The family road trip. I had dreams of the kids nestled snug in the backseat, singing songs, playing a gentle game of “punch buggy no return,” enjoying the scenery…

Yeah. Reality? Not so much.

Our first big road trip as a family was when our twins were two-years-old and our daughter was four. It was a two-day drive to our destination. A drive I mistakenly deluded myself into thinking would consist of singing “Kumbaya,” bonding together as a family, laughing and talking along the way.

45 minutes. That’s all it took.

45 of the longest minutes of my life.

45 minutes to convince me that road trips are a horrible, terrible, very bad idea.

45 minutes of unnaturally twisting my body to reach the hand of a pinching, hair pulling, hitting monster that had somehow invaded my two-year-old’s body.

45 minutes that resulted in a kinked neck, sore back, and a strong resolve to never go on another family road trip again.

But time has a funny way of dimming memories, casting them in a rosy glow.

Two years later we tried again. But this time it was only a six hour drive. How horrible could it be?

20 minutes.

20 minutes and all three kids had to pee (yes, they all went before we left).

20 minutes and we hadn’t even gotten out of the city yet.

60 minutes.

60 minutes and the inevitable, “Are we there yet?” began. Again a new resolution was born.

Two more years have passed. And again, the whole time and rosy glow thing. And so this time we are planning another two-day road trip. But this time, I’m smarter – at least I hope so. I have done my research, friends have been polled.

Here are some tips I have gleaned for surviving road tripping (without running the risk of turning my kids into bug-eyed iPad wielding zombies).

  1. Before embarking on your adventure, hit up your local Dollar Store (without the kids): Stock up on sticker books, toys, picture books, gadgets, colouring books, crayons, etc. Wrap them up and give them to your kids periodically throughout the trip. They have no idea what they are getting and the novelty will keep them entertained for a few minutes, at least. You could always use Duct tape to make unwrapping especially challenging.
  2. Buy each child a road map and a hi-lighter: This way they can be the navigators and track your progress. It also provides them with a visual on how far you’ve gone and how much further there is to go.
  3. Restrict fluid intake: If at all possible, no drinking in the vehicle. None. Not even a sip. Because that sip will exponentially expand in the bladder, stretching it to its limit. Your child will have to go. NOW.
  4. If you see a sign that says no services for the next __ miles. Stop. Just stop: Don’t bother asking, “Does anyone need to pee?” Because they will say no. Find the nearest bathroom and leave no man behind. Enforce the “just try” rule.
  5. Bring toilet paper, baby wipes and hand sanitizer: Even if following #3 and #4, inevitably someone will need to pee by the side of the road.
  6. Load up on snacks: Bored kids are “hangry” kids. This goes for adults too. String cheese, raw veggies, beef jerky, fruit, popcorn. Put them in containers with dividers so they have an assortment of options.
  7. Bring Gravol: Just in case.
  8. Bring a bucket or large ziplock bags: When your child says they need to throw up, don’t waste time asking, “Really? Are you sure?” because by then it is too late. Just hand over the bucket (or bag).
  9. Have the kids look out the window once in a while: The reason for this is twofold. They will actually get to witness the wonder of the world around them and it also helps prevent motion sickness.
  10. Create a road trip playlist of songs that everyone loves. Always wanted to read Harry Potter? Buy the book tapes and listen to them on the way.
  11. Accept the fact that you will be playing, “I Spy With My Little Eye” over and over and over again.
  12. Also accept that you will be singing “99 Bottles of Beer On The Wall,” “She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain,” and “Down By The Bay” on repeat: For hours. Resistance is futile.
  13. Invest in ear plugs: Because at some point there will be a breakdown. Hopefully not yours. There will be whining. There will be unreasonable demands. There will be cries of “Are we there yet?” repeated every 20 seconds for what will feel like hours. It is much easier to ignore said sounds if you can’t hear them.
  14. Don’t forget the movies: When you do reach the point where you can’t possibly take anymore, pull out some new DVDs that the kids haven’t seen before and revel in the peace of the screen-induced coma.

Here’s hoping these tips make your next road trip an adventure to remember. In a good way.

Heidi Hamm

Heidi Hamm is a writer, wife and mom of twin boys who are nothing alike, and their older sister, who won’t admit that she really does like 80s music. She loves bookstores, Starbucks and peanut butter. You can find her on Facebook