As children, summer road trips evoke nostalgic memories of being packed into the car like sardines, eating copious amounts of pre-packed snacks, and yelling at our parents that a sibling is looking at us the wrong way. Typically, we were blissfully ignorant of the final destination in our road trip journey.
As young adults, summer road trips with friends are a right of passage; piling into the car (or more likely minivan), stocking up on convenience store snacks and a six-pack of beer, and cranking the tunes so that conversations are held exclusively through yelling at the other passengers. The final destination may or may not be determined based on the amount of gas left in the tank, or on the need for more beer.
As parents, road trips take on a new and very different meaning. There are still snacks, there is still yelling (oh the yelling), and there is definitely a final destination (sometimes determined by the amount of yelling). Only now, in an unexpected turn of parenting events, YOU are in charge of all of these factors. You pack the snacks, you mediate the yelling, and you determine if the final destination is before or after the fourteenth pee stop.
I learned this recently when my husband and I made the decision to take our family on it’s first lengthy road trip. 3200 kms of open road with an 18 month old.
Some may call us masochists, but I say we are naive adventurers.
Our days of naïveté are now over. Our summer road trip spanned 3 provinces, 6 days, and possibly 10 years of my life, but we made it back in one piece and this is what I learned:
1. Snacks. Are. Everything. Snacks that take a huge effort to eat or that are consumed in tiny pieces are ideal because they buy you a few minutes of silent entertainment. Bonus points if the snack makes very little mess.
2. Invest in headphones. There are two important reasons for this. The first is that headphones are useful for those times when your child’s yelling is unstoppable and unexplainable and you just need some peace for five minutes. Headphones are also convenient to put directly on to your child so that you do not have to listen to Frozen, Ring Around the Rosie, or the Wheels on the Bus for the eleven hundredth time.
3. Do not use every toy you brought within the first hour. I regretfully made this rookie mistake and paid the ultimate price: toddler boredom. The next five days were spent trying to make toys out of random objects in my purse. As it turns out, old receipts and used gift cards will only entertain a toddler for so long. Do yourself a favour and bring toys out slowly over time.
4. Pull the “I’m not allowing my under 2 year-old to have screen time” stick out of your ass. I have read the articles and research circulating on my social media newsfeeds about the effects of screen time on children under the age of 2. I even preached about the negative effects on some unsuspecting victims myself. But I am only human, and there comes a time on every road trip with small children when screen time becomes inevitable. Sorry did I say inevitable? I mean life or death. I may be a hypocrite, but my kid was entertained (read: quiet) for an extended amount of time. Success.
5. Bring a charger. See #4.
6. Bring travel companions. Invite them, pay them, hog tie them, do whatever you have to do to get them in the car. This provides fresh faces for your child and extra helping hands for you. Also, you may be able to convince one or two of them to change a sympathy diaper. It’s a win/win.
7. Diaper wipes are multi-functional. Do not leave home without an obnoxious amount of them, and I don’t just mean in your diaper bag. They will come in handy for the impromptu ice-cream stops, the road-side bathroom breaks, and for when your child knocks your precious coffee out of your hand or your ice cream cone onto the car floor. Be wise and buy in bulk.
8. Don’t forget to pack your patience and a sense of humour. Summer roads trips with small children are an exercise in patience; both yours and theirs. There will be times when your child is screaming because their video is buffering, or perhaps they are crying because they don’t want to play with that toy again, or maybe they are inconsolable because they just want to get the hell out of this $@&%# car seat already!!!!! You will be out of road trip ammo and have no other choice but to laugh. Even if you are so tired you want to join in the crying yourself. Especially if you just stopped to change your kid’s pants and ten minutes later they crap all over their car seat. Sometimes laughing means making it another mile with your sanity intact.
As parents, the summer road trip looks a lot different than it did when we were children. It can be so stressful that at times we may wonder why we even bother. But to our kids these summer road trips will one day bring on their own feelings of nostalgia, and THAT is why we journey onto the open road in the first place. Now please pass the headphones.