Fourteen hours, two young children, and two parents packed into one car. This obviously calls for a survival guide.
Every summer since I can remember, I have taken a road trip from the Twin Cities to Red Lodge, Montana. I did it as a child with my parents and siblings, with friends as a young adult, and now with my own little family. And every year I am shocked at how long the car trip is. It reminds me a little bit of labor and delivery – forgetting the pain because the outcome is well worth it.
No matter how you slice it, 14 hours is a really long time to sit in a car. But this year, I was determined to have a game plan. First on our agenda was to pack all of our own food. There are a lot of great reasons to do this. Fresh in my memory was last year’s trip and being five hours from home when my husband started showing signs of food poisoning – yikes.
The goal with our food was to keep it healthy, simple, and clean. We also wanted to have some slightly salty snacks to reduce the amount of bathroom breaks. Here’s what we came up with:
- Breakfast: overnight oats that we ate right before walking out the door
- Snack 1: apples and sunflower butter
- Lunch: spring rolls
- Snack 2: popcorn and frozen peas (thawed by the time we ate)
- Dinner: tuna salad olives and celery
- On hand incase we got really snacky: bananas, a few more apples, cherries and some rice cakes
Second we wanted to prepare the girls and ourselves for two weeks with a lot less structure. With fourteen hours to kill, we figured we should create an age appropriate and fun way to set our expectations. We brought a children’s CD with us that has 11 songs with positive affirmations. Each song has a positive affirmation – “I am kind,” “I am dependable,” “I take turns,” etc. – and a sweet little story that exemplifies that affirmation.
We decided we would go song by song and first listen to the words, talk about what they meant and how we could demonstrate that behavior, and then listen one more time. This not only passed time, but the girls loved it. It also created great family conversation. There were lots of laughs when the girls shared examples of demonstrating each affirmation.
Third, we decided to talk a little bit about geography. Our journey took us through land of many lakes and the great plains of North Dakota to the mountains of Montana. We watched our surroundings change and celebrated each milestone city we passed though. I am willing to bet that few people have ever been as excited to see Bismarck, ND (our half way point) than our girls as we rolled through.
Fourth, we knew that nap time had to happen. Our three and a half year old can go without naps easily most of the time, but our younger daughter needs her naps or we all suffer. We started quiet time with a movie, and watched their lids get heavy as it was ending. Circling back to our talk about affirmations, we decided to put them to the test by telling them that although they didn’t have to sleep, we needed to be able to depend on them to follow our directions and stay quiet. They were so eager to show us that they were dependable that they both napped and our older daughter, who woke up first, remained quiet until her sister woke up. We were shocked – and of course high fiving, too.
We don’t typically award our girls for having good behavior while in the car, but fourteen hours in carseats is worth many awards. Lastly, we gave them a little surprise every couple hours for good behavior. We settled on:
- some new sticker books
- a new movie
- a new lunch boxes to hold their snacks
The roadtrip out and back home were shockingly pleasant. Of course there were some tough moments and a few tears, but if I had to be strapped into the carseat for that long, there would have been a lot more of both. There is something liberating about knowing that we can not only survive road trips but enjoy them. Let the magic of a family vacation begin on the journey.
Happy road tripping!
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