Although I consider myself an expert in many areas of parenting, like how to maximize the longevity of boxer shorts or use a double dose of cough syrup for any ailment, I have exceptional authority on long-distance travel with boys. Summer has arrived and families are loading up to hit the road. As a result, here are six road-tested tips to keep the adults sane and the kids happy on your summer family vacation.
There's no doubt satellite radio, a cooler on wheels, DVD players with headphones, and audio-books are all good bets to make a family road trip more comfortable. But the stakes are just a bit higher when traveling with boys in a small, confined space for hours while simultaneously operating a large motor vehicle on unfamiliar roads at speeds of 75 mph. Parental sanity, not comfort, tends to be the priority.
Tip Number 6: Rolling Backpacks
Rolling backpacks allow kids to haul their own stuff, even if it's heavy. No more: "It's too hea-----vy. Can you puh-lease just carry it?" Each boy needs his own rolling backpack for his electronic game systems, chargers, books, blankie, and stuffed animals. Any purchased souvenirs must fit in the rolling backpack which makes saying "no" to rifles, coneheads and large rocks pretty easy. Pulling a rolling backpack inhibits kids from running too far ahead, so you can keep up, and your blood pressure can stay down.
Tip Number 5: Jobs for All
As a single mom, I can't do it all, so every boy chooses a job for the trip. My youngest is the Lookout. He looks for bad guys, lightning, curves in the road, and booby traps. His job requires binoculars and a much needed diagram indicating his left and right.
My middle son is the Recorder. He records unusual sightings like a bear peeing or a running cantaloupe (turned out to be an antelope.) He's responsible for writing down shopping lists, fast food orders, and game scores. His tallies of buffalo poop piles and creative abbreviations like J.C. (just ketchup) keep us laughing.
My oldest is the Navigator which requires attention to detail and excellent computer skills. Who needs Siri when I have my own Go-to-Guy? Before I can spit out the question, he's got the answer: "Got it, Mom! Check it out in 3-D." Sketch Artist, DVD Master, Fart-Counter, Snack Man, and Mr. Muscles are some additional popular jobs.
Tip Number 4: Scooters or Ripsticks
Boys feel the need for speed. They are physically incapable of being restrained and confined for hours at a time. And as a parent, unless I have some strong happy pills, I, too, am incapable of being confined for a lengthy period of time with them. Don't fight nature. Accept it. Although a stop at a park to swing or climb a jungle gym is a nice respite, ten laps at full speed on a scooter or Ripstick around an empty church parking lot provides a faster and more satisfying energy release. Park the car. Turn up the tunes. Let 'em ride. Not sold? Scooters and Ripsticks never get flat tires or lose a chain. Pack the scooters, rent bikes at the destination.
Tip Number 3: Luggage Carts
After a long day of driving, a cluster of luggage carts in a hotel lobby is a welcome sight. Kids are so wired to get out of the car, I let them each have a luggage cart and completely pretend not to know them as I check-in at the front desk.
Let them unload the car, one item at a time and make as many elevator trips as possible. Let them use luggage carts as over-sized skateboards, jungle gyms and bumper cars. The longer you can put off going to that gross, under-chlorinated hotel pool full of strangers, the better.
Tip Number 2: Gum
It's a fact that cars become quieter when kids chew gum. Boys can't yell or shout with six pieces of bubble gum in their mouths. They chew the gum. They add more gum. They talk about their gum. They compare gum. They inquire about others' gum. They blow bubbles. They add more gum and repeat the process.
Chewing gum is an activity in and of itself that lasts longer than Tic-Tac-Toe, I Spy or any coloring book. So moms, don't be stingy with the gum! Don't be tempted to save the gum for a meltdown or moment of desperation. Gum is your friend. Leverage their love of gum.
Kids never tire of gum. After chewing gum all day, when presented with a mouth-watering dessert tray in a restaurant, my youngest politely asked, "Do you have any gums? I'll just have a gum."
And My Top Traveling Tip: Gatorade
Large, plastic bottles of Gatorade are the number one must-have for any long trip with boys. Gatorade containers are so big, kids never ask for more! No one complains of thirst or fights over the last one. When the first boy finishes his Gatorade, the discarded, wide-mouthed jug conveniently becomes the communal urinal. Peeing in the car results in hours of fun and conversation for boys: "Mom, want some Gatorade?" "I think I'm stuck."
When a jug of Gatorade is in the car, the driver can relax knowing there will be no pressure to find a bathroom "Now!!! Not five minutes, Mom, now!" Your car now has a fully functioning urinal.
Say goodbye to finding crumpled, 6-ounce juice boxes and cellophane straw wrappers all over the back seats. Say hello to reducing your family's carbon footprint by bringing Gatorade on your next family road trip with boys. Warning: this tip could be disastrous with girls.
It can be frustrating, exhausting and down-right crazy when a family takes to the road together. All the planning in the world will still result in multiple not-the-end-of-the-world disasters. But few things in life are better than sharing an adventure with the ones we love! Hit the road and have a blast.... now where is that damn Alaska license plate?