I am one of those people who tends to get cabin fever. No matter where I am, once in a while I have to be somewhere else for a while; preferably somewhere that involves old friends, good coffee and a little shopping. My husband and I got married young, and while I am very extroverted, he is quite introverted. So in order to keep us both happy, I tend to go out and leave him at home -- I get some people time and he gets some alone time and we're both happier. In any case, these needs haven't changed since I've had kids.
This has led me to do something that many people think is crazy -- solo road trips with kids. Yes, you heard me. I like to pack my kids up in the car and drive hundreds of kilometers. I have done this with a baby and a toddler as well as with a toddler and a preschooler. Here's how:
1. Plan to do part of your drive at night -- if possible, start driving at night. Once the kids are asleep, you can get a few hours driving in, and then stop and sleep somewhere in the middle of your trip. This will mean 3 or 4 hours of hassle free driving. Alternately, start driving after lunch, drive through nap time, stop for supper, then drive into the night.
2. Think ahead about what you will need to keep your kids occupied and comfortable. This means wipes, diapers, extra changes of clothes, jackets, and a change of shoes should be easily accessible. Bring a bin of toys and pass them back one at a time as they get dropped, since you won't be able to reach back and fish them off the ground -- get a few new toys to blend in with your kids' old favorites. Think about things that can be played with easily while sitting -- action figures, small dolls or animals, matchbook cars, hard backed sketchbooks and pencils or crayons, search and find or sticker books, toys that rattle or shake or can have things taken in / out of them for babies. Do some novel things like putting a toy digger in a plastic container of raisins or trail mix. Head to the library and pick up stories on cd and some fun kids music and add them to your family favorites. While you're there get some new books with complicated, fun pictures the kids can look at by themselves (Where's Waldo or books by Richard Scary or Graeme Base). Cut up fruit and put it in small bowls that you can just pass back to hungry kids. If you have time, make some of these desks for older kids. Carry the potty and a package of Lysol wipes to clean it out so you don't have to look for a bathroom in case of emergency.
3. Organize everything you'll need so that its within reach - this is the advantage / disadvantage of having no one in the passenger seat. You can load it up with stuff. I usually have two snap top bins -- one with toys and one with snacks. Books are sitting upright behind these bins, and water bottles and our cd storage book are laying along side this. Tucked under the seat is my bag with diapers, changes of clothes, and lots of wipes. This way I can pass back snacks, drinks, toys and books while I'm still driving to keep the kids occupied.
4. Stop a lot - young children get restless and bored. Then they start crying and fighting. Babes need to be nursed and changed regularly. If possible, stop every hour or so for a good 15 minuites of play time. Every little town will have a park or visitor center somewhere, big highways will have rest stops with green spaces to run in, and if you're on the prairies you can just stop on the side of the road and let them run in a field. If you will be staying at someone's house on the other end, let them know that you are uncertain when you will get there, and just phone them when you are an hour or so away so they know you are coming. This will not be a fast trip.
5. Set your expectations low - expect things to get messy, kids to get fussy and the baby to blow out their clothes or the preschooler to throw up. That way you won't be so frustrated when it actually happens. Just try to keep a cool head and take things in stride -- remember the fantastic destination you are heading to and remind yourself that its worth it.
I think it might be optimistic to say that doing a solo road trip with small children is fun. But I will say it will give you a huge confidence boost. If you can travel solo with small kids, you can do anything. So don't let being a mom of young kids hold you back from doing something you enjoy -- go for it!
What are your best road trip tips?