As many people do during the summer, my husband and I decided to take a good, old-fashioned family vacation. We have two daughters, ages five and two, so it’s safe to say we were naively optimistic when landing on going to Colorado with three other families.
Colorado itself is amazing. Tons of family-friendly activities, beautiful views and great weather. What I would not describe as amazing was the road trip. This was our first drive longer than three hours with the girls. And, to make things even easier, we were potty training our 2-year-old at the same time. We’re back now, and while part of me may be mentally scarred for life, we survived. And I have some tips for those of you brave enough to tackle a similar journey.
- Minivan: It’s a must. If you don’t have one, borrow or rent one. It will fit the potty chair, 598 drinks that come out of nowhere, an insane amount of “car presents” (I’ll get to those later), suitcases and those stuffed animals that would have been sad if they missed out on the vacation.
- Portable DVD Player: We borrowed one from a neighbor. I think my 5-year-old watched one movie during the total of 22 hours we were in the car. I’m including this because I’m guessing my kids are aliens and other kids may actually watch movies in the car. A friend recommended stopping at Red Box along the way to keep things interesting.
- Car Presents: I poached this idea from a neighbor. She suggested getting small presents and giving them to the girls every two hours during the drive to keep things fun. This sounded super promising. I bought some Water Wows, slime and sticker books. I even wrapped them. The trouble sparked when the girls realized there were more presents stashed. So truth be told, when survival mode kicked in, I was passing out the car presents like Oprah passes out keys to new cars. “YOU get a car present, and YOU get a car present!” So, it was a good idea, but in hindsight, pacing the presents is better than being Oprah.
- Glow Sticks: I am making this a completely separate bullet point because, for whatever reason, our kids played with glow sticks for 3 hours straight on the way home. We may have all been slaphappy at that point, but the next road trip we take, I will be loading up on glow sticks for sure.
- Books: You won’t get to read yours, my kids can’t even read yet, but they make surprisingly good flat surfaces for coloring and drawing. I almost bought those portable lap desk things but I’m glad I skipped because I’m betting books worked just as well.
- Snacks: We might as well have bought stock in Goldfish and granola bars because we had a TON for the trip. We also stashed squeezable applesauce and some halfway healthy trail mix. But do you want to know what kept them quiet more often than not? Gum! What the heck? I had no idea that the allure of gum is STRONG in my kids. We had to quickly teach the 2-year-old not to swallow the gum but, after we accomplished that, we were good to go! We also let the girls get gas station snacks a couple times because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good bag of Sour Patch Kids or Pixie Sticks?
- Potty Chair: I mentioned we were potty training our 2-year-old. Thankfully, she did pretty well but there are long stretches of absolutely freaking nothing around on the way from Kansas to Colorado, so we packed the potty chair and had her do her business that way more often than not. (Spoiler alert – We put her in a diaper on the way back and that was possibly the smartest move we made the entire trip.)
- Earphones: You probably think I’m going to say for the kids, but this is a pro tip from my husband. He plugged in and listened to some podcasts / drowned out our children.
- Departure: We left at 4:30 a.m. both ways. We are lucky in that our kids will sleep in the car. They both made it approximately one hour each time, but that was one hour of peace to start each leg of the trip, dang it.
- Sense of humor: Don’t forget that at home. Because you’ll need it BIG TIME when traveling that far with kids.
While I hope you get an idea or two out of these tips, I’m about to reveal the best one of the bunch. Don’t try too hard. I planned pretty hard for the drive out. But when it was time to come home? We basically threw our hands up and muscled through it. That involved putting the 2-year-old in a diaper and hoping she didn’t regress on potty training (which she didn’t), giving that same kid the pacifier we are trying to break her of and handing my 5-year-old the iPad for more hours than I care to admit.
And you know what? The drive home was MUCH smoother than the drive out. Do what you need to do to survive the road trip. We are a couple weeks out and are slowly entering the “look back and laugh” phase when discussing the failed pee bag attempt. But that’s a blog for a different day. Or for never. It was that bad.