These days, my children (ages 5 and 8) are masters at enduring long-haul car rides across the country. They are well aware of what's required to ride 16 hours at a time with few complaints, and they're fairly good at entertaining themselves.
But, it wasn't always this way.
We've traveled extensively with them since they were babies, which means we've lived through lots of growing pains.
My husband has threatened to "turn the car around" more than once due to temper tantrums, anger issues and general exhaustion. We've been in the midst of car rides where babies are crying and I'm crying and even their dad starts crying because we're all frustrated and tired.
And yes, we've asked ourselves why the devil we're going somewhere with our kids countless times.
"Couldn't we have just stayed home?!?!?!"
Alas, we have always reached the same conclusion: Travel is worth it even if the car rides are long and our kids are insane. Of course, we have learned some tips along the way that make road trips with kids a lot more tolerable. Some we couldn't implement until they were older, but others could be tried out no matter ages your children are.
Leave in the Middle of the Night
Depending on the details of your trip, it can make sense to leave late/early. When our children were babies, we learned we could make our long trips more tolerable if we left at, say, 2:00 in the morning.
If you can get out of town that early, you may be able to get the kids into the car without waking them up. You may even be able to drive uninterrupted until breakfast.
Break it Up with a Hotel Stay
While driving a huge stretch of road in a single day may make you feel productive, spending 16 hours or more in the car can make everyone crazy (especially your kids).
If you can swing it, break your trip in half and book a cheap hotel mid-stay. Your trip may be slightly more expensive this way, but you will buy yourself some rest and a much-needed break.
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Buy Back-of-Seat DVD Players.
I'm fairly frugal, but I still bought DVD players for our car. Listening to ten hours of every season of Full House isn't always pleasant, but it's better than listening to complaints or arguing.
Buy back-of-seat DVD players for your car. You won't regret it.
Bring Plenty of Snacks and Drinks
Bring snacks and drinks and hand them out liberally.
There's no need to argue over who is eating what on a long car ride. You're not trying to create Martha-Stewart-approved meals en route to your destination. At this point, you're trying to survive.
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Plan on Stopping at the Bathroom (All the Time)
As a final tip, don't even kid yourself that you'll drive 10-16 straight hours with a handful of bathroom stops. That's impossible with the kids in tow, and you should adjust your expectations accordingly.
Plan on stopping every few hours at the very least and everyone will be happier.
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