Advice about Car Trips

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Audiobooks for 5 year old on a loooong car trip(27 responses)
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Car Trips with no bathroom breaks for the kids

Feb 2006

Hi--I'm a little embarressed to be asking this sort of question, but really, it's become a problem.

My husband is a loving, caring father and husband, but he is a bit impatient, and can be a little hard on our two sons, probably because he grew up in a very tough- guy-or-pathetic-guy sort of home. A semi-major problem we seem to be having is that during car trips, he HATES to stop and let our sons (ages eight and ten) use the bathroom. We do go on car trips pretty often, so it is not like a once-a-year thing.

When one of the boys says they have to go the the bathroom, he will outright refuse. He says they should wait, have to hold it, etc. and will sometimes not stop for over half an hour, even with the boys whining for him to stop. My husband, like my sons, is very stubborn. He believes, he insists, that at this age they should be able to take any ''mild discomfort'' silently, and that when they are older, they won't be allowed to just ''go'' whenever they want to. My husband always drives, which I am really grateful for (he knows that I don't like driving and do it so much to and from school, etc.).

Needless to say, my sons don't like this (I try to make my husband to stop, but sometimes I am not there, asleep, just too tired to deal, etc., and also, I know that his father did this and seeing how stubborn he is...), but I am more concerned about their health. I have heard that this can be dangerous to children's health. Does anyone know if this is true? I think that if their health were in danger, he wouldn't do this so much, or at all.

For my sons' sake, Anon

As a Social Worker I am concerned about the situation you described in your posting. Although I do not work in Child Protective Services it would be legally and morally mandatory for me to report this situation to CPS. Minimally, CPS would require that you and your husband attend parenting classes. You are supposed to be an advocate for your children,. You appear to be in denial of your husband's abusive behavior. Please look at with regard to ''denying children the use of the bathroom when needed.'' You are subjecting your children to discomfort, at the least, and possible bladder infections which can lead to kidney damage. I hope you will read it and show it to your husband. You should both be in counseling. Susan

I have personal experience that proves your husband wrong. When your sons are adults, they WILL be able to just stop what they're doing and go to the bathroom when they need to go. I do it all the time. I'm not talking about a medical problem; I just almost always need to stop once every few hours to pee (on a trip, walking around shopping, at work, whatever.) I've noticed, though, that I tend to need to go more frequently than others and I am horrified at the thought of having someone tell me that they would not stop the car if I had to go. How would you react if you needed to stop and your husband refused? Please come to some sort of agreement before your next trip (w/ husband, yourself & sons.) The boys must go before leaving the house, not drink a liter of soda in the car, no lingering in the candy aisle at the gas station, time limit, etc. And talk to their pediatrician to be armed w/ additional helpful information. I've heard that holding your urine too long c! an cause urinary tract infections, etc.) Just plan your trip length to include stops as needed. Hopefully you'll all feel less stressed about it.
Know My Limits

Your husband said, ''when they are older, they won't be allowed to just ''go'' whenever they want to.'' Really? I'm an adult, and I can choose to go to the bathroom whenever I want.

I think he is being completely unrealistic and controlling.

let my people go!

As a woman with a frequent need to urinate and a husband who (used to) like to decide for me when I needed to go, your mail really struck a chord. My son's pediatrician once told me how important it is for children (and adults, but especially children whose bladders are small) to empty their bladders before riding in a car. If there is an accident and the bladder is full, it can burst. That's what she said, and boy did that stick with me. I just insisted before getting into the car (and of course all bladders were emptied before getting in) that if anyone needed to stop, we were going to stop (my husband has the same weird thing about not stopping, which he will use all kinds of excuses to motivate). Refuse to go or get in without that agreement and quote the pediatrician. Your sons' bladders will get bigger as they get older, but so will their dislike for your husband's macho ways (and they might assume those ways themselves).
frequent rest stops

Your husband seems to have a sadistic streak- No good will come from allowing him to subject your boys to holding their bladders to the point of pain! Why do you allow him to do it? Get over your dislike of driving and tell him that you will drive on trips and that the boys will use the bathroom whenever they need to. Need back up? Ask the boys pediatrician to speak to your husband (over the phone or in a note?) to outline the possible harm his behavior is causing. Emotional if not physical for sure! If your husband is doing this cruel thing to his young boys, what will he progress to as they get older? Don't take another car trip with this man until you get this sorted!
Very sympathetic (with a small bladder)

Hello- I don't want to sound cruel, but your husband needs to grow up and let your sons use the restroom.

Is he really so focused on making good time that he can't pull into a fast food place so his beloved sons can relieve themselves?

I think you should put your foot down and make your sons comfort level first. Drive if you have to and end this cycle of ''real men don't cry'' and ''you can endure some discomfort.''

Just imagine what your sons must think if their dad won't pull over even if they are begging? And what if you had a daughter? Would he pull over for a girl or is this just an old school ''boys must be strong'' thing? And yes, they can get kidney infections from holding it too long. But that shouldn't be the reason your husband pulls over; he should do it, because his kids are asking.

