Not Making a Murderer
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One of the biggest concerns that I, my husband, my closest friends, and basically everyone in my life had when we decided to go for the whole van life thing was ‘how are you going to be in such a small space- on a constant road trip- with your family like, all the time, without killing anyone?’ And, if I’m being totally honest, I really didn’t know how or if that was actually possible. It was a gamble, but I figured my maternal instincts and/or will to live would kick in before I jumped out the window in a fit of insanity, and just decided to let the whole thing play out and hope for the best!
I am happy to report that I have killed exactly zero people, nor do I have the desire to at this point in time. Truth time: our kids are freakishly good on car trips. I don't claim to be an expert on that sort of thing, but I wanted to share a few tips with you to make your next road trip bearable and maybe even fun!
Start Em Young
Tyler and I have always loved a good road trip. (actually that’s not true: Tyler has always loved a good road trip, and I have always loved going places. I’ve learned to love the journey, not just the destination. It’s weird how spouses rub off on one another, isn't it!?) We drove from Illinois to Key West when Jasper was around 5 months old. We took Briar up to my home town for the 4th of July (an 8 hour hop skip and a jump) when she was only about 3 weeks old. There was crying…oh the crying! From the babies, from me I’m sure…. but we did it anyway. Don't be afraid to give it a go— just make sure you plan plenty of time to stop and stretch your legs. If you don't want to be in a car for 10+ hours, your Little probably doesn’t either. You just know how to function in society and they are still a loose canon. Cut them a little bit of slack and remember they probably have no clue why they’ve been strapped in to a seat for the last day and a half.
Snacks galore. Listen, I don't even run to the grocery store without a snack for myself, I’m certainly not going on a long-ass road trip without provisions. ‘Snack’ can mean whatever you want— Twizzlers, RapSnacks, veggie tray, whatever floats your boat… just don’t leave home without them. Also, there are two forms of snacks: plan ahead snacks, which are cheaper and generally healthier, and stop-and-grab snacks which usually come from a gas station along the way. Here is a short list of our personal plan-ahead-so-you-don’t-feel-like-a-total-fatass-but-these-don’t-make-a-huge-mess snacks (but I’m not judging if you load up on RapSnacks, Combos, and Swedish Fish before you hit the road. You do you! And seriously, try the RapSnacks!):
Triscuits + roasted red pepper hummus from Aldi (I have a huge crush on Aldi everything, so be prepared to be obsessed by association if you aren’t already)
bananas and apples, nature’s perfect snacks
Honey Nut Cheerios (Dry- if you give your kids wet cereal the car, you are already exhibiting psychopathic tendencies and I cannot help you)
granola bars and/or Nutrigrain bars
raw broccoli and cauliflower
Stop, Collaborate and Listen
I don’t know about collaborating or listening, but stop. If you’re going on a super long road trip, break it up a bit. Even if it’s only a few hours but your kids turn into looney tunes in the car, plan on the ride taking an extra 45 min and plan a stop at a playground along the way. If it’s cold out, plan a stop at a Bass Pro or Cabela’s. Big sporting goods stores generally have ridiculous displays inside, like every North American animal taxidermied to look like they’re going to pounce on you, rivers running through the entire store and gigantic ugly AF catfish you can stare at for a bit while your kids touch everything and gather germs (so also bring hand sanitizer). They also generally always have saltwater taffy by the pound so when you get sick of eating raw broccoli you can get your party on with that sweet sweet sugar.
Take A Wrong Turn
This one applies especially if you’re on a long road trip. While your general plan might be Hometown to Destination, don’t be afraid to get a little lost along the way. Some of my favorite trip memories have been random stops that were never part of our travel plans. We stumbled on the most adorable little town on the north shore of Oahu and participated in their annual Christmas parade. I am convinced we will retire there one day. Recently we pulled off to a random beach for a bit in Southern California to stretch our legs and got to watch a pod of dolphins playing in the surf as a bonus. On our last big road trip we took a wrong turn somewhere in Colorado while en route to Arches National Park, but witnessed the most incredible end-to-end double rainbow I’ve ever seen.
Pack Like You’re Fleeing
My friends will attest that I am a master of carry-on packing. I am also a master at being prepared when it comes to road trips without having to rent a U-Haul before you go. Each kid gets a backpack of items THAT I PACK. This is important. Unleash your inner Type A and take hold of that situation, otherwise you’ll end up with a bag full of doll accessories (but no dolls), 6 random blocks that can’t actually be touched because they were used to build a tower 3 weeks ago, a half eaten granola bar, and 2/3 of a wardrobe where somehow nothing goes with anything else. I’ve seen it happen, just trust me here. I do generally let the kids each choose one or two items, but invoke the right to veto at any given time, including during the middle of the road trip. We use Busy Bags, which, BONUS, come already packed, but I suppose any ole backpack will do (if you go the BusyBag route, take the PlayDoh out. Don’t be a crazy person and bring jars of PlayDoh in to your vehicle or you’re just asking for it). Here are our road trip essentials:
iPad— I know some people are anti-screen time for their kids and that’s totally cool. We give in to the power of technology because sometimes it’s really nice to not have to answer 8 billion questions, 7.5 billion of which are ‘can I have a snack’ or ‘where are we going again?!’ Plus, Storks is a really cute movie, and Moana songs are super catchy. (Sidenote: our kids also have Kindles, which come along for the ride too. Don't judge me and I won’t judge you. It is what it is.)
dry erase boards + markers— takes up way less space than coloring books and crayons. Each kid has their own board, and they share a full spectrum of colors
MagFormers— Super easy to clean up/keep corralled, the don’t break, they don’t have small parts, and they don't hurt if you step on them
Pop Beads— this is a recent addition to Briar’s kit, and goes against my general rules for toys allowed on trips but OMG are these fun! I think I enjoy playing with them as much as she does. The set we received came with a jewelry box which is the perfect storage at home. We put the beads in a bento box with a super secure lid for traveling, because, as much as I love these little things, the first time the whole box spills Imma lose my mind.
This doesn’t go in their bag, but we have them each bring a blanket along, too. Blankets are like the Swiss army knife of travel accessories. When it’s super sunny, they can hide under it, if it gets cold they can cover up; it can be rolled up to make head rests, prop up screens, etc. Muslin swaddle blankets work well and don’t take up a ton of space.
Kick Up Their Feet
I know that one sounds random, but making sure the kids have a place to put their feet really helps with their comfort. Our kids were rear-facing until they were about 3.5, and always had a place to put their feet. Now that they’re both forward-facing their feet don't really have anywhere to go, aside from the backs of our seats which is the #1 way to make me go bananas. Having legs dangling for an extended period of time is just uncomfortable (and bad on the knees), so we make sure they’ve got a place to rest their tootsies, and it’s helped them sleep longer and be less antsy during the drives. Our storage situation allows us to just pull under-seat bins out to double as a foot rest, but these will be what we buy should we ever return to traveling in a car.
What are your road-trip must haves? Is there anything I’ve forgotten?