Saturday, June 26, 2010

Traveling With Toddlers

A road trip down to FL is on the agenda for next week and we are excited! We've done this drive several times with very different results. We are by no means pros at traveling with 4 toddlers in the car, but I'd like to think we are on our way. We have yet to brave a trip by plane with our entire crew, we're saving that until next March ... I shudder at the thought. Our family likes to do it big around here though. That's right, no pansy, hour-long flights for us. We're gonna do that first trip with TWO flights (because we thought changing planes with little kids would be a BLAST). Cross county flights. In coach. Yeah, I'm psyched about that one. Is it too early to ask for the prayer requests?

Anyway, back to the car trips. I'd like to think we've gotten pretty good at those. When the triplets were babies, we could usually drive at night and they would sleep most of the way. I now know that those were the glorious days of old. After a horrendous trip south when we tried to have the kids sleep during the ride and they managed to wake up screaming every 10 minutes or so, that "strategery" (SNL anyone?) went kaput. So now we drive during the day and hope that they nap at least once as we drive. As we've done this several times since the demise of the night driving, I've gotten wise to the ways of the toddler traveler. Here are a few of the tricks and necessities that I have discovered when you have a minivan full of squirming, energetic hellions angels.

First, bring any and all self-soothing items that your kids have. Lovies, blankets, stuffed animals, pacifiers ... if they love on it, bring it. In our house, the lovies stay in the bed, but we make an exception for trips. The kids think they've died and gone to heaven because we let them have their blankies in a place where they aren't usually allowed. This always buys us a lot of needed quiet time (especially since 3 of the 4 suck a thumb or pacifier ... which equals self-imposed quite time!). It does create some problems if someone drops their BB, Kitty, Dottie (yes they all have names), but climbing into the back to retrieve them is a small price to pay for some quiet moments.

Speaking of crawling into the backseat, another must on car trips is making sure we have a clear, uninhibited pathway from the front to the rear of the van. You cannot imagine how many times the passenger in the front has to get up and down to help retrieve juice cups, lovies, toys, etc ... it's definitely a great workout. After having several shin denting run-ins with our cooler one trip, I made it mandatory that we create an open path from front to back for my own safety. I can only imagine what the other drivers on the road think when they see my booty sticking up in the air between the two front seats, but hey, sometimes you have to take one for the team, right?

The main mantra for road trips is Distract, Distract, Distract. Constantly diverting their attention to new sights, songs, games, etc. can help for a while. When the talking isn't working any more (or you've gotten a sore throat from singing "This Little Light of Mine" too many times), then it's time to whip out the material items. Now, if you're a parent, you know that the good old toys your kids already have only work for a limited amount of time. I can pretty much see my kids eyes saying, "Ummm, been there, done that," when I whip out their old favorites. I believe that this is one of the reasons the Dollar Store was created - as a way to buys loads of new and interesting things to occupy kids on road trips. First off, make sure you go to an actual dollar store where EVERYTHING is really a dollar. Some dollar stores are only discount stores (that sell things for over $1 ... the nerve!) and I believe this is just a cruel ploy. Make sure everything really is a dollar and go to town. Last time I went I filled my basket and I think it cost around $20. I buy little toys, cards, candy, birthday hats - anything they think will be interesting. Usually the non-toy items are the biggest hits (I think the garden pinwheels won out last time). Make sure you ration the toys when you give them out and you can buy hours of distraction time. Definitely worth the $20.

Ok, this is getting a little long so I'll list the other necessities to make it (hopefully) shorter:

DVDs - 'Nough said. Bring out Dora, Diego, Max and Ruby, Elmo, whoever does it for your kids. This is what the built in DVD player was made for people, so use it! If you don't have one, get one.

Rest Areas - Find 'em, use 'em. They're great for letting kids burn off some steam. We usually just bring the kids' lunches and pick up something for ourselves and let them eat and run around at rest areas. You need to scout them out beforehand (on previous trips) to find the good ones, but it's a way to let the kids stretch their legs and we can avoid the melt downs we often get at certain fast food restaurants that have play areas and balloons that our kids never want to leave behind (insert melt down here).

Extra clothes, towels, etc. - It is inevitable that during every road trip we will have either a) vomit or
b) "elimination accidents" (another euphemism for the weak stomachs out there). Seriously, we either puke or pee on something every trip. Therefore we have a plentiful supply of towels and clothes in the car for those wonderful times. I have recently taken to making the kids sit on a pad or towel in their car seats so as to minimize clean-ups from said impending elimination incidents. Don't laugh, it helps.

Head Pillows, Supports - I cannot tell you how many times I have looked in the backseat to see one of my kids head banging to whatever is on the radio. At the point when I am about to applaud their mature taste in music, I suddenly realize that the child is actually trying to sleep and is having trouble holding up his or her head in the process. We have had many naps in the car cut short due to this problem. We've solved the problem with our one year old as we have some head supports that strap on to his car seat shoulder harnesses, but we've yet to find something really good for the older kids. I usually just resort to stuffing towels (intended for the "eliminations") around their neck and shoulders once they fall asleep, but this rarely works. Oh how I miss infant carriers! If anyone knows of a better head support system out there, please enlighten me!

Ear Plugs - This is the sole advantage that the passenger in our car has over the driver. Sure, the passenger has to make frequent trips up and down "death row" (aka the path to the back seat), but you also get to experience sweet, sweet relief in those hairy moments by popping in some earplugs (that were conveniently scored during the Dollar Store run). I can always see my husband glare at me in envy as they go in, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

I'm hoping I'll pick up some more tips as we're about to make the day long drive again in a few days. If anyone has any other tricks or tips on how to survive a drive with little ones, lay them on me. I will take any and all suggestions and will definitely try them out and see how they go! Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

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