Traveling with Children in the Car

These are trips for cross country trips. It takes us two or three days (depending on how many drivers we have) and whether I have to stop for the second night.

Traveling in the plane is different than car, but we still use our backpacks/child.

When we will be stopping for the night at a hotel, I make one bag for the younger boys and I to share that will go into the hotel, so we don’t have to unpack the entire car for the night’s stay. (If they can sleep in their day clothes and change in the morning, all the better.

I also include light blankets for sleeping on the floor. Some states don’t ask how many per room. We fit everyone in one, if we can. Other states (CA especially) limits the number. If they don’t ask, we don’t tell. My husband pays for the room by himself. We wait in the car.
We take enough water to share.
We purchase a meal to eat in the room. We may take boys to swim if available. They have energy. We do not. Another thing to include in the one pack.
Head rests or small pillows are good, even blankets for little ones (they sleep better).
We start 2-4 AM. The boys sleep. We drive until we can’t.

When we first drove across country, we planned the exact hotel where we would stay. Making reservations ahead of time.
After searching around midnight for the right hotel we had reserved, and having to back-track to find it, we reconsidered.
We stopped reserving rooms, when we arrived at our designated stop around 2 PM, wide awake and wishing we could drive farther. We kept driving, but not before they told us our money wouldn’t be refunded.
There’s always a vacancy, if not in this city, the next, we just keep going. That’s how we sometimes make it in 2 days…we just keep going.
When we first started driving, (flying stressed me more than the road trip), my husband drove most of it.
Then as we acquired more drivers, it seemed easier to drive through the night with shifts. Now as we lose some of those drivers, flying may not be so bad, maybe…

I keep a small ice chest by my feet with lunch meat, cheese, dressing, cream cheese, yogurt and plastic spoons and a knife.
Case of water. At start of each day and at gas breaks we can get more from back.
Case of special drinks (one per day per person) without too much sugar (you don’t want to stop for bathrooms) Tea for drivers to keep awake.
I have pepsi.

Breakfasts: (when they wake up, not at 2-4 AM and day is light)
Yogurt. Don’t forget the plastic spoons
Bagels and cream cheese. (I spread it and pass back.)
Pop tarts (something special they don’t normally have)

We make sandwiches as we travel as needed. (It is tricky keeping the bread from getting smashed.)
I have bread, lunch meat, cheese, and ranch dressing or something that I can pour/spread without difficulty. No choice given on dressing, one fits all, unless they want none.
Carrots, apples, fruit

Paper cups for nuts, candy, seeds, popcorn…
Seeds (another cup for spitting shells) helps keep driver awake.
Granola bars
Trail mix
Another sandwich
Cheerios or fruit loops for toddlers
Candy for a treat
Cookies…anything different.

Even with this rule, there will always be someone who stashes trash by their feet, under the seat.
We do a preliminary quick-clean at the start of each day when we gas up as well.
We rotate where we sit. Our middle seat is highly uncomfortable.
Our third seat needs you to cut off your legs to fit.
I rotate back there to read, play tic-tac-toe, draw with younger ones.

Alphabet with outside signs.
Quoting all verses you know. Especially when its dark and we are done being in the car. Or going through the Bible with all the stories they can remember.
Sermon tapes.
Stories on CD (We have several G.A. Henty books narrated by Jim Weiss, Chronicles of Narnia, some Adventures in Odyssey (although I don’t like the children’s attitudes in some), and Bible Stories on tape).
Music tapes. New ones help. If my husband is with us we listen to less. When boys drive, they have their own I-pads and ear phones…one always out for safety.)
Dollar Store has magnetic, miniature games that help.
Telling stories stopping so the next person can tell next part can make some good tales.
Coloring books (you don’t need every color crayon, just enough to for basics)
In more recent years, we borrowed movies and machine from a friend. We watched one during day, one during evening when it was dark enough.