Stand up for your sons. Anon

Although you describe your husband as loving and caring, not letting kids take bathroom breaks is not loving or caring behavior. Even if holding it in is not damaging to your kids physically, it could be damaging emotionally. It is a control issue. Kids should have the right to decide when they need to use the bathroom. They are the only ones who really know how badly they need to go. I hope your husband will decide to change his behavior, since it is pointless and just plain mean. gotta go when ya gotta go

WHY should they '' wait, have to hold it''? Not only is it not good for ANYone's health to ''hold it,'' frankly, I think it is cruel to force children to forgo going to the bathroom! Eliminating waste is not a trivial, inconvenient desire, it is a physical NEED. It is a parents job to see that their childrens' needs are met. Your husband has a responsibility to stop the car when his children express their need. Anonymous

OK, since you asked... your boys sound normal. Your husband sounds immature. What is he so angry about? What's the worst case scenario here - that he will have to stop once or twice on a road trip? Can he try to give your sons incentives instead of threats? (A penny a mile for no stops, a big milkshake when you get to your destination, something like that.) I ran this one past my husband, who also had a 'tough-guy' dad who had to control the family's road trips, and he just shook his head. The answer is yes, it's bad for your sons' health - their mental health! Is this the kind of childhood memory that your husband wants them to have? I'm glad you wrote, because I think you'll get a lot of answers similar to mine. I hope you'll stand up for your kids. It's supposed to be FUN

My dad used to do this to us and I actually think it is abusive. Having to hold urine is a very uncomfortable, anxiety producing situation to put a young child in. What would your husband do if one of your sons ended up losing control of his bladder and peeing in the car? I don't mean to offend you but my guess is that your husband may be overcontrolling to the point of mild abuse of your sons at other times as well. My dad was abusive in other situations--he had a very bad temper that he could not control. Now he has prostrate problems and has to stop the car to pee all the time himself and is worried about where bathrooms are, etc. I consider this poetic justice. At any rate, since you have boys they can probably just pee into a big, wide mouthed bottle without having to stop the car. That solves this particular problem but doesn't address the wider issue of the way your husband is willing to ignore your sons basic physical needs and cause them psychological distress. best wishes

You know, my uncle once did that to me -- refused to stop until I was quite literally writhing in the back seat -- and I have never quite forgiven him. Your husband has got to change this attitude, which is borderline cruel, and you need to stand up for your boys (none of this ''too tired'' nonsense). Having to urinate, even frequently, is not a sign of moral weakness. To leave a child suspended, with a biological need and no assurance that he'll be able to deal with it in relatively short order, is just mean. As for the health risks:

Some additional suggestions:

1) Insist and verify that they go to the bathroom before you leave home.
2) Once you've stopped for one of them to go to the bathroom, make sure that they both go, even if the other one says he doesn't need to.
3) It's fine to say (if it's true), ''well, we'll be there in 10 minutes, and you'll just have to wait that long.'' Longer than about 10 mins. is just unreasonable.
4) Since you have boys, you can just pull over to the roadside, if need be. It's not a big deal. Pity the poor parent of girls.

Yes, it is bad for your kids to hold it. It can lead to bladder infections. Trust your instincts on this one. Its not like your kids are whining because they want to stop for an ice cream cone. Physical discomfort because of needing to go to the bathroom is very real. When children learn to ignore the feeling, it can lead to incontinence as well. Your husband is doing them no favors. hes making them feel bad, uncomfrtable, and possibly giving them health issues for no reason. He can be firm with them in other ways (like when they are whining for a ice cream). Going to the bathroom when they need to is their right and its is unacceptable to expect them to do otherwise.

I think your husband is not being reasonable. We got some information years back from a urology institute about bed wetting, and one of the things I remember is that it is common and normal for boys to wet the bed at night up to the age of 12 because they often may have a weaker bladder up to that age. I remember our doctor saying my step son could do bladder stregthening exercises. So the concept of your sons bladder not being strong enough to hold it out for extended periods of time may apply in the case of long road trips too. Your husband shouldn't hold a young child's bladder to the same standards as an adult bladder. I would definately ask your pediatrician about any physical problems this could cause (not to mention physicological). anon

One solution is to bring a plastic bottle along the kids can pee in. This is what my brother-in-law does with his 3 boys. I personally would not do that. What concerned me the most about your posting is that your husband doesn't recognize that going to the bathroom is a natural process, and a child cannot hold ''it'' like an adult can. Why would your husband have a ''control'' issue over peeing on a road trip? I couldn't help but feel sorry for your kids. Do you or your husband want your kids to remember how they HAD to hold their pee/they were uncomfortable or crying/your husband's steadfast stubborness on going to the bathroom OR do you want them to remember that road trips are FUN, HAPPY events in their childhood?

Pull over and let them pee for goodness sake!

