My husband is a pretty simple man. Every year for Christmas he asks for one thing — to not travel over the holidays. Well, here’s my bad wife confession: He has never gotten his Christmas wish. Instead, every December we load up our children, gifts, and luggage and trek down to North Carolina. We used to fly, but with the addition of our second child (and second car seat, set of gifts, etc.), it no longer made any sort of financial sense to buy four plane tickets, rent a car, and check bags and a stroller.
So now we make the 12-hour drive down the East Coast as part of our family’s Christmas tradition. The good news is that our trips do not even remotely resemble the arduous journey of the pig family in “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go“ and are actually pretty fun. Here are our tips if you also find yourself on the road this year:
We try to maximize time in the car while our children are sleeping, so we load the car the night before, dress everyone in warm PJs, and the adults wake up around 4 a.m. to warm up the car and do last-minute tasks, like packing refrigerated food in the cooler. Then we carry the sleeping kids out to the warm car and buckle everyone in. Yes, they wake up for a few minutes, but they go back to sleep pretty quickly lulled by blankets and the rumbling of car on the highway.
We get a few hours in blissful silence and stop for a fun breakfast (our boys adore a roadside diner with pancakes). Does this mean we hit the road before most drive-through Starbucks open? Sadly, yes. But there’s a 24-hour Dunkin’ by our house, and it’s worth it to start the day without 10,000 questions about when we will arrive at the grandparents’ house.
Stop and play strategically
After breakfast, we load back up and drive again until lunch time, when we use the app Roadtrippers to find parks and playgrounds near exits to stop. We will often pack a cooler of sandwich fixings and snacks in our car (don’t forget to pack a gallon of water for refilling water bottles) so all the time outside the car can be spent running around. We always pack a ball, so even if we can’t find a playground we can play a game together to blow off steam. In the winter, we keep our snowsuits handy so we can bundle up the kids to go on a short hike to get the blood moving when we stop.
Save the screens
If we’ve planned our stops correctly, we pile back in the car after our lunch stop just in time for everyone to nap again while we rumble down the road. Our older son doesn’t nap anymore, so we turn on an audiobook or pass back his entertainment bag while the baby snoozes. We pack a (small) backpack for each of our sons with car entertainment items. Our older son is super into search-and-find books, dry erase tracing and coloring books (we use dry erase crayons so the car doesn’t smell), and matchbox cars and trucks. The baby’s bag includes a mishmash of random objects (he really loves plastic containers with lids), but also some Tegu blocks and small wooden cars and animal figurines.
We generally don’t use screens during the afternoon drive, though. It can be very difficult to see screens while the sun is still up, and we find we need a big incentive to get back into the car after our dinner stop when everyone is feeling cranky and we all hit the point where we assume we will never arrive.
Separate luggage by person
If we need to stop in the evening at a hotel, I always make sure everyone’s luggage is packed separately. I pack each person’s belongings in a giant Ziploc bag with their name on it and stuff all the bags into a giant L.L. Bean rolling duffle. In a separate tote bag, I keep a pair of pajamas and clean underpants for each person with our toothbrushes. That way, if we check into a hotel around midnight, we don’t have to rummage around the car for what we need. We leave the bulk of our luggage in the car and just carry in our small overnight bag. This also makes it super easy to check out the next morning and hit the road early.
I also always keep a separate tote bag with diapers, wipes, a roll of paper towels, and a few plastic grocery bags. Those are items you never want to waste time searching for in the car, so it’s best to keep them all together but separated from the rest of the luggage.
What about you? Do you travel for the holidays or stay put? Do you have any great road trip tips I missed? I’m all ears!