Last month I drove the kids down to Anaheim for a short weekend at the Disneyland Resort… without my husband. He was busy, but hey, it’s Disneyland, so I’m not about to let 400 miles get between me and the Happiest Place on Earth! We drove down on Friday morning, spent Friday evening and all day Saturday enjoying Halloween Time at Disneyland Park, then drove back on Sunday morning. It’s a 6 or 7 (closer to 7, with all the LA traffic) hour drive each way; I’m used to 2-mile commutes between home and the soccer field, so that’s a lot of driving for me. The distance didn’t bother me, but not having a backup driver or second adult did. Driving long distances with the kids is a whole new level of responsibility, and I had nightmare visions of blowing a tire or getting sideswiped by a ten-wheeler and spending hours stuck on I-5 with three scared kids. Here are five things I did to prepare:
Get your vehicle ready. In the absence of a second adult, your vehicle is as close to a partner as you’re going to get, so make sure it’s in the best shape it can possibly be. Get it serviced if you need to, and check tire pressure and all fluid levels before you leave (fortunately, we were test driving a Kia Sorento that week, so I didn’t have to worry about our 10 year-old van bailing on me!).
Have a plan. It’s not enough to know where you’re going and how to get there. This is the equivalent of a long-haul flight, and you’ve got to plan your layovers. You don’t see jumbo jets aimlessly flying over the Midwest, deciding which airport to stop at, do you? With 400 miles to cover, I knew we’d have to stop at least once for gas, lunch and bathroom breaks. I decided to schedule a stop every 100 miles or so (two 10-minute potty stops and 1 longer stop for lunch), and I looked at every single exit on I-5 between Los Banos and Valencia to choose which ones we’d stop at (my main criteria: the presence of a gas station and a Starbucks).
Keep the kids entertained. You need to be focused on driving, not reaching around to feed your kid snacks or break up a fight. Keep the “Are we there yet?” whines at bay with books, toys, drawing pads, drinks, and munchies. Long road trips are not the time to be strict about screen time, so bring on the iPads, phones, DVD players and other hypnotic devices! I did set limits on continuous usage: I told the kids they had to rest their eyes every 30 minutes, for at least 10 minutes. And I told them they had to spend at least 1 thirty-minute period away from a screen doing something else: reading, playing, or staring out the window like us old-timers used to do.
Load up on caffeine. Your vehicle needs fuel, and so do you! Coffee, tea, Red Bull, whatever your poison, make sure you have some on hand to sip while you drive, so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel. If you don’t like (or can’t take) caffeine, think of other strategies to stay awake: roll down your windows to let fresh air in, play loud music, listen to Rush Limbaugh, schedule more frequent rest stops. If all else fails, you can always give your kids permission to argue with each other.
Drive safely. This sounds like a no-brainer, but driving safely also means knowing your own limits. For example, even though it would have been more convenient to drive down on Thursday night, I didn’t want to be driving in the dark. I took full advantage of the Kia’s bluetooth capabilities when calling my husband, and handed my phone to my daughter so I wouldn’t be the least bit tempted to sneak a peek at any phone updates. I scheduled a ton of rest stops because I knew I would need them to stretch and clear my head. And I set myself an 85 mile per hour speed limit, even though I knew it would mean gritting my teeth as I watched car after car pass me by.
Thanks to my obsessive planning, we not only managed to survive the trip, but actually almost enjoyed it. The kids actually said the trip seemed shorter than the last time we did it (I credit the frequent stops, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson). Driving in a brand new car with lots of legroom and comfy leather seats certainly helped! Yes, it was tiring, but now that I know I can do it, I would definitely do it again… I just need a few more months to recover.
Are you dying to follow in Bonggamom’s heels (or wheels)? Or just making a similar road trip? Check out Bonggamom’s detailed road trip recap with a list of her favorite I-5 exits on her personal blog, Finding Bonggamom, and her Kia Sorento review on her review blog, Bonggamom Finds.