How to survive a road trip with young kids
My husband’s family live in Southern California. We have driven the stretch from Portland to Los Angeles more times than I can count on my fingers and toes. When I say I prefer to drive through the night, I mean for a “I just want to get there in one piece as fast as I can” sort of vacation. There are a lot of reasons not to drive through the night. I won’t go over those here.
Here are ten good reasons why driving through the night works well for us.
1. Less bathroom breaks.
Our family has grown from two to six in a relatively short period of time. With six warm bodies in a car, driving through the day means lots of bathroom breaks.
Two years ago we decided we were too worn out to make our I-5 journey through the night. With a “potty trained” almost three year old in the car it seemed we stopped every hour or more for a bathroom break. Our trip took us over 19 hours in the day which resulted in a cranky mom yelling a little too frequently at the passengers.
2. Fewer stops to eat.
Our 19+ hour trip that should have been 15 can’t be blamed solely on bathroom breaks. We kept stopping to eat. This was a return trip, meaning we were driving back home at the end of the vacation, so we hadn’t planned snacks and meals in the car too well. It happens.
However, this meant that we had to stop for every meal. Usually we were in a hurry to eat so we ended up eating at restaurants that weren’t even appetizing to most of us and we spent way too much money on meals.
Having driven from Portland to LA countless times, my husband and I have each developed a portion of the trip that we despise. For me, I can’t stand Fresno to Bakersfield. It seems like an endless abyss of smelly cows and congested truck traffic. My husband dislikes Redding to Sacramento.
When we drive through the day, we have to endure these chunks of the trip that make us want to pull our hair out. When we drive at night, I get to sleep through the un-pleasantries of Fresno and when I wake up, it’s as if it never happened.
I love my children like crazy, but 15 hours (or more) in a car can quickly turn into a living HE-double hockey sticks. When we drive at night they fall asleep and I am left with the ability to hear myself think, a luxury I don’t get often.
5. Less traffic.
It took me about four or five trips up and down I-5 before I even realized the difference traffic makes on a road trip. This was about the time I developed my hate for the Fresno to Bakersfield portion of Interstate 5 (see number 3). In that area trucks and cars fill the two lane freeway. During the day, we can only keep our desired speed for a couple minutes at a time before having to break for a truck passing another truck, or a car that darts out in front of you. We’ve traveled the same stretch at night and been able to keep from touching the break pedal for hours at a time.
6. Babies sleep for longer stretches.
I have had a lot of nursing babies on our long car trips. Nursing babies have a lot of potential to slow us down. In fact the 19+ trip I mentioned above was also largely due to stopping to feed the baby.
The nice thing about driving through the night is that babies usually sleep for longer stretches at night. The white noise from the car might also help this along and you can get more driving in.
7. No (or limited) hotel costs.
If we are driving through the night, we are obviously not stopping over anywhere. Hotels can be expensive but you can cut that cost right out.
8. Less stuff to pack.
With proper planning a lot of these pit falls can be avoided. Some people bring mountains of food to bring down food costs and keep you on the road. Others bring along enough games and toys to keep everyone occupied. That’s a great plan, but, with driving through the night you don’t have to worry about packing any of that. All you need is a pillow for everyone and enough snacks to keep the driver awake and you are set to go. After our last trip down to LA and back, I was shocked at how clutter-free our car was when we got back.
9. Feels faster.
The road trip is faster through the night for many of the reasons listed above. If you have a companion driver you will get to sleep when it’s not your turn to drive. On our last trip, I was able to sleep from 10pm – 1am and then again from 4am-7am while my husband drove. This took our 14.5 hour drive (a new record with kids in tow!) and made it seem to me more like 8.5 hours. Contrast that with the 19+ hour drive through the day we had a few years ago and I was almost jumping up and down for joy!
RELATED: How to get your car ready for a long road trip (it’s certainly not faster if your car breaks down)
10. Drug Free.
I know a lot of people who just give their kids melatonin when they take a big road trip. I’ve heard it’s safe and makes for an easy peasy road trip, but I am a paranoid parent type. I don’t like giving my kids a drug even if it is known to be safe. I’m always afraid that we’ll learn ten years later that it is damaging.
So, while this might be a perfectly safe way to go, I just can’t get myself to do it. Driving through the night works for us and we are going to go with it.
Share with us! Are you an experienced road-tripper? What are your best tips and tricks?
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