If there is anything I have learned in Nursing School, it's this, always read the medication labels. Always. Like, AL-WAYS. It's good to know your potential side effects. For nurses, we have what's called a Black Box Warning. This warning usually says something like, "do not give this medication to a patient who has xyz because this might make them bleed a whole bunch and be not alive anymore", in so many words. So the next paragraph? That is your Black Box Warning. If you do not read anything else in this post, read that paragraph, okay? Okay.
First, I rarely give parenting advice and this is why: it is almost always totally useless. 99% of what I say is not going to help you in any way, shape or form. Kids are like bacteria. They are unpredictable, highly adaptable and very strategic. If it works once, you can bet that news spreads and they will adapt and mutate and so that same method will not work again. It's evolution folks, what can I say? As long as we all understand that, this should go swimmingly. In terms of traveling with kids, these are some things that have worked (as well as anything works) for our family. Expecting these things to work for you, well, I believe I've already warned you.
As another disclaimer, we are by no means a "well-traveled" family. In the last five years, we have logged roughly 50k miles and, naturally, much of that is local travel. We have, however, done a handful of ten-hour trips, as well as our car trip out west last summer and these are the things that I have found most helpful.
1. When asked, I always say that the most important thing to pack is a sense of humor. Traveling with children is not a leisure activity. It's probably going to get uncomfortably loud sometimes. It's probably going to involve at least one unplanned pit-stop. It's probably going to contain at least a small degree of calamity. Embrace the madness because that might just be what gets you through.
2. I have only flown once with kids, actually one kid, one newborn kid..and it was a two-hour flight. My flying resume is not exactly pushing me to the top of the pile BUT, this is what I will say. I sang, out loud, to my baby during takeoff and during landing and anytime we hit turbulence
(I freaking hate flying and have a fear of crashing to my death). I also nursed my baby, without a cover. I also may or may not have done some deep breathing. And everyone made it off that flight in tact. Annoyed? Maybe. Alive? Absolutely. My baby didn't really cry on the trip but yours might and here's what you need to know...it's okay. Babies cry. Kids make messes. People sing out loud. Bears poop in the woods. Some things cannot be changed. Do not let yourself become paralyzed with fear every time your kid starts acting up, worried it will offend other people. You, and your child, are no more or less worthy of safe passage than anyone else. When I come home, I don't expect my cat to greet me at the door with her tail wagging and tongue panting. Don't expect your kids to sit quietly and reserved on trips. If you get dirty looks, ignore them. If you get exasperated sighs, tune them out. You're likely never going to see these people again. Keep calm because kids can smell fear.
3. The above sort of applies for car trips as well. Don't expect total silence and peace. Don't expect to be able to drive for long stretches without stopping. Don't expect them to give a crap about the activities you packed, which is actually a perfect segue into my next tip...
4. Don't pack activities your kids won't give a crap about. I guarantee you will invest far more time searching Pinterest, making a list, shopping and packing these things than you will get in return. Your kids will most likely play with them for five minutes, throw them on the floor and be done. Activities, by and large, take up space, make a mess and are not worth the effort. I also feel like it sets you, and your kid, up for frustration later. Just as you need to embrace that traveling with kids will make you want to stab yourself with a pencil, kids need to embrace the fact that traveling is sometimes boring. If you set the bar high with boxes full of stimulants, there is nowhere to go but down. Why put that sort of pressure on yourself, am I right?
5. If you have the advantages of technology, go ahead and use them. DVD players, phones, whatever it takes to get from point a to point b, ya know? Me? I love audio-books. My older kids also love audio-books. My two-year-old? She doesn't give an at's rass about audio-books. So, for the last few trips, we have only used them while she sleeps. We do have a DVD player that we use to play movies, mostly for her, which leaves my older ones ready to pull their hair out (ah, revenge can be gratifying). If you don't have gizmos, don't freak out. We do not have iPads or tablets and we have done several of our ten-hour trips without using the DVD player. We listen to music, eat fruit snacks and we all survive. So too shall you.
6. Get really comfortable going one and two in just about any uncomfortable circumstance. Side of the road? Gatorade bottle? Bathroom in a gas station where you are pretty sure at least one murder has been committed? Breathe it in. It's happening. Oh and your kid? He is going to touch everything in that bathroom. And your daughter? She won't hover. Pack some hand sanitizer, gird up your loins and head into the fray.
7. Don't ask what that smell is...just...don't.
8. If there is only one thing in this list you pay attention to, let it be this one...ice cream. In every long trip, I always plan for one, and only one, ice cream stop. It's always on the drive home and usually when we are about two or three hours from home and everyone is just D-O-N-E. I am a pretty frugal woman and I pack our food for road trips but this? This will be the best money you've ever spent. Seriously. If you are allergic to dairy...I don't know, maybe don't travel.
9. For logistical packing, keep it simple. For our most recent trip, I packed one change of clothing per day per person. Now, this can come back to bite you if your husband, say, goes playing with baby pigs and gets covered in mud and, well, you know. If you are going somewhere without an amazing sister-in-law with a washing machine, you may want to pack an extra outfit or two. Shoes are another biggie. I feel like shoes are the most frequently misplaced item so I try to keep it to one pair per person where possible. I also have found that things get lost much more easily if everyone takes their own bag so we pack everything in our master suitcase and then I take an empty Rubbermaid or a laundry basket to keep our dirty stuff. If we are traveling to a dressy event or attending church away from home, I pack our dress clothes in a small, separate suitcase. As soon as we are done, we put them back in that suitcase and that suitcase goes straight back into the van, ne'er to be touched again until we arrive home. Consolidation seems to be key for our family and, so far, it has worked pretty well for us.
10. Roll the windows down every once in a while. I don't know why this works but it does. When everyone is cranky and you're on a nice stretch of mild highway, take the speed down a notch and get some wind in your face, unless you are in Ohio. Don't roll down your windows in Ohio. The bugs are unholy.
At the end of the day, feel satisfied when the trip goes more smoothly than you anticipated and brush it off when it doesn't. If nothing else, you can look forward to the ice cream.