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traveling with kids

How We Survived a Cross-Country Car Trip With Three Kids Under Age 6

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It was a good idea in theory. My husband and I were itching to get out to Colorado for some fresh mountain air, hiking, and scenery. But with three young children in tow–a 5-year-old son and twin 2-year-old daughters—the idea of flying seemed not only expensive, but unfeasible. After all, how would we ever manage to schlep all of the toddler gear we needed onto a plane, plus our suitcases, plus enough in-flight entertainment to keep the little ones from screaming their heads off the entire time?

No, flying just wasn’t a possibly we wanted to entertain, especially since on top of the cost of airfare, we’d also need to spring for a rented minivan – and those don’t come cheap. So we decided to drive from New Jersey to Colorado instead and make a whole bunch of stops along the way to keep things interesting.

And in the end, it actually worked out. Sure, the kids had their moments, but we spent a total of 15 days on the road, and only once did I consider ditching my family on a Colorado mountain and hitchhiking my way to the closest airport for a solo flight back home.

Here are a few things that made our trip relatively manageable:

Constant entertainment, and a variety at that

Though we bought our minivan over three years ago, I think we’d actually used the built-in DVD feature just two or three times before this big trip. But knowing how much driving we’d be doing, my husband took it upon himself to load up on movies and TV shows galore. His goal, in fact, was to have enough variety that we’d never have to play the same movie or program twice, and boy did he deliver. And though we definitely had our share of repeats (think Moana, which my kids are obsessed with), his huge effort mostly kept our kids from getting bored.

The power of choice

Anyone who has more than one child will relate to the following: Getting your kids to agree on a single movie or TV show can be a challenge unto itself. And when you’re stuck in a car together, the last thing you want to deal with is the battle of Transformers versus Paw Patrol. So in addition to the aforementioned entertainment system, we also invested in kids’ tablets and headphones, so that each child would have the option to watch the show or play the game of his or her choice. At first, I fought my husband over buying them—partly because between the devices themselves and the headphones, we spent about $300, and partly because I just didn’t feel the need to own them – but in the end, they proved to be a worthwhile purchase.

Frequent stops

Since my daughters are still in diapers, and my son isn’t one of those kids who tends to need the bathroom every hour on the hour, my husband and I assumed that on the days with more driving, we’d manage to mostly power through and keep our stops to a minimum. Well, that didn’t work. Though the kids were pretty good in the car, any time we attempted to drive more than two hours in a row, they started growing restless. So for the bulk of our trip, we resigned ourselves to frequent stops, and it actually wound up giving us the opportunity to see more along the way.

Assigned jobs

Let’s face it: Even with a steady stream of Disney movies, long days in the car can get boring. One thing that helped, however, was giving our kids different “jobs” to do along the way. For example, we tasked our son with looking out for speed limit signs and telling us how fast we were allowed to drive. Our daughters, meanwhile, were told to look out for big trucks on the road, or tell us when they saw animals grazing. These little assignments helped the kids feel engaged, and it also gave us a break from the constant Disney chatter in the background.

Driving off peak

When you’re covering as many miles as we did on our trip, the last thing you want is to sit in traffic every day. That’s why we made sure that any time we were in or near a city, we’d avoid attempting to enter or exit during rush hour. Steering clear of congestion prevented us, as drivers, from getting antsy—which also helped keep the kids calm during those longer stretches.

Though road-tripping with young children isn’t easy, we’re really glad we did it. What tips do you have for surviving long car rides with little ones?

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