I don’t mean to brag, but I’m kind of an expert on miserable car rides. From short trips to the grocery store with a screaming baby in tow, to a 14-hour drive through wintry weather with two exhausted little ones, I have substantial street cred to offer the following no-nos:
1. Don’t leave at a stupid time.
If you are going to be in the car for more than say, five minutes, every time is pretty much a stupid time. I thought that leaving Ohio at 3 a.m. would mean I could still get in some decent shuteye and the kids would be zonked for the first half of the trip back to South Carolina. In reality, the kids never fell back asleep and expressed their hatred for me for the next eight hours at intermittent intervals, you know, to keep things interesting.
2. Don’t be dumb about cars.
If you are a parent and hold a profession other than mechanic, you probably never knew anything about cars or had to delete what little knowledge you had to make room for knowing which YouTube video your child is referencing when he asks to watch “the dinosaurs in the box.”
So when your “low tire pressure” light dings on and you don’t know what to do, the kids will scream the entire time you are taking a wild guess at which tire needs air and how much air it needs while standing in the cold at a Kentucky gas station at 4 a.m.
3. Don’t limit the technology you bring.
I have two kids. I brought one tablet. I thought the 4-year-old would hold the device in such a way that they could both enjoy the PBS shows we have seen no fewer than 500 million times.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I had to give the 18-month-old my phone and subsequently racked up our data usage and lost my connection to people in the outside world.
Side note: Yes, my child gets screen time, despite being younger than the TV-appropriate age as outlined by the American Society of People Who Make You Feel Bad About Your Choices. Let me tell you something, letting her watch a few shows does far less damage than the destruction that would occur if an exhausted mommy had to listen to nonstop screaming for an eight-hour car ride.
4. Don’t get lost.
The thing about driving through the Tennessee and North Carolina mountains is that there are long stretches with few potty options. You may have to go off-roading a bit in order to find someplace to go, taking a few turns along the way.
If you gave your phone to a toddler who got ticked off that Daniel the Tiger kept freezing when Internet signals were sparse in the mountains so she threw the phone into the absolute disaster that is the back of the car, then you have lost your navigation to piles of dirty clothes, smelly shoes and gifts from the grandparents, and, obviously, you have tugged even harder at your last thread of sanity.
5. Don’t have any expectations.
Never, ever assume that you will arrive at your destination at a certain time, that you will stop at a certain point to take a break, that you will put all garbage in a bag in the front seat, that the kids will eventually fall asleep for part of the ride, that Starbucks will be open (CURSES!), that the weather will be good, that you don’t really need to bring ibuprofen with you, that a few granola bars and baggie of cereal is enough food for all of you, that sharing one water bottle is a good idea because it saves space or that you will eventually catch up on your sleep.
Road trips are hard. Road trips with kids are harder. Bring iPads and make sure there is a glass of wine waiting for you at your final destination.