We only stop for gas.
Lunch stop is longer, but sometimes we wait until we reach a big city. Arby’s or Subway, (my choice.)
It’s quick. We get only water, no pop. (We won’t be stopping for bathrooms for awhile.)
Dinner we pick up before we stop for hotel. Maybe hamburgers or Taco Bell (my husband chooses) We eat at hotel.
Bathroom Breaks
Empty Gatorade bottles keeps you from stopping too often for bathroom stops. The opening MUST be large enough to avoid missing. (REMEMBER, I have just boys.) I had one toddler who stood every hour to use his bottle---he probably just wanted to get out of his car seat, but it gave him something to do.
My husband stops for me…but I try not to be the cause.
As the days get longer (not in hours, but in my stiffness and pain tolerance), we tend to find more reasons to stop… “Oh look at that knife shop, let’s stop.”
It is normal, in case you are wondering, for you to feel stiff, dis-jointed and wobble when you struggle out of the car to the bathroom, especially after being the car for 2 full days of travel. (Even the boys do this.)
Bass Pro Shops are great stretching stops, especially for boys. They are like museums, with taxidermy animals and fish on display in their natural environment. And its free…well, I find lemon drops or the boys find a magazine to buy.
Bill boards can warn you of upcoming, potential stops that might be interesting…Indian souvenirs that we look but don’t buy.
Hotels see above.

I should warn you that EVERY TIME something unusual happened, it was with a driver with a permit not a license…In one city they had a flashflood while we were driving through. We ended in an Arby’s parking lot, eating lunch as the water ran down the street. (Worst rains in many years, we heard later.) My son would turn to me and smile and say, “I got this Mom, It’s O.K.”

Another time, another son maneuvered through Colorado’s winding, mountainous, hair-pin turns, steep drop-offs and overhanging cliffs with darkness, snow, road construction, and narrowed lanes.

In the midst of city traffic, in another down-pour, we had to go from lane one to lane eight in a quarter of a mile to make our unexpected highway change….my unexperienced permit driver zoomed over without looking. Somehow we avoided being hit. Do you see the guardian angels around my excursion? I may not see them, but I know they’re there.

Just so you know...all of my boys hated the car seat. It’s restrictive. It confines them when they want to move. It hinders nursing, although we have learned to be creative or rebellious…whichever worked at the time. It did not get better when the boys got older, in fact, it got worse. We live in the mountains. When the boys became toddlers, and graduated to the car seat facing forward, they would cry that they were being tipped. There was nothing that could be done---we all “got tipped” by the weaving and winding of the road as it wrapped around the mountains. That was every time in the car—because any time we got in the car, we had to get out of the mountains to be anywhere….
So if you have a child who hates the car seat, be comforted. You are not alone.
If you have one of those children, that I’ve heard tell about, that LOVE their car seat and instantly fall asleep when placed in its loving comfort—I could almost hate you. But I will try in Jesus’s name not to.

Traveling with children in a car is just one of those things we have to do. We don’t like it. We don’t whine about it. We accept it and move on…Complaining only makes them realize your stress more.

If you are traveling in a car with children, use it as a time to connect. Ask questions that you don’t normally have time because everyone is going different directions. Now that you are going the same direction, literally, use it to touch base with them.
It is, after all, part of life. And we are instructed in Deuteronomy to instruct our children when we rise up and when we sit down, when we walk, and I'm sure if they had them back then, they would have said, when they are in the car...because that's what we (as parents) are suppose to do.

Some of our memories (I wouldn’t say fondest, but bonding) have been from our travels and what we experienced together. Doesn’t God use trials to bring people together?

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We only took one really long car trip with the kids, when Laura was 14 months, so only had 4 kids then. Drove just over the border into Canada. Coming home we drove 3 straight days with only stops at night. By the 3rd day Laura was screaming when put back in her car seat at the gas stops and I was begging Steve to let me drive so he could entertain Laura. One year old's are just really hard to travel with.

I write about what you---
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               Sonya Contreras

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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