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Actual quote that I read on Instagram: “Do you go for drives with your kids just to drive? Me, too.”

Wait!  I didn’t say yes to that.  In fact, I said, “Hells, no,” which is basically my harshest language. Who are these people who purposely confine themselves in small spaces with their children? I only do that if we are playing “fort” and there is a clear escape route. Car travel with my kids has never been my favourite, but we do it frequently to see family and explore the world around us. I have therefore developed some key “survival strategies” that I thought I’d share with you.

The overarching theme here is, plan ahead (the night before counts). l’ll talk about each separately, but here are some planning points: fuel, food, fun, freedom & drugs (the titles are just so you’ll remember).

  1. Fuel: start with a full tank of gas. First of all, if your kids are young and the car ride is long, every minute counts. In an ideal world, you don’t even have to stop for gas at the beginning of the trip because you did it the night before. The other reason it’s important to consider fuel is in case the kids fall asleep. Maybe you have those kids that don’t fall asleep, but what if this is that one time they do, and you ruin the peace by pulling over for gas? To avoid this, fill up in advance, and once you are on the road, keep an eye on your gas tank and consider a pre-emptive fill up if your kids are still awake.
  2. Food: pack snacks, and pack them in abundance. I usually lie to my kids about what I’ve packed (no, I don’t advocate lying, but a little white lie about food supply never hurt anyone). I do this so they don’t nag for the good stuff while I’m passing back snap peas and apple slices. Later, when things start to get hairy, you can suddenly “remember” that you brought them some Rice Krispie squares or energy balls (link below to my recipe). One final note is that I like to have a secret stash of treats for me to eat when the kids are asleep (sometimes, I share with Dana). 
  3. Fun: what I really mean is in-car entertainment. If you have read my post on plane travel with kids (link below), then you know that I don’t limit screen time on a plane – but I do in car rides. Here’s how I handle it: you can kill a decent amount of car time with kids just by saying “Oh, look!” at various things out the window (or having them find them). Next, you play one of those classic car games like, “I’m going camping and I’m packing a (letter of the alphabet item).” No one loves it, but everyone plays willingly, and no one complains. Then, of course, there is screen time (which I only take with me if car travel exceeds an hour). Unless you also want to listen to repeat episodes of Paw Patrol, invest in some headphones. I tell Amelia, our oldest, that she can have screen time once her little brother, Ewan, falls asleep. This highly motivates her to behave and stay relatively calm so Ewan will fall asleep. With one kid asleep and the other one ignoring us completely, Dana and I are free to chat and eat our secret treats.
  4. Freedom: plan your breaks. If the kids are doing well, sometimes we’ll just keep going and skip the planned rest area, but it’s good to know what the options are. For example, I have driven from Saint John, NB to Halifax, NS dozens of times and I didn’t know until I was a parent that there was a beach and playground at the Sackville, NB exit. GAME CHANGER. Do your research in advance; the best stops have access to food, bathrooms, and playgrounds. You could also look into a few note-worthy, tourist spots along the way and make a day of things, instead of heading directly to your destination.
  5. Drugs: ok, listen: maybe you don’t like drugging your kid. I get it. Pack some Children’s Gravol in case you change your mind. I never used to pack it, but there have been a few “incidents” at this point. Picture me holding a vomiting child on the side of the highway in the dead of winter, praying that no vomit lands on my Stuart Weitzman suede boots that I got on sale and can no longer justify replacing. Or driving for two hours with a putrid-smelling vehicle while our 17 year old exchange student tagged along. Gravol has eradicated car sickness for us, so it is now my friend (note: I tried to get Gravol to pay me to say this, but they didn’t respond to my messages). 

Car travel isn’t always fun, but it’s my hope that it never hinders you from heading out on a new adventure. For my family, our various day trips and local car adventures have really helped us feel connected to the community. I encourage you to hop in your vehicle and explore!

For more car travel tips, see this post by Raising Haligonians:

School Safe Energy Balls:

Plane Travel with Kids: