Last weekend all eight of us decided to visit my husband's cousin in Boston so I loaded up the car with both of my kids, my sister-in-law (SIL), and her 9-year-old son. (My husband, SIL's husband and daughter went separately.) While my family has taken cars trips before, it's been a few years. After a 6 1/2 hour drive on Friday and a 5 hour drive back on Monday, I've learned a few lessons from having two talkative boys and one opinionated toddler in the backseat.
1) It's never too early to start asking, "Are we there yet?" We were still within 10 miles of our home when the kids started asking when we would arrive. I was most surprised by Monkey's repeated questioning, and I realized that he probably couldn't talk the last time we went on a trip longer than two hours. Monkey gets bonus points for coming up with so many ways to ask the same question: Why is it taking so long? Why aren't we there yet? When will we get there? How many kilometers have we gone? How many miles are left? and, my favorite, while backed up in traffic, "We should have been there by now."
2) We should have considered flying to Boston. Even though we've survived the unique hell of transatlantic flights with the kids, sitting in a car is different. There are no bathrooms, no attendants bringing drinks and snacks, no individual TVs and no walking around. At least on a flight, I could attend to the kids, but since I was driving through spurts of pouring rain and stretches of crazy traffic (thanks NYC!), I could barely glance back at them.
3) Be realistic about timing. I made the mistake of anticipating a four to five hour drive down to Boston and thought we'd arrive in time for a proper dinner. Wrong. Instead, crawling traffic from NYC gave the illusion we were moving, when in reality, the first 50 miles and the last 170 miles took three hours each.
4) Bring lots of snacks. Since I planned on a shorter drive and a sit-down dinner, I did not bring enough snacks to satisfy the troops. We knew they were bored, not hungry, but a few snacks go a long way to at least keep the kids from asking 20 more variations of the, "Are we there yet" questions.
5) Have a co-pilot. Since our family doesn't have a car and since I've only driven to Boston once, I was not familiar with my route options. The GPS system on my phone was good, but (I think) it changed routes depending on traffic, so I wasn't even sure which highway we were headed towards a few times. Having my SIL as a co-pilot meant she could repeat the directions Siri uttered and as well as verify that Siri hadn't decided we should dodge the Memorial Holiday traffic and go back to Jersey.
6) Stop for a fun rest stop. Despite the fact that we drove several miles off of the highway to get to the rest stop--not knowing that there was one on the highway just a mile down--going to a quaint, non-chain gas station for ice cream and snacks was fun. The employees were nice, the bathroom was clean and we got off the beaten track long enough to reacharge for the rest of the trip. That said, I don't recommend stopping for 45 minutes at a McDonalds (what were we doing there for 45 minutes?) on the way back unless you want to give yourself heart palpitations about the Zipcar late fee.
7) Don't give the kids a DVD player, iPad or smartphone. After Munchkin cried and during arguments between Monkey and his cousin, I can see the argument for some sort of screen time in the backseat. But after the "Are we there yet?" questions and a few admonishments for the boys to be kind, a funny thing happened: The kids stopped pestering us and started talking to each other. They laughed and chattered away for long stretches, getting to know each other as cousins should. They also napped and looked out the window and asked questions about the sights we passed along the way.
8) Choose great company. I don't know where I would have ended up had my SIL not been there to help me with directions and distract the kids. We all sang songs together--some in Hindi (okay, I didn't sing those), some in English. My nephew kindly entertained Munchkin for much of the trip, impressing me with his patience. Monkey, with his questions, impressed me with his persistance. In the end, we not only got to know our family in Boston better, but we got to know everyone in the car better and, more importantly, we all still like each other. Amazing.