Driving with Kidsby Christina Holland-Radvon, Guest Columnist and PassPorter Message Board Guide
Driving is my specialty. It also happens to be our family's preferred method of travel. Many of the tips for flying with kids can be applied to driving with kids long distances. The important thing to remember is that your kids are not always going to want to sit in the car for 12 hours straight just because it will get them to Disney 6 hours faster. Breaks are an absolute necessity. A ten to fifteen minute break every hour to hour and a half during a long car trip is a great and reasonable way to keep everyone happy. It does have the unfortunate side effect of taking two lifetimes to get to your destination, however.My husband, Walter, my son, Donovan, and I prefer traveling at night. My husband, as the primary long-haul driver, naps the afternoon before we leave while Donovan and I run last minute errands and go to the park to really wear him out so he'll fall like a log and sleep like the dead when we pack up the car and start our long drive that night at 10:00 pm. In his car seat, he'll sleep a good 8 to 10 hours with no need for a break (and so will Mommy). When we drive to Disney World, we like to stop half way between our home in the Poconos and Orlando in a quiet little town in South Carolina to visit with family. It takes about 12 hours to get there with 3 potty breaks. We spend the day with them, have a long nap while Donovan plays with his great aunt and uncle, then get back on the road late that evening to finish the long drive to Orlando (another 8 hours or so). All we've done is apply the fly during naptime tip to driving while he sleeps.
Snacks in the car are pretty crucial; especially if you have a husband like mine who doesn't stop unless he needs to use the restroom or someone is visibly bleeding or has a broken bone that is poking through the skin. Packing a lightweight collapsible cooler can save you tons of money and time. Remember to pack things like juice boxes, small cartons of low fat milk (the lower fat content will make the milk last longer in the cooler), fruit that doesn't need to be peeled with anything more than fingers - like apples and bananas (avoid choking hazards such as grapes), yogurt or pudding cups with spoons, cream cheese and a plastic knife for spreading, water bottles, or string cheese or cheese cubes. Bring along a small tote bag with snacks like crackers, pretzels, dry cereal, muffins, granola bars, Pop Tarts, Fruit Roll Ups, or mini bagels. And be sure to pack a small plastic bag for trash to keep the backseat clean!
Are We There Yet?!
Yes and thank goodness. Now the fun can begin, right? Wrong! Well, not wrong, but do you have everything you need? Your basic emergency first aid kit, diapers, diaper bag, formula, stroller, baby sling? There's a lot to bring and a lot to remember!
So let's start with the basics. You'll need a stroller. The ones with a parent cup holder and a child snack tray/cup holder are going to be the most comfy for your child and the easiest for you to push with the high push bar and the large storage basket underneath. Umbrella strollers are great if your hotel is a five-minute walk from the park you'll be spending most of your time at, but if you have to drive back to your hotel or take a bus, you're going to want to carry more than the barest essentials with you and you'll need storage space and good sturdy wheels for that. The larger strollers also provide more shade with a little awning to help protect your baby's sensitive skin from the Florida sun.
That brings us to our next essential item -- sun block. In the southern U.S. and Caribbean, anything less than SPF 25 is a waste of time for active children who will wear away that sun block in less than two hours of running, playing, and hugging oversized mice. Do yourself a favor and get the Water Babies or Waterproof Coppertone Sport sun blocks. Both have high SPF ratings and are easy to apply with their spray bottles.
Drinks are probably the most essential item you'll need. Water bottles are great for adults, but kids have a hard time drinking from the tops of those same water bottles. You have several options. Bring along a bottle just for water if you formula-feed. If it's between feeding times, you can always offer the extra water to keep your child hydrated.
For nursing babies, take a break, sit down or seek out the baby care center in the park and nurse often -- at least every hour to keep your baby hydrated. Many amusement parks now offer these wonderfully cool areas for nursing privately and changing diapers. The private nursing rooms often include a rocking chair or glider with a footstool or a recliner and most also have a changing table. There is usually a night light in the room so you can turn off the overhead light if your baby needs some quiet down time to nurse and rest in your arms. These baby care centers are a wonderful respite from the park, but be careful! I have been known to doze off in the glider while my son was nursing. My husband had to come looking for me! If you have older children, there is usually a playroom to occupy them, but dad may or may not be able to come in to watch over the older child in the play area. Ask the baby care center attendant when you enter. Your time with baby could be an excellent time for dad to spend alone with an older child doing a more daring ride or a loud show that you would avoid with an infant. If you have a baby sling, this is even easier. You can nurse discreetly and easily while you wait in line, watch an older child on a ride with Dad, or while you walk through the park, mall, or in a restaurant.
If you're a new nursing mom, you'll want to decide before your car trip whether or not you're comfortable breastfeeding in public and either learn how to do so discreetly and confidently or pump your milk and bring bottles. Pumping and bringing bottles tends to be more work because you still have to pump every couple of hours during the day to keep up your milk supply. That means at least two, but as many as four or five trips to the baby care center anyway to pump. Nursing at the baby care center will probably be easier and you don't have to bring all the extra equipment -- including that big old electric breast pump-in-a-bag. As a nursing mom, you also need to remember to drink lots of water -- a half ounce for every pound that you weigh plus an extra 20 or 30 ounces to make up for the milk you're making for your baby. Also, avoid caffeine and sugar -- they act as diuretics. Baby should be drinking about 20-30 ounces of breastmilk a day. The best way to determine if baby is getting enough milk is to count the number of wet diapers he has. If he has 6 wet disposable diapers or 8 wet cloth diapers, he's getting plenty of milk.
For older children, ask them often if they are thirsty. Offer water to them whenever you stop to check the map or get off of a ride. A combination spray bottle/hand-held fan is a popular and fun cooling option for children who get cranky and crabby in the sun and heat or just while waiting in line.
Kids need naps and so do you. If at all possible, do your park touring, shopping, or sight-seeing in the early morning or late afternoon. The mid-day sun can be brutal. Take a break back at your hotel ? a nap for the kids, a cool drink for you, and a little time for you to repack the cooler with cold drinks, ice cubes, and hand towels to use for a quick cool down on someone's forehead or neck.
Last and this is really the most important thing for any family to remember when traveling: Don't let yourself become exhausted. If you're feeling tired and warm, it's time to rest. Don't keep pushing just because you want to do and see it all. Pace yourself. Seeing everything is not as important as enjoying yourself and your family time on vacation. After all, there's always next year!
This article appeared in our September 10, 2004 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!