I have a solution for the ''symptoms'' but not the ''problem.'' I don't like your husband's attitude, but it sounds like that is a much bigger issue. To relieve your sons' need to pee during trips, I suggest purchasing something called a ''Travel John.'' These are sold at auto parts stores and most likely online. They are an ingenious little well designed product filled with the kind of absorbent powder used in diapers. The opening is contoured plastic to fit the body snuggly, and when you pee into it your pee immediately becomes a fairly solid ''gel,'' so there is no spilling possible. We use them on long trips just to save time and our boys -- and girl -- think they are fun. They are certainly cleaner than roadside restrooms! My husband used to commute 1.5 hours in traffic and used them occasionally as well. I hope they help alleviate your sons' discomfort, although I worry that your husband will look for other ways to ''toughen them up.'' His attitude is distressing from many points of view -- it would be nice if he could change it.
Concerned about your boys

No, this is not good for them. However, they way you described it reminded me of a sort of game my father told me about that his grandfather did. It was a teasing sort of thing; his father always stopped in fifteen minutes or so, but it was, like a I said, sort of a game. Is this what your husband does? Whether or not it is, he shouldn't do it, but I was rather wondering if that was the case, which would put a rather different light on it.

I was really quite surprised at the number of responses you got and how angry they were, especially when public schools do the same thing. If social services is this mad at a man you said was loving and caring, I wonder why they haven't gone after the schools that restrict bathrooms far more than your husband does. Forget twenty minutes; a teacher can forbide a child from going for up to an hour and a half! And the arguement that children want to get out of class applies just they same here; you children may, sometimes, have just wanted to get out of the car.

I would say, speak to you husband about it, but I don't think you should be as alarmed as some people wrote. If you were, I would suggest not sending your children to school from grades 5-12.

Just My Two Cents


I have to respond to the Social Worker who felt that the controlling father who would not stop to let his children use the bathroom was doing something that CPS would not only investigate, but become involved to the point of forcing the father to attend parenting classes. This is utterly ridiculous. I am a CPS social worker of 6 years and I highly doubt that CPS would even go out on such a situation. CPS does not investigate bad parenting, only abusive parenting. This is not to say that what the father is doing is right, but this social worker's scare tactics are ridiculous and inaccurate. You've already received a lot of advice that the children should be allowed to pee when they need to, but don't worry about CPS. Anonymous

I know lots of folks shared their opinions on this in the last newsletter (all of which I agree with in principle) - the post evoked a long-forgotten memory, as follows: as a kid, I grew up near two cousins who used to take long car trips with my aunt and uncle. My uncle had the same ''no-pull-over for any reason policy'' and eventually the boys just learned to pee into some sort of plastic jugs. However, for whatever reason, they felt this was so humiliating and traumatic that it's one of the few childhood experiences I actually remember them recounting to me (now I'm frankly not sure why they would have shared this information if it was so personal and upsetting for them, but they did, and this was over 40 years ago). I never understood why my aunt permitted this and in fact, looking back, seems like just another in a series of mildly degrading events that my cousins had to contend with during their childhood. Not good for the self-esteem of emerging young men.

Wouldn't let my husband behave this way

I remember my father doing this to me; he was a slightly impatient and stubborn man (we might have made him that way; altogether we were five boys). I didn't like it, but it didn't cause any real long-term resentment that I know of. I was born in another country, perhaps Americans view it more harshly. I think it depends on the situation. If you are ten, maybe fifteen minutes away, and it is not an emergency, then it is okay to tell them that you'll be there in ten or fifteen minutes and they need to wait until you get there. If it is more, you really ought to stop. It is bad for children to wait this long. You said your husband was caring and loving. My father was loving and caring as well, this was just a bad quirk of his. Think about whether this is just an isolated issue, or whether your husband is controlling and needs therapy. With my father, it was an isolated issue, and my mother bugged him about it, and he would relent pretty quickly.

Also, part of what my father did was a game with us. We were five boys with no radio, telivision, and I was the only one of us who could read in the car without getting violently ill, and we all had to go at different times (he could never convince us all to go when the others went). I actually have some sympathy for his cause, now, but I don't think it was the right thing to do. Anon

Long car trip with 6-year-old

June 2004

We will be taking our 6 year old daughter on a car trip in a couple of weeks. We have attempted to pace the trip accordingly but we would love to hear from folks who have great ideas for activities to do in the car on days when we will spend several hours driving.
traveling family

I started my son with books on Tape when he was 6. Doctor Doolittle and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but there are many to choose from. You can borrow them from the library or buy them at Mr. Mopps. I bought a cheap cassette player at Long's drugs with headsets and it was a big hit. He is now 10 and not only loves to listen to books on tape at home but brings them with him on all our vacation trips. donna

Bring a frisbee, balls, jump rope, etc, and stop at lots of rest stops to run around & play. (They're often very scenic.) Word games are fun. (Capitals, 20 questions, A-my-name-is- Alice, etc). Mad libs. The old license plate hunt is always good -- find all fifty states, farthest place, etc. Music (your own singi! ng, or taped music.) If necessary, bring a DVD player. We brought our laptop and propped it up on a pillow and folding chair. But go easy on the movies, cuz vacation time should be a time for the family to bond. traveler

