As I mentioned in this post, my 2.5-year-old Lena, my 8-month-old Gil, and I spent a lot of time on the road this past week! Last Friday night, as I was driving the 4 hours home from Durham with two sleeping babies in the back seat, I tried to think of all the things that had helped our past few drives go smoothly… or not so smoothly. Some things worked, some didn’t. Here is some distilled advice, after a lot of tears and a lot of sleeping on the road recently:
1) Before you hit the road, take 5. Take 5 minutes (or 20…) to make sure that you are really ready to leave the house and hit the road in good shape. Before leaving Durham, I made sure I had a big cloth bag of toys and books within easy reach to hand to my kids, entered the home address into the GPS, took Lena and myself to the bathroom, treated myself to a big Starbucks coffee, and stopped to fill up my gas tank. Now, hopefully, I could drive in absolute silence and the kids would sleep most of the time. No gas station stops when the children are tenuously asleep, please!
2) Dress for success. For me, this meant changing Gil’s diaper and putting him into a soft cotton sleeper. I wanted him to be in his pajamas so he wouldn’t wake up because he was cold or uncomfortable. If I want Lena to sleep, I often put her in a diaper to avoid any mishaps. I have also given her socks or a light blanket.
3) Drive at night if at all possible. This was a complete break-through for me, and it was life changing. In Durham, we went out to dinner and then a playground with our friends. Around 8pm, I thought my kids were probably tired enough, and so we said goodbye. Then I bought coffee and gas, told my children it was time to sleep, and ceased all conversation. Miraculously, it worked, and they both slept from Durham to northern Virginia. It made the 4-hour trip actually last 4 hours. A trip like that during the day might have taken as many as 6 hours with breaks for the bathroom, lunch, and sanity. Also, I was driving during my normal waking hours anyway, and so ended up going to bed at a relatively reasonable time.
4) If someone else is driving and you are sitting beside your child to keep her happy, it can often be very hard to get her to go to sleep. I finally learned (on an 8-hour road trip from Sicily to Naples) to fake sleep. I would tell Lena it was time to nap, then just lean back, close my eyes, and fake it. It still works every time. Lena and Gil quickly get bored, then drowsy, and then drop off to sleep.
Do you have any tips for keeping your kids happy in the car? I’ve got another road trip coming up, so I’m all ears!