and other healthy treats so we don't get to our destination feeling like sluggish and bloated road trip victims.
When we make gas station stops we each get a cup of ice to munch on, that way our mouths our busy (because who doesn't want to eat when they're bored?) but we're not adding empty calories to our bellies.
I’m Uncomfortable 5 of 8
Rest stops exist for kids to get their wiggles out. When traveling with kids, a stop every two hours (minimum) is needed to keep the little ones from getting too pent up. If you can find a playground, even better. If not, set up an obstacle course (around the map! under the picnic table! over the bench!) at a rest stop and use a stopwatch to time your kids. They'll think it's great fun and their little restless legs will get the movement they need.
As far as sleeping in the car? I cannot say enough about keeping your little ones rear facing for as long as possible and your bigger ones in a high-backed booster. Not only are they safer with their harnesses and seat belts in the right position, their heads will be better supported, as well. Keeping the car cool and making sure they're covered with a favorite blanket will make car sleeping much more comfortable, as well.
We’re Lost 6 of 8
Back in my day, I used to read maps for fun. My mom even let me guide her every now and again after I became good at reading them. These days, we rely so much on GPS and our phones that, when we're stuck somewhere without them, we panic. If you're headed somewhere with mountains, you'd better believe GPS won't be able to keep up with you on those winding back roads. Make sure you have a map, or even a general idea of where you're headed before you head out. How many people even look at a map before they head out on a road trip anymore?
Before you leave teach your kids how to read a map, highlight the route you'll be taking and let them see if there are any cool roadside stops they'd like to make along the way (world's biggest ball of twine perhaps?).
If your car doesn't have a compass, it isn't a terrible idea to put one in there. If you do get lost? Look at it as an adventure rather than an inconvenience. Keeping spirits up can to wonders on road trip morale.
We’re Stuck 7 of 8
I've been trapped in four-hour traffic jams. I've been stuck at the side of the road for more than an hour during a torrential downpour. I've been trapped in the mountains in a total whiteout. When heading out, I never assume everything will go according to plan, in fact I have a tendency to prepare for the worst. While it's rare that you'll get trapped like this, it's far less stressful if you know you have enough to keep everyone entertained, fed and comfortable while you're stuck.
You should never go on a road trip assuming you'll get everything you want to eat and drink on the way, always have food and water in your car — even if it's just a few bottles of water and a box of granola bars. If it's winter, have warm clothes and blankets and, if it's summer, have sunscreen, sunglasses and water. You should always have an umbrella (for rain or sun protection) and a way to charge your phone.
When you're ready, come back and talk to me about flares, first-aid kids, shovels, and emergency battery starts.
We Got in an Accident 8 of 8
Having your only mode of transportation taken away from you when you're traveling is a rough one. You should always make sure and have copies of your insurance cards (both medical and auto) when on a road trip, as well as numbers to insurance agents.
Make sure drivers take regular breaks to stretch their legs and get their own wiggles out and if they're tired? Pull off the road and take a quick little kitty nap. Running 30 minutes behind is far better than risking the health and safety of your family.
Before heading out, check to see what coverage you may have available to you through your auto insurance (such as rental coverage), motor clubs (free towing or flat repair), or even your cellular carrier. Many carriers offer roadside or emergency assistance to subscribers.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress via Flickr
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.