We are just now finishing up a long car trip, 2000 miles, over 16 days,with our 2 boys, 7 and 9. Once we got to where we were going we stayed put for 8 days, leaving 4 days up and 4 days back. What we learned: 250 -300 miles a day during daylight hours was about max, in terms of what our boys could handle. Books on tape was a hit, as was our silly Nickelodeon sing-along CD. Hotels and motels with swimming pools as an end point destination for the day also helped give the boys something to look forward to, as well as a way to blow off steam at the end of the day. A cooler stocked with cold drinks along with plenty ! of snacks helped to keep us on track. Pleasant journeys. Donna

Car Trip with 2 1/2 year old

March 2003

Hi. I checked the website for advice on this, and while some of it could apply, most of it seemed geared towards children 3 and up. We're planning drive from the Bay to Marysville, WA (north of Seattle) in 11 days, stay for 5 days and drive back. We're planning to stay overnight in Eugene, OR each way. We have a 2 1/2 year old daughter and are just wondering if anyone out there has taken a car trip with their toddler and has any tips for us. Am a bit worried about how she'll handle being strapped in her carseat for such a long time (she's been objecting to it lately). Thanks! Jennifer

We drove from Long Island to New Brunswick roundtrip, about 11 hours each way, with a 2.5 year old and a 3-month old. And we survived! My advice is to schedule lots of stops, and also be prepared for unscheduled stops. You just can't hold yourself to a schedule. We pulled off every few hours for potty stops and to run around at the rest area. The trip up took about 5 hours longer than expected and was a nightmare of crying and screaming; on the way back we made great time and everyone was sunny. That was just the luck of the draw...
Good luck. You'll need it.
Swore I'd Never Do It Again

I have a 2.25 year old daughter who has always hated the car. personally I would never attempt a drive over 3 hours but here is what has worked on our few drives to point reyes. we start out with some toys and snacks which will keep her occupied for a while. when she starts to get restless I hop in the backseat and read the many many books we brought along. keep in mind that you do in fact get car sick even when reading pages with only one or two lines and large print. thankfully the beach is closeby after that. or, when my sister's family take long driving trips they leave at night and pack the portable dvd player. the kids fall asleep during the show and stay asleep for most of the drive so one can actually enjoy the ride and talk to their partner, a rare car treat in family life. good luck

I had this exact problem when planning my Christmas trip this year with my two year old. He hates driving (even an hour to the South Bay is onerous!) and as a single Mom I was fretting and dreading 400 miles in a car one way to Southern California! So I prepared like a General going to War-I had all of his favorite snacks, books, CD's. But the real lifesaver was the purchase of a ''VCR in a bag'' from AudioVox. I got mine at Target-about $250 or so. It was alot of money, and I don't particularly like my son watching TV or videos more than about 30 minutes a day, but I assessed this as a safety and sanity matter, and broke down. It was unbelievable-not a peep out of him, once this thing appeared. In fact, on the return trip we only stopped once for about 10 minutes for a diaper change and a drink. After the trip, the machine disappeared again, only to come back for our next long trip. For me it was worth it - I justified it by thinking that I would have had to alternatively buy two airline tickets to avoid that long car trip... (I can justify almost anything, if I'm desperate!) Good luck! Travelin' Mama

I have done several trips from the Bay Area to southern Washington with my growing baby. Here is the method that worked for us.

It involves making most of the trip in the morning. My son gets pretty sleepy/crabby on the weekends at about 10:30 (despite napping at daycare, regularly, at 11:45), so it seems that he snoozes pretty easily in the morning.

The night before, I'd pack up the entire car, as much as earthly possible, and try to sleep in my clothes. I pack up his clothes for the day, putting them in the car. I get up early, about 2 hours before we usually get up, and pack the remaining things in the car (refrigerated snacks & drinks for the trip, etc.), and then at the last minute, pick him up and strap him in his carseat, still in PJs. I have a stack of children's music cassettes, and put one on (esp. the Sleepytime one). He settles down pretty quickly and sleeps for the next 1-3 hours. When he wakes, we stop at the next rest stop, change diaper or potty, change him into his clothes, pack him back into the car with a breakfastlike snack (cup of dry cereal & sippy cup of milk), and get back on the road. By Redding, it's nearly time for lunch, so we get off at I-299 and go to a park I know of. We play at the park for about an hour and have our picnic lunch. Back in the car, and since it's after lunchtime, you guessed it, snoozetime again. Then we have the customary crabby 1/2 hour right before we arrive at our destination (Ashland, about 2 hours South of Eugene, I believe).

I also bring a Magnadoodle, and various toys I can hand back for when he's fidgety. Hope this helps. If you want directions to the park, email me and I'll dig them up. My son is nearly 3 now and we started driving up to Ashland when he was 3 mos old. Jennie

We do a twice yearly, 8 hour car trip with our toddlers. Here are my suggestions: 1. a car TV to play videos that you can also move into the motel room - good for 2 or 3 single-hour segments - and get headphones!! 2. 1 or 2 new small toys they haven't seen before. 3. washable crayons, a new coloring book and index cards to color on - hand crayons out one at a time. 4. lap desk (cheap at Target) or small white marker board to use as a desk. 5. deck of cards, maybe with their favorite characters on them or letter or number flash cards. 6. lots of snacks! at meal stops, let the toddler run around instead of eating. We get a milk shake or smoothy for drinking in the car when we leave. 7. in car potty! with a bottle for pee and a bottle of clean water for washing out potty. Good luck, Lori

