5 Lessons I Learned on My First Family Road Trip

This past July I took my family of four on our very first road trip. We did a little circuit around western Oregon over the 4th of July holiday.

It was a learning experience.

Mike and I tend to avoid car trips with the kids. Well, at least Dek. He is pretty miserable on car rides. He’s at the age were he wants to be constantly entertained, but can’t play iSpy quite yet. All he wants to do is watch movies and if he doesn’t get to he screams. Makes me feel like an awesome parent let me tell you.

Our expectations were also way too high for traveling with an infant and toddler. We figured we could do 4-hour stretches as long as Ty didn’t need to eat.

That was our first mistake.

Lesson #1 Kids don’t like being strapped in the car any more than you do 

Dek is an active kid. What parent in their right mind would think he would happily sit still in the car as we drove from Seattle down to our first stop at Mount St. Helens. Even worse, we thought he would nap in the car on the way to Cannon Beach after we were finished at Mount St. Helens. Ty did sleep a lot of the time, but when he was awake he wanted to stretch his legs, not be strapped in an Ergo or a car seat. 

Lesson #2 Do not assume your children will sleep in the car 

This one I was somewhat prepared for. Dek has never been a great car sleeper. He is actually getting better, but there is a very specific window we have to hit if we want him to sleep in the car. We better wear him out before hand too. I mean really wear him out.

Lesson #3 If it doesn’t work at home it won’t work in the car

I brought stuff to keep Dek entertained but he wasn’t interested in coloring or any of the little games I had in my activities bag. To be honest Dek isn’t very crafty at home yet either. I’m hoping preschool will help him out with this. I love getting crafty every now and then! Of course Ty has no idea what to do with a crayon except eat it.

Lesson #4 Babies need to eat and will not stay asleep no matter how long you drive 

Ty actually is a good car sleeper. He will play for a bit, but as long as he isn’t hungry he will pass back out around his usual nap times if we are in the car. The key to this working though is that he can’t be hungry. We had to remind ourselves to pull over often so I could feed Ty and keep the peace.

Lesson #5 Traffic will hit you no matter how well you plan

I was so excited to finally be taking this road trip that I never really thought about the day we were coming back. It was a Sunday. Right after a holiday weekend. We did not get an early start either.

Not my brightest moment in travel planning.

Ty was so upset by this delay that we had to pull over on a wide shoulder so I could feed him. We didn’t know when traffic would move again and that baby was not going to wait. He needed to be fed now.

Bonus Lesson: Learn from your mistakes

We are headed back to Oregon later this week. I hope I learned a little from these mistakes, but I’m sure it will take a hammer to the head to really drive them home.

My expectations will be much lower. I do have a car charger for our Kindle Fire now in case Dek really loses it and I just can’t take the screaming anymore. If that’s what I have to do for the time being to stay sane than so be it. My mom guilt will be lessened because I am bringing him to a spot bursting with natural wonders and he won’t be watching TV once we get there.

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written by Keryn Means

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5 comments

  1. I’m so glad you tried your first roadtrip and have others planned in the future. It’s just like any other travel…you have to practice to get kids to be good at it. Someday you will be glad that you started young.

  2. Great tips and very brave to be trying a road trip with young ones! our boys never ever liked to sit in cars for any length of time, and gee the screaming was worst then the nightmare traffic (we worked out that we could travel easier with the little ones at night time…they slept!)

  3. Mom

    Gee, I wished you’d been around with your advice when I had little ones on long drives to NH. Oh that’s right, you were there! :-) Seriously, we rarely took car trips longer than 2 hours just so we wouldn’t drive each other crazy. Even when you were older, I had every rest stop between Philadelphia and Acadia National Park in Maine memorized. Which one had a little store for shopping, which one had enough grass for running, which one had potties (not always available!) I had your father stopping every 2 hours just so two very active children could run and stretch. Made for a longer trip, but a happier family!

  4. Oh, yes. We made sure the last vehicle we bought had a built-in DVD player for road trips. Before we had children, we thought that since we survived without screen time (and seatbelts) in the car, so could they. After we had children, we realized that it was unfair to expect kids to quietly play in the back seat while strapped in by five-point-harnesses. We don’t play movies all the time, but we have never regretted that purchase.

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