In just two days I will strap my four children into the back seats of my minivan. I will then sit in the drivers seat and buckle myself in. The car will start, we will slowly back out of the driveway, and then we will head towards Idaho and try to do it with as little stops as we possibly can. There will be no co-pilot, no stewardesses, just me and my four kids. How will I accomplish this without stopping every five minutes for potty breaks, food breaks, and pulling-over-to-yell at-everyone-breaks? Well, it is all in the set up.
Tripping with kids Tip #2: Setting up the one man show.
Flingable food. When driving long distances the kids are bound to want snacks to munch on to keep them happy. The problem is that I don't want to stop every time they get a craving but I also don't have a set of extra hands lying around to open fruit snack pouches or to evenly dole out the cookies. This is where I use my lovely Ziploc bags again. I preportion out all the snacks in baggies. Kids always eat more than one pouch of fruit snacks, so open all the fruit snacks and dump two pouches in every baggie. I fill baggies with equal amounts of cookies, carrots, grapes, pretzels, etc. I only put in enough for one serving because once I fling them a baggie it is theirs and the little kids sometimes dump out whatever they don't eat. I keep a box full of the flingable food bags, water bottles (one for everyone), two small baggies with some wet wipes in them for flingable cleanliness, and apples up between the two front seats. Now when I'm driving I don't even have to look back, I just pick up a baggie and toss it back. The older kids can help toss, or at least help retrieve the ones that almost made it.
Busy Bag. About a month before the big trip I start collecting things for the busy bag. I keep my eyes open for new books, colored pencils, notebooks, and little toys or travel puzzles at garage sales and thrift stores. I keep the items hidden until the trip because they work best if they are "new" to the kids. I put crayons and colored pencils either into Ziplocs or small pencil pouches to make it easier for the kids to keep them tidy. The other trick to this bag is when to use it. It is all about the timing. A good busy bag will really only keep their attention for 5 hours. If I give them the busy bag right away they will quickly use it up and I will be left with another 8 hours of whining. So, I take some of the busy bag items and keep them aside for the very last part of the trip (keep them newer longer), then I don't let my kids have the busy bag until after they have had a nap. Which moves me to tip #3
Time it just right. I like to leave 2 hours before our regular nap time. The kids can usually behave and be entertained with music, audio books, a few snacks, and singing for two hours. Then they hopefully fall asleep for two hours. Then when they wake up I let them go as long as they can on the audio books and snacks. When they start going crazy we stop at a McD's with a playland and let them eat and run around like crazy. Get gas, go potty, get on the road again. Now I have the busy bag up by my seat ready to toss back to the oldest child to distribute. It should last a good 3 hours with some good audio books playing at the same time. Hopefully they will drift off to asleep again at about this time (at least the really young ones should). Then when they start going crazy again I will pull out the last little busy bag. Then the last hour of the trip is spent pointing out how many more turns, land marks, or streets there are till we are there.
When and where to stop. Know the stops along the way so that you can plan potty breaks, gas fillups, McD stops, even where a good park is close to the freeway for a mid trip run around. Try to plan gas stops and potty breaks for the same stop. All kids go potty at every stop whether they think they need to or not. I think Chevrons usually have the cleanest bathrooms, and so do the McDonalds stops. Take advantage of those.
Emergency preparedness. Keep an old Tupperware bowl, or an empty cool whip tub, and an old towel wrapped in a plastic bag under a seat close to you. This will be a life saver if someone starts puking on your trip (cool whip tubs stack up pretty snug so you could bring one for every kid). Keep a florescent poster board and a big magic marker and some packing tape in the back of the car. This way if you have an emergency you can write exactly what kind of help you are in need of for other drivers to see. Keep extra water and food in the car. I always travel with a Costco size thing of granola bars and bottled water in the back of my van so we are never without food and drink. I also keep a big jug of water in the car for refilling bottles as we go. Keep a roll of toilet paper under a seat (you never know when someone is going to have to go out in the middle of nowhere).
There is a new answer over at Little Miss Knowitall.