Coast to Coast with a Newborn Baby

July 2002

My husband just learned that his job is being terminated at the end of June. AND, we are expecting our first baby April 17th! We are playing around with the idea of using his leftover vacation days in June (the baby will be 2 months old) to travel coast to coast for a month or so. Most of my family thinks we are crazy. We are seeking advice from anyone that has done this or has any thoughts in general about this type of adventure. Gratefully, Shira and Boaz

Dear Shira and Boaz - I traveled with my newborn to Singapore (17hr flight) when he was six weeks old. In my opinion, it is a very good time to travel as the baby's only needs are to eat and sleep. If you're breastfeeding (as I am), it's even easier. We also took a sling which I lay the baby in to breastfeed and then he usually fell asleep in the sling immediately after eating. We could then set him down in the sling without disturbing him. The time change (16 hours) affected him quite a bit when we reached our destination and we had a cranky baby on our hands but he got over it. Go for it. I think it gets more difficult the longer you wait. Good Luck. Edna

My thoughts are that the only possible downsides to your plan is that your 2-mo. old will get very accustomed to sleeping in the car (which may impact his nighttime sleep abilities bcs he'll sleep so well in the moving vehicle that he won't sleep at night in a non-moving bed). If you are breastfeeding you'll have to stop more frequently than you might otherwise in order to nurse (baby must stay in carseat at all times when car is moving). Also try to make sure he doesn't spend so much time in the carseat that he gets flat-head syndrome! Otherwise I think the trip will be a lot easier than it would be when your child is older. Good luck!

Hi. I'm assuming that you are talking about a road trip. I have friends that were moving back East when their baby was three months old so they decided to drive the whole way with the baby. It was difficult for them because the baby needed to nurse quite frequently so they had to stop a lot, the baby hated the car-seat (an unknown for you until your baby arrives), and having inconsistent sleeping arrangements made the baby upset at night. You, of course, should do what feels right - and I think instinct will give you that answer AFTER you meet your new baby. Good luck to you. And congratulations in advance. Having the baby might just be adventure enough! signed, a Mom

Go on your trip!! We traveled a lot with our first when he was a newborn. We flew to NY, Copenhagen and Hawaii. Now that we have a 2 and 4-year old I can tell you that it is A LOT easier to travel with a newborn! For one, they can't go anywhere or touch anything you don't want them to. They're not crawling (the WORST time to travel), so you don't have to worry about disgusting floors or their being antsy to move around a lot. Also, at two-three months, the baby is probably not really yet on a ''schedule'', so you're going to be tired anyway. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me directly. Good Luck! sheryl

We had big plans for when our baby was two months old. We were going to go camping, at a leisurly pace,all the way to Seattle. We did a trial run, driving as far as Mendecino. We discovered that our baby was anything BUT oblivious to his surroundings. He hated being in the car, hated the dark and didn't stop ''kvetching'' until we got home where he went on smiling for about three hours straight!! Every baby is different, but I would strongly recommend doing a mini-trip before commiting to a cross-country adventure. I can think of few things that could be worse than an unhappy baby stuck in a car in the middle of America with both coasts being too far to reach... Good Luck! An experienced mom

Long car trip with 10 month old

May 2002

Can anyone offer strategies for surviving a long car trip with a 10 month old? We're planning to drive to Nebraska in July. (Yes, I know it would be easier to fly, but one of the main reasons we're going is to bring back items stored in my mother-in-law's basement.)

One idea we've heard is to start out very early in the morning - say 4 or 5 am - to get much of the day's driving done while the baby is still asleep. (She usually wakes up around 10 am.) We'd stop for the day at about 3 pm to let Elizabeth move around, play in the pool, etc. Is that practical?

Another twist - My husband's station wagon does not have air conditioning. Should we take my car, even though it's much smaller (Celica), or are there ways to deal with a baby and no air conditioning? Thanks for the help! bethany

I would DEFINITELY take the car that has A/C. You will be miserable without it. Once you get out of the Bay Area, July in the ''real world'' is hell in an auto with no a/c. Maybe others have good suggestions on ways to expand the storage capacity of your smaller car? P.S. I think the idea about starting and stopping early is a good one. Fran

I would definitely take the car with air conditioning if possible. Open windows are no substitute, and a screaming, unhappy kid on a long trip is just excruciating. Another hint: bring along large-size 'blue ices' in your cooler. Put them in the carseat when you stop for lunch to keep the seat cool while the car is parked. Jennie

If you decide to take the car without a/c (and I agree with everyone else on this, that you should try to go with a/c) be sure that you and the baby don't get dehydrated. (This may apply in the car with a/c too.) I drove across the country in the middle of the summer, in a car without a/c, and the combination of hot humid weather, and the drying effect of the open windows meant that I got more constipated than I have ever been in my life. This is something that you obviously want to avoid with your little one. Anon

