First, I know I am lucky to have two little guys who don't hate the car seat. A friend's baby screams from the moment she is put into the car until she is taken out. If that is you, don't read further. I don't have any advice. We do have a mirror above O's seat so he can check out himself (and we could check on him without getting out of our seats), but that's all I've got.
Here are my tips for hittin' the highway!
1. If your baby uses a pacifier, pack more than you ever think you will need. It's a pain to pull over to hunt down and clean a paci! Also, O has learned to take his paci out and throw it, and we had a couple that we never found again.
2. The same goes for sippy cups (except that none of ours completely disappeared- we just found some nasty milk-filled ones under the front seat on the last day). Sometimes out of frustration, we would hand JD a regular water bottle (not full of course) as a bribe. He LOVES this, and we just had to deal with a little wetness.
3. For a toddler, pack plenty of snacks they can feed themselves. Bring their favorites as well as some new, exciting ones. We had boxes of raisins (which JD loved pre and post-trip but refused while we were away), fruit strips, squeeze pouches, peanut butter, granola bars, crackers, and magic oatmeal cookies (we saved these for when he was overtired & screechy. He was always quiet and happy when he got one, and he always fell asleep before he finished it). **If you are driving in your own car and worried about messiness/stickiness, you know what to avoid. We rented a car, so I was a little more lax about what I let him eat back there.
4. Stickers! I bought tons of them from the dollar store before we left, and they kept JD busy *forever*. He liked sticking them all over himself and then moving them around. I even heard him talking to them. You can also pack crayons if your kid can handle them. JD still tries to eat them, so they are a supervised activity only. Cleaning crayon out of baby teeth is not fun.
5. Take breaks! Our longest stretch was only 4 hours, but we still took breaks whenever we could. Obviously we had to feed the kids and ourselves, but it was nice sometimes to just stop, stretch our legs, and give the boys some time out of their seats. Although it took us a little longer to get anywhere, it was more enjoyable for everybody!
6. Pack smart. We stayed at 7 different hotels along the way, and there was no way I was going to haul all of our stuff in and out of each of them. I packed one large piece of luggage that was the "overnight bag". It held everything we would need for all four of us if we were just going away for one night (toiletries, diapers, bedtime things and clothes). Half of the time, we just had to carry this bag in, and the other nights we brought in more and reorganized. We also had to pack for different weather extremes (shorts & snow gear), so the other pieces of luggage were organized in that way. Having separate bags for each person would just lead to a lot of suitcases spread out in hotel rooms already crowded by 2 cribs.
7. Be prepared for yuckiness! First, rental cars are gross. Remember when I said that I wasn't too concerned with the mess/stickiness of the snacks JD was eating? Well neither were the last 20 families who rented the minivan we had. Of course the company cleans it the best they can, but there is always a level of yuck. If you are using your own car, be prepared for it to reach new, unknown levels of yuck as the days go by. My advice is to keep some clear floor/seat space for changing diapers in the car and have a trash bag that you empty each time you can (cup holders in the door work well for this, too).
Second, you must become less self-conscious about facing the public with your yuck. At first I was mortified to bring JD into a restaurant with food ground into his pants and dried snot on his sleeve while I smelled like baby puke, but I got over it pretty quickly.
8. We had one small piece of luggage that was the "car bag". It stayed in the car and contained anything we would need while in the car: snacks, bibs, cups, a small insulated bag (which came in handy when we bought a six pack, didn't finish it in one night, and wanted to bring it to our next hotel), small toys, hats & jackets, and those pads you use to house train your dog (incredibly useful when your son plays in the mud and you don't want him to get his seat yucky on the the way to the next stop). We also kept the diaper bag in the car.
9. Ask for more! I'll be honest; doing this makes me a little uncomfortable. I'm a wimp. But at 6 out of 7 hotels we received a free upgrade on our room and/or restaurant vouchers for meals just for asking. It also helps if you belong to a hotel rewards program. We collect Marriott and Starwood points through their credit cards, and these programs give extra perks like entrance to the concierge lounge.
Also, ask for things that would make your kids more comfortable/easier to deal with. Ex: "Can he have some saltines while we look at the menu?"
10. Take a ton of pictures of the journey! A lot of our vacation happened in the car, and we have some fun memories!
|Always super happy!|
|The face JD makes when you ask him to smile.|
|Not everything was pull-over-and-take-a-picture worthy, but we did take a lot of pics out the windows!|
|My favorite out-of-the-window shot.|
|Miles of orange groves! We did stop and buy the sweetest oranges I've ever owned. And they were way cheaper than buying oranges on LI!|
|Arriving at our final city, San Francisco!|
12. Don't just follow the GPS. Bring a real, detailed, old-school map. That way you can see all of the beaches/parks/lakes/landmarks along the way and choose your route. If we had just followed the GPS, we would have been on major highways most of the time and missed these:
|The GPS really didn't want us to drive along the coast. I'm glad I knew better.|
|Leaving Yosemite, the GPS wanted us to backtrack to Fresno. We would much rather drive through here!|
Our friends and family thought we were crazy for taking on this trip, but we really loved it. My next plan is a cross-country trip. Then we would avoid the crazy flights all together!