Even after the boys were born there was never a point we strayed far from a deep love of road trips. They're one of my favorite things in life. And something I wasn't willing to sacrifice even when (at times) it might seem more trouble than it's worth. Even back when the plight of packing up three kids under four, and hitting the road for hours on end tested our patience and caused us on numerous occasions to question the state of our sanity altogether. Just off the top of my head I can recall a handful of incidents throughout the years where being on the road with a car full of kids almost broke us. Remembering namely the most notable screaming fits, actual fist fights, unexpected vomiting, extended block blocks, running out of gas, getting lost, and feeling altogether defeated by the mounting pressures of in car travel. And yet as much headache as it came be, whenever we're back, no matter the trials that spring along the way, it isn't very long before we're itching to get back on the road and explore together again as a family. As if all the negative points simply dissolve in light of the Kodachrome tinged reflections we take away from the experiences.
Bright side is, it does get easier. As they get older (and us, wiser) the hours we spend cramped together in the car become - day I say - some of our most"Enjoyable?"
And since we've been on the go non stop this summer (plenty more on those recent road trips coming this week) I wanted to share a few tips that help me ensure things go as smoothly as possible. As practical (and obvious) as some of them probably are.
Leave Your Expectations at the Door:
I've learned by now that if I set out without any kind of overhyped expectations surrounding the trip I'm better off no matter how the experience pans out. Focusing instead on the plain fact of being in the same space together, getting out of the house and seeing new things outside of typical routine being what matters most. And accepting that sometimes the "unexpected" is what makes the best memories in these kinds of situations anyway. In other words if you come to embrace the chaos the rewards are always richer.
One major shift that has really helped mend the quality of our outings is buying the big old van I drive now on the daily. A used Ford Econoline with the glorious fact of individual seats. Prior to this we were all crammed in a jeep with non stop issues arising with everyone too close for comfort. These days the seating is chosen based solely on which children get along best. Meaning Rex next to Hayes and Leon by Arlo. Leaving a few empty seats in the back usually filled by friends who tag along for the ride.
I would say that with four kids one of the main points of conflict happens when things don't seem "equal." Road trips being are no exception so what I've learned over the years is the best way to avoid this battle is taking the time beforehand to see that each child has their own bag, pens, paper, head phones, books, and snacks so no one is fighting someone else for something they maybe didn't think to bring but feel entitled to en route right when it' impossible to jump back there and mediate.
Prior to leaving I usually try and pack each of the boys a couple brown bags full of snacks to pass out mid way so we don't have to stop anytime some one is hungry. And when they run out that's it. The rate at which they devour them is up to each of them and no one is required to share. Which that itself alleviates plenty of reason for arguing.
Plastic Bottles > Public Bathrooms
Yes, it's gross. I know. But also fairly genius in my situation, with a car full of boys where the threat of gas station bathroom breaks can get excessive. Arlo was the first to do it and now all his brothers follow suit and have become pros at their in car aim. The only thing is remembering to toss them at each stop. Because plastic water bottles or Starbuck cups filled with yellow liquid can be pretty deceiving. And, generally speaking traveling with urine is never cute.
The Earlier the Better
I swear by this one and do everything in my power to make sure we stick to it every time we set out. Not only does it make sense to leave as early as possible (to beat traffic and arrive at your intended destination earlier) but it also allows them to sleep through a good bulk of those first couple of hours in the car. Which means a nice and peaceful beginning for the one behind the wheel.
Window Tape Art
This is one of Rex's recent inventions and I swear it's been a saving grace during long drives as far as keeping him quiet and entertained for extended periods of time. Basically it's a colorful pack of masking tape I let him decorate his window with while I'm driving. The art he creates in this medium is always impressive, sometimes so much so that it pains me to strip if when the time comes. The same idea can be instilled though using a smaller plastic plexi glass board, bold colored tape and small scissors if they request them. But then again white boards are always a good call too.
Leon's favorite. And mine too at his age as well. Mad libs are a fun and easy way to be engaged with the backseat crew. Guaranteed to solicit plenty of laughter along the way too. Especially because boys this age usually tend towards gross adjectives. (Insert slight mom eye roll)
The less cluttered the car the better mindset attached. At least for me. The reason I pack much more intentionally now - pulling less options and knowing I wash if I have to while we're away, as well as coming home home to less laundry to sort through upon return.
Don't get me wrong, I live for my traveling play lists - I really really do, but I also like breaking up the drive sometimes with pod casts narratives too. Sometimes we pick younger ones for Hayes and other times we stick to the classics. But usually it's a good call and everyone quiets down to settle into the stories unfolding.
Here, a list from NPR sharing some good ones to choose from.
Pull off where you didn't plan, check out things you spot along the way, talk to people, eat at random places, be open to new courses and adjusted time lines. Some of my favorite adventures are the result