Long car trip with 14 month old

July 2002

My 14 month old daughter and I are taking an 8 hour car trip (1 way) alone. My thoughts, for now, are to travel at night. Though it's a little scarey to consider taking I-5 almost all the way down at night. Any thoughts or advice? Thanks! Rachel

We recentlly took a 6-hour car trip with our 20-month-old son. It was not always easy, but here were some of the things we found that helped: Travel during nap time. Hopefully, you'll get at least 2 hours while the child is asleep. Keep them well fed and well hydrated. Take a few breaks--check your map for towns to stop in along the way. If you can find the local elementary school, you can find a park to play in. A half-hour stop at a park allowed us more peaceful travel time. While driving, try singing or listening to tapes the child will like. Some friends gave us a tape with dinosaur songs that had our son happy and quiet for the duration. Somewhere on the ParentsNet website there must be a list of good kid tapes. Good luck! Carolyn

We recently drove to Texas and back with our 16 month old and our dog. And we drive to LA about three times a year. My advice would be for you to leave very, very early, like before the sun rises in the morning, so that you can be finished driving for the day around lunch time. Each morning of our road trip, we left at 5 or 6 AM. Our son would eat a small breakfast in his car seat and go back to sleep for a couple hours. We would give him snacks and toys for another hour or so after he awoke and then we would stop to take a break. Bring lots of healthy non-perishable snacks. You shouldn't go more then a couple hours without resting. Taking frequent rest stops really helped, especially look for fastfood restaurants with an indoor playground. And when you take breaks, get your toddler to expend as much energy as possible. We would only drive for about 8 or 9 hours a day, so it took 4 days to get to Texas, but the extra time was well worth it. We also stopped along the way to see all the tourist attractions. And since we left so early, we would be finished driving for the day by around 2 PM, and we could spend the rest of the day in our hotel's pool. Dispite having a toddler and a dog with us, our road trip was very fun and we plan to do it again next year. Good luck! Leslie

A road warrior of the I-5 corridor for many years, I have found the best way to make the trip bearable (if not enjoyable) is to leave around 6:30 or 7 at night, then stay at one of the inexpensive hotels along the way. If you can make it as far as Weed, that's great. Otherwise, Redding is a good stop and a relatively non-taxing drive. It gives you a nice jump on the trip while travelling during a time when your child may be asleep anyway.

You can find coupon books at many rest areas along the way, which will give you a discount on your stay (most offer rooms around $35 for one queen bed and many will honor the coupons on weekends if they aren't full -- regardless of what the coupon says).

If it is hot out, you can play in the pool before you leave, which may help your child relax during the rest of the drive. I picked up a cheap plastic tray thing that is designed to let you eat/draw in bed but fits nicely over the car seat. It is a great surface for the kids to draw on. A cookie sheet with all sorts of magnetic things helps keep them occupied. I usually stop at Walmart or Big Lots to pick up cheap toys that I don't mind losing if necessary. They work wonders. A small cooler with frozen gogurts and juices also helps the trip, too. And of course tough as it is to hear them over and over and over again, those favorite CDs can be a blessing. Best of luck! Mom on Wheels

We recently drove to LA with our then 16-month-old daughter. We left Oakland at 4:00 pm and drove until 6:00 (her normal dinnertime). Luckily enough, almost exactly 2 hours along there was a McDonald's with an outdoor play area. (I think it was in Santa Nella). It was fenced in, so we sat out there and ate and played. We tossed balls around for her to run after, played chase with her... we REALLY played HARD for an hour and a half. That sounds like a long time, but it worked out perfectly -- we got back in the car at 7:30 and she was asleep at 8:00. We got there at midnight, so we were somewhat tired - but it wasn't bad at all. I think it was the perfect way to do it. Coming back, we left mid-day and it was much more difficult. We stopped at a rest-stop for a picnic lunch and let her run around again - that helped, but there was still just a lot of awake time in the car. The book ''Peekaboo Zoo'' (by Susan Hood and Simone Abel, published by the Lamaze Company) was a *GREAT* hit on the way home -- she looked at it by herself for at least 15 minutes at a stretch on at least two occasions. Lift-the-flaps, lots of animals... cute, and apparently right up a 16-month-old's alley. I got it at Cody's on 4th Street. Sarah

Driving across the country with 4 kids

Feb 2002

Hi. I am not sure if this is insane or not, but do people have any recommendations for driving across the country with 4 children (ages 7,5,3,1). We are moving my sister-in-law from New York to the Bay Area, and they have a large van with a tv/vcr. I am hoping that people have some good ideas about kid-friendly places to stop and see, eat, and stay, as well as ideas for how to while away the time in the car, discipline, and general car travel tips. I am also looking for ideas to make the trip memorable and fun, at least for the older kids. I have kept many of the ideas from the thread on long plane trips as well. The trip is planned for June, but we are still unsure if it the best way (for family sanity) to do this. I am hoping the Parents Network will have enough good ideas to make it work, as it seems to be the best way to get from there to here. Thanks! Shahana

One friend joined a local zoo. One of the membership benefits was free admission to hundreds of zoos around the country. His preschoolers thought their cross- country trek was just one zoo trip a day for days and days. They loved it --- Shari

