Thursday, November 19, 2009


If I updated this blog with any sort of regularity you would know that Eliot and I have driven from Pittsburgh to St. Louis 3 times since we moved north. Solo. While Google Maps would have you believe this is a simple 9.5 hour jaunt, we generally clock in at the 11.5 to 12 hour mark. Many have called me crazy. And I tend to feel pretty crazy around hour 10.75. But we have so far survived all three round-trips (that's 6, count 'em six individual journeys) without too much long-term damage. We are gearing up for our fourth such excursion for Thanksgiving, and I thought since many of us are planning travel with toddlers for the holidays I might share some of the lessons Eliot and I have learned on our adventures.

Food, food, snacks, and more food
Be prepared. Especially if you are the only adult in charge. I pack E-size portions of all of his favorite snacks, as well as some that are in the 'special' category. Like lollipops. And M&Ms. While I don't usually advocate sugar as a means to avoid a melt-down, desperate times call for desperate measures. I don't know how many times I've saved myself from whipping over to the shoulder to threaten to Turn this car around right this minute young man! by simply offering some snacks. Surprisingly, fruit leather usually works just as well as the sugary stuff, but it pays to have back-up.

Toys, books, and gasp! DVDs
I bought an over-the-lap tray for Eliot's car seat, so he is able to color, 'sticker' (yes, we're using that as a verb now), and eat without too much trouble. I also try and pack some favorite books and some brand new ones from the library. In addition to his own toys, which I pack in a plastic shoe box with a lid in hopes of containment (prepare for a major toddler explosion all over the backseat of your vehicle), I also invest in some inexpensive but time consuming new toys to present when boredom sets in. For us, Playmobil guys are the best - they have one million pieces, which he loves (and you'll be enjoying finding for years to come) and he gets really engrossed in figuring out which parts come off, and then interchanging their stuff with his existing Playmobil guys. And a one or two guy pack only costs a few dollars, which is worth it for us.

In order to avoid overwhelming him, every so often I'll make a suggestion, "Eliot, would you like to color?" or something similar and then hand back the crayons and a coloring book. When we have potty stops, etc., I try and do a quick backseat clean up/re-org so he doesn't feel like he's playing in a toy landfill.

And the DVDs would be best discussed in our next section:

It's okay to break some rules
Normally we don't frequent fast food restuarants. Normally we don't eat candy all day long. Normally we don't watch hours upon hours of television/DVDs. Normally we don't hand out presents every couple of hours unless it's Christmas.

But this is not a normal situation. This is a situation in which you are trapped in a either car or on a plane with a very small person who has very little patience, and no clear concept of how time works. You are trapped. Your only escape is your destination. I knew we were in for a long day of driving recently when Eliot asked, "Are we almost there yet?" 20 minutes into a 12 hour trip. Being prepared means everyone lives.

So, what I'm saying is, yes, have lots of enriching activities planned. But don't be ashamed to put on back-to-back DVDs when you need to focus on driving, or when you are going a little crazy as well. And it's okay to stop at the Golden Arches so that the kid can run off a little steam in the cootie-infused playland, just give them a hand-sanitizer bath afterward. I've even bought a happy meal and asked for 'just apples'. I know, I'm square, but he thought it was the bees knees that he got a box with apple slices and a crappy toy in it.

I think that it's okay for your kids to have treats (food and otherwise), especially if you are trying to sell this trip as an experience that they'll remember for the rest of their lives. How great it was that they got to do all these special 'off-limits' things because you were on a trip. How their parents didn't scream or fight and everyone rode a rainbow colored sugar high all the way to Grandmother's house.

Don't forget about the driver/navigator
So treat yourself to a little This American Life or a book on tape on the mp3 in the front seat. And you deserve that triple latte from the drive-thru at a certain green-logoed coffee seller. After all, you have to keep your strength up for the drive.


Emi said...

yes. this is how i generally manage it. except at some point, they all start punching each other, lewis can't take his car seat anymore (hour 9) and tries to "chest" his way out of it, and they get sick of candy, DVDs and toys. then I just drive faster and turn up the music.

Michelina said...

Good stuff! I never thought I'd be a parent with a DVD player in the backseat but it makes it so much more enjoyable for him. I can't say that I blame him, I'd rather watch a show than stare at the Turnpike too!
We're going on a long plane trip soon and I'm hoping to entertain him for a while with toddler apps on the itouch and the stash of Happy Meal toys that he doesn't know we have.

Meghan said...

i love all this blogging! fortunately for me i can keep up with the events of your life via facebook. :0) we are planning to road trip to the burgh this spring. thanks for the advice!

Lauren Snyder said...

We have an 18-ish hour drive coming up in January as we go to that city in Florida where The Mouse lives... It will be broken up into a couple-few days going down but coming home is like two long stretches. It will be tough for all. I am all over your ideas. Don't you wish we could go back to "our days" when bouncing around in the backseat or sitting on the floor board of the car was cool with local law enforcement? Was it ever ok? or did we just not fear for our safety back then? :o) Something tells me your Eliot is quite a bit more adaptable than my Jack.. we will see!

Lauren Snyder said...

We will be in STL next week too!!

Dad: said...

Catching up on Blog posts as I type this....thanks for the push! Would love to meet up when you're in town for a cup of coffee or a stroll around Francis Park. I also have Pitt as a territory for I'll be thru sometime between Feb and April.

Anonymous said...

and what do you suggest when one's daily life DOES consist of hours of television, bags of candy, and happy meals for lunch and dinner? pegasus rides? leprechaun story hours? this is why i will never be able to travel with my kids!

jessica, lucy and emmett

Ellen said...

Awesome post! I laughed out loud with your descriptions. Wow--if I was Eliot, I might consider making road trips a more permanent part of my life! :)
And, though I agree with you that desperate times call for desperate measures, I have discovered Elijah's "threshold" for chocolate. Yes, it is possible to overdose on it and vomit is the indication of such an overdose. Let's just say, I like your advice about the variety of treats! :) Hope your Thanksgiving is super special and your journeys equally memorable!

Shannon said...

Great post! Just want I needed to read in preparation for our journey this summer. I have 5 months to teach Brayden what T.V. is...should be interesting. He's probably one of the only 1 1/2 yr. olds that have no interest, but if you are bored out of your mind I guess you have no choice but to watch. I'll also be going out to get the carseat tray. I didn't even know that they made those.