So in the past 10 days, I have driven 13 1/2 hours from Texas to Alabama, 7 1/2 hours from Alabama to North Carolina, 7 1/2 hours from North Carolina back to Alabama -- all with all 4 kids, and 7 hours round trip from Huntsville, Alabama to Tuscaloosa, Alabama with the 2 youngest kids. That is a bit of an exaggeration, since the husband drove from Texas and on the North Carolina trip, and since on the North Carolina trip, we were with my mom in 2 cars, but still -- that is a lot of time on the road. I have learned quite a few things on these adventures, and I will share some of them with you all so that your next trip with your kids might go more smoothly.
First of all, a portable DVD player is absolutely essential for any long car ride, as well as a plethora of movie titles so that your kids may argue over what to watch. Make sure that the movie selections are good enough to hold their attention, but not so good that they do not want to get out of the car to go see what you came to see, or to eat, or to go to the bathroom. Movies that they have seen too many times to count are always a safer bet because they will be willing to leave and come back to it. When there are 7 1/2 years between your oldest and youngest child, make sure that the oldest kid has his Nintendo DS and will therefore not care if the younger ones want to watch "Finding Nemo" and "Tangled" for 5 or 6 times in a row. It is also a good idea to bring your own MP3 player along or else you will find yourself humming "I Have A Dream" or some other annoying song from one of their movies while trying to pee at the Flying J truck stop in Podunk, Tennessee.
To ensure that no one gets too cramped up, be sure that no one's bladders are in sync when you leave. That way you will be required to stop every 75 miles or so for someone to pee. No one else will admit to needing to pee, either because they don't want to miss the show that is playing or because they will want to have their own turn in another 75 miles. Be sure that YOU pee every time you have to stop for the kids though, because the last thing you want to tell your husband who is irrate at having to stop so much is that now you need to stop even though no one else does. By having everyone out of sync, you will keep your trip exciting. You will get to experience bathrooms that are a virtual petri dish of disease and how to use said facilities with little kids without them touching anything. Nothing makes a mom's heart race more than watching in horror as your kid puts his or her hands on the nastiest toilet seat that you have ever seen or sit on a floor that obviously hasn't been cleaned since Ford was in office, and then discovering that not only does the sink barely trickle only cold water, but there is no soap and no paper towels. There will also be edge of your seat excitement when you are sitting at a dead stop in traffic, miles from the nearest exit, and your potty training almost 3 year old who was insistent on wearing underwear today starts whining "I need to go poooooottttttyyyyyy." Good times.....
A quick note about stopping for meals -- make sure that you bring a small dog or other animal with you so that you are required to eat in the car. Be sure that you ask the kids what they want so that they can all 4 want something different -- at least one of which will be something ridiculous that cannot be purchased and/or eaten in the car, like when Bella wanted a peanut butter and banana sandwich or when she wanted a salad. Argue with them for a few minutes before telling them that they are getting whatever you want them to have and then try to order the food above the moans and wails in the back seat. After handing out the food and drinks to everyone, just try to ignore any sounds of spills behind you because you are doing 78 miles per hour to make up for lost time, and there will be nothing that you can do about it for at least another 53 miles when someone will have to stop to pee again anyway. Don't worry about dropped food, your dog will quickly gobble that up and then regurgitate it closer to you so that you can see it.
It is best to travel with kids who cannot read. When they can read, they see signs for things that they want to stop and see or do. And the highway advertisers know this -- they make large, brightly colored signs for things that they know will interest kids and place them on the interstate even if the actual attraction is hundreds of miles away. Your kids will scream and cry to go to the aquarium, Rock City, The Lost Sea, to go zip-lining, caving, to the beach, to the amusement park, and to see the world's largest....everything. They will beg to stop and purchase fireworks, fudge, ice cream, candy -- pretty much anything that you as a parent would NOT want them to have. You will hear "Ooooooooh Mama!! Can we go to blah, blah, blah??!! Please? Please??? Mama??! Are you listening to me??!! I wanna go!" They will then recruit their younger siblings to chant with them in unison about whatever attraction it is until your ears begin to bleed.
Most kids will, at some point during a long car ride, fall to sleep. To make the most of your vacation time, be sure that they never all fall asleep at the same time and that the youngest and hardest to contain gets a 3-4 hour nap just before you arrive at your destination. That way, they are good and awake at bedtime. You are going to have to get up bright and early the next day for the planned activities of the day and the last thing you are going to want to do is make sure that everyone is well rested. The 2 1/2 mile hike up into the mountains will burn so many more calories if you are carrying a whining toddler and dragging a crying 4 year old while trying to keep up with the 7 and 9 year old who have bounded up ahead of you like a couple of mountain goats. And you want to make sure that your nerves are completely frazzled when you turn a corner and find them talking with a hiker who looks like Grizzly Adams and smells like he hasn't bathed in a few years. It is a much more exciting time for everyone that way.
Hopefully, you can take these tips I have given you and make your next family vacation a much more enjoyable experience. I also recommend doing as much traveling back to back as possible. The kids will eventually get used to riding long periods in the car -- at least I assume they will. I have yet to be brave enough to push it any farther than this last road trip. As for me, I am done travelling for a while. In fact, if anyone asks me to drive with my kids more than 20 miles for anything over the next month, I may cut them.