Driving acress the country with a 1 and 3 year old

June 2000

Hi, I am preparing to drive (8 days, 400 miles/day) I-40 across the country the first week in August. Does anyone have advice on how to keep a 1 year old and a 3 year old entertained on such a long drive? Does anyone know of a tray that will fit across a car seat so my 3 yr old could have a flat surface to write/color on? Thanks Deb

I have taken many car trips with my kids, now aged 5 and 12. For the younger set I have gotten miles and miles of peace from having books on cassette tapes. Certain books and tapes have come to define the trips. Be prepared to make more stops then you would ever do on your own. We would eat at rest areas and then play tag, baseball, frisbee, anything that would get them running - to help use up their energy. Just don't exhaust yourself. After hours in a hot car we would look for a lake on the map and just go and throw ourselves in for a relaxing dip. It's not for a day at the beach but to refreshen ourselves so that we could keep going and for FUN. Sit them on opposite sides of the back seat, buckle up, and have a fun safe trip! Amandla

We have driven cross-country (Ohio-California) three times with our son (now 3, then 1 1/2 and 2) and have made various long car trips in addition. The single most important thing (as we experienced it) was frequent stops. This can be tricky in Nevada, Wyoming, and other places where there are long stretches in which stops seem unappealing, but even just a service-station stop or a beside-the-road-stretch stop could make the difference between melt-down and relative calm. We stopped at local playgrounds, local malls, anyplace where we could walk, get a drink of water, etc. The other important diversion was music; we had several tapes (now memorized) and allowed our son to make requests at will (even though it sometimes meant listening to Two Little Trains so many times the parents nearly melted down). In sum, it was easier than we had anticipated! Good luck. Linda

I must recommend an especially enjoyable tape -- something the whole family can appreciate -- E.B. White reading Charlotte's Web. Ages 4 through 73 were delighted and listened to it several times! Mary

Cross-country car trip with 3 and 5 year olds


From: Mimi
Subject: looooong car trip

Hi, any advice for surviving, if not enjoying, cross country car travel with an almost three year old and a five year old. (Besides you should fly!) Also, any suggestions for fun stopping points along the north route -- Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnestoa/Iowa/Wisconsin, Illinois,Indiana, Ohio? Thank you!

From: Teresa

I made my daughter a customized map so she always knew how far along we were on long road trips. I started doing this when she was three.

You could just draw a map on a piece of paper, but I got an old copy of a road map and cut away most of the excess so that all she would focus on were the roads we were going to take. Then I glued that strip to the inside of an old file folder so it would be easy to find in the car.

When she was young I glued a picture of our house at the beginning and a picture of our destination at the end. Then I drew stick figure sketches of some of the major roadside attractions that I knew we'd pass along the way. It turned the question When are we going to get there? into Where are we on my map? Also, as we passed each item she had a sense of making progress, and we would look forward to the next thing on the map.

For a trip to Disneyland I marked the major interchanges we passed, as well as the Altamont Pass Windmills, the cows in Coalinga, the windmill at Santa Nella, the mountain range at the Grapevine and stuff like that.

Teresa C.

From: Sarah

This response is to Mimi, who is bravely undertaking a car trip with her small children. Kudos to you! My parents took my sister and I cross-country to Wisconsin, Ohio and Minnesota to visit relatives when I was four and she was six--in a '63 VW bug! We had a wonderful time! There are great places to stop along the way: Yellowstone National Park, the Black Hills, and so on. (Nevada and Utah can be a little tough going because of the long stretches of desert.) I would read up on the national parks and the history of the settling of the west, and use the time to talk about U.S. history, the kinds of animals that live in different parts of the country, and so on. The educational aspect is tremendous. And once you get to Ohio, if you have the opportunity to go swimming in any of the old quarries (I know they have them around the Cleveland area), I have wonderful memories of this.

I would suggest taking lots of stops along the way. Also, if you don't have one, invest in a CD player for the car and buy some great music. My five year-old daughter loves musicals and also really likes the CD which features Leonard Bernstein conducting Peter and the Wolf and then follows with talking to kids about music using The Carnival of the Animals as a teaching tool. Klutz books also has a book on surviving car travel for kids that just came out. I have not seen it, but it has gotten good reviews, and in general I like their publications.

And guess what? My family did the same trip again two years year later--with my two year-old brother in tow!

I think you should be congratulated for taking this trip. Your whole family will benefit and you will have created some incredible memories.

From: Joyce

Surviving you can do, enjoying may be another matter. We drove from here to North Dakota last year around this time with 6 children from 4 to 16 years old and two vehicles. We rotated children in cars when things got tough i.e. kids fighting. My daughter had a van in which they had hooked up a VCR and TV - that was great - they would put in the childrens favorite videos to watch. We went through Reno to Salt Lake where just before Salt Lake there is a museum on the Great Salt Lake, they show video's on the history (which you can buy) it is a good stop and great for taking pictures and where the children can actually touch the lake. We also stopped in SLC and toured the Morman Temple area taking one of their little tours which explains the history, however, this might not interest children of 3 and 5. We drove through Wyoming and I must say they have the cleanest road side rest areas of any of the states we went through. They have picnic tables and the rest rooms are heated and well taken care of - I can't say enough about their rest areas , also a good stop for food, etc. is little America. We stopped quite often so the children could stretch their legs and at the signs where they said entering whatever state or leaving whatever state we had the children stand under the signs and took pictures. We stopped at the marked observation sites/points and would take pictures also. In South Dakota be sure to go to Mount Rushmore. Our 4 year old talked all this school year about being there - it made a big impression on him. If you have time to go through the towns surrounding Mount Rushmore they are great fun. We went north from there so do not know anything about the other states. If you ever get through Montana a nice place to visit is the Custer Battlefield and Museum. Good luck.

From: Lynn

Long car trips: there are books on tape for kids, some of them terrific. An inexpensive cassette player and headphones will keep some kids happy for a long time, and allow the adults to talk, or listen to their own tape for a while, or enjoy the quiet. Good on those long desert stretches. Beverly Cleary is one of our favorites.


From: Patrick

For the looooong car trip subject:
A few years back I took my three kids--then 11, 9, & 6--on a 3,400 mile, 10-day loop around the west. Alone. I was terrified that I was making a huge mistake, but it was wonderful--easily one of the best times we've ever had together--so here are my tips:

1) Motel 6. Kids stay FREE, clean, reasonably priced, and easy to change reservations while on the road. Make as many reservations as you think you can pin down as soon as possible.

2) A great big container packed with car toys & drawing supplies on the seat BETWEEN the kids. This not only gives them lots to do, it also keeps elbows and whatnot from straying onto my side. Some surprise extra car toys hidden deep in the trunk is another good idea. It's best if the container has a lid so they can also use it as a drawing surface.

3) A smaller cooler packed with cold fruit drinks in the front seat. Also munchies, which again should be kept in the front.

4) Stop for ice cream whenever asked. OK, you can say no every so often, but typically don't go more than maybe 2 hours or so during daylight without at least a quick stop of some sort. As much as feasible, travel at their pace.

5) Drive as much at night as you are capable. You can cover a lot of ground after sundown, and you get the bonus of being able to listen to all sorts of right-wing lunacy on those broadband stations that you usually don't hear around here--a good reminder of why you live here and what it's really like out there.

6) A rental car unless yours is pretty new & in great shape. Not only do you not spend the whole drive listening for that weird rattle you've been wondering about for months, you get air conditioning, typically a tape player, and you are pretty assured everything's working right without adding garage trips to your pre-trip insanity. Worry about the upholstery as much as you'd worry about your own; not more. They have better cleaning equipment than you do. Well worth the money.

7) Walkmans. One for each kid and a spare. Plenty of batteries. Otherwise you'll go batty listening to The Wheels on the Bus 2,700 times.

8) Be very clear to any kid who can understand that the first day will be a solid driving day, because you have to get through Nevada before you get to anything. Assure them that after that the driving days will be shorter and/or more broken up. This both helps them get through that first day and also trains them a bit for the rest of the trip.

8) Buy a Golden Eagle Pass at the first National Park you stop at. It'll pay for itself.

9) 3 & 5 may be too young, but my kids loved Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho. Bizarre volcanic landscape where the astronauts trained for moon walks. Cinder cones, craters, lava caves (which almost surely won't work for kids that young; they're mostly a bit tough to get into). I'd picked it just because of location as a place to take a break, but it turned out to be a great highlight of the trip.

10) Yellowstone. Don't even think of skipping it or spending only a day, plan at least 2 days; a buffalo herd created traffic jams are common and can take an hour or more to get through (but is more fun than it sounds), and the park is big with things to see in all parts. If you can afford it, a night at Old Faithful Lodge is very cool, but there are more reasonable accommodations--I can't remember the name now, but some cabins over by the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are nice. Again, make reservations. Be prepared for crowds, but well worth dealing with.

11) The Tetons are spectacular, but unless you can take hikes are regretfully just a fairly brief picturesque drive.

We went south at that point, so no more to add for the rest of your itinerary.

From: Bob

Yellowstone & surrounding, Badlands, thunderstorms over the plains, your DoD dollars in silos, get used to seeing corn!, the RV capitol of the world (Elkhart IN), the Mennonite museum in Shipshewana Indiana, a Great America-like theme park in Sandusky OH. Just a few things I can think of.


Just a comment re: those lap desks that seem like they would be perfect for a long car trip. That's what we got ours for, and you can find them pretty inexpensively at most toy stores, like Toys R Us. Crayola makes the brand we got. It's okay, but now I also see that any sort of flat surface, like a plastic serving tray, for example, would work just as well. Most of them, like the one we have, has storage space under the lid for paper, markers, etc. But when you're drawing on top of the lid, you don't have access to the stuff inside, without continually taking the lid on and off. And our 5-year-old still has trouble getting the lid on and off by herself, so it means stuff is either continually falling out all over the car, or I have to stretch around from the front seat to help her out in the back seat every 5 minutes. So now I think it would be just as useful to have any sort of flat surface, a pad of paper, and a plastic baggie full of markers. Cheaper -- and more practical! Colleen