Driving with Kids and Pets: Survival Strategies

Whether it’s one long day trip to Grandma’s house or a full-on vacation, driving with kids and pets taxes the patience of even the most Zen parent. Here’s our VroomGirls Guide to making it there in one piece.

By Holly Reich

“In a perfect world, my kids would fall asleep (simultaneously) on a long car trip,” quips Emily Gilligan, a mother of three from Mooresville, North Carolina. Of course, we know that’s not going to happen. For the family’s last ten-hour odyssey to Disneyland, she equipped her Yukon XL with everything from videogames and coloring books to a grab bag of new toys from the dollar section of her super market.

Don’t Leave Anything To Chance

“You have to be organized—that’s the key,” notes the mom of three: two girls, ages four and eight, and an 11-month old baby boy. To make it less confusing, she packs separate bags, one for snacks, another for books and crossword puzzles, and one for movies and music. The baby’s stuff (bottles and formula) stays right behind his car seat, and she puts the stroller on top of all the cargo for easy access.

Smart Snacks

As for nibbles, Gilligan buys snacks that come in small bags (so food doesn’t scatter all over the floor) and passes out water bottles rather than sodas or juice, which can make a big sticky mess.

Now, about that advice to take lots of breaks during a road trip? No way! Sure, keep everyone hydrated, but not TOO much. You don’t want to be making potty stops every 10 minutes.

“We stop for meals but generally try to make it as far as we can. We do rest stops at restaurants, like Cracker Barrel, so we can get small treats like candy and toys.” And to save time, when the family breaks for dinner, Gilligan puts the kids in their PJ’s so they don’t have to change when they get to their destination. Plus, if they are sleeping, the kids can be put right to bed!

Not all Tantrums Come From The Kids

But no matter whether you charm your tikes with new toys, cool movies, or the promise of ice cream sundaes, the kids are always going to go crazy, remarks Gilligan. “On one long trip, my girls had a fist fight in the back seat which resulted in two bloody noses. We had to pull over to quiet them down. Then my husband had a temper tantrum because we lost 40 minutes of travel time!”

Temper tantrums aside, here’s some other coping strategies:

* If you can, divide a long trip into two days and stay at a hotel with a pool so kids little Fido can get plenty of activity.

* Make the trip epic. Supply your older kids with a paper journal or encourage them to make a photo journal of the vacation. (Of course, if they’re obsessed with technology, they can compose it on their smart phone or iPad.)

* For Fido, make sure the fluffy one has plenty of doggie snacks, chewy bones and his favorite toy. Also, if he sleeps on a doggie pad or blanket, bring it so he feels safe and comfortable.

* If you’re traveling with a cat, God help you. Cats don’t typically love road trips, as they’re highly strung and just plain freak out at anything that moves. (I say this as an experienced cat lover!) But if you must bring your cat, do the same as you would with the dog – pack a favorite blanket, toy mouse, their preferred treats. And you might want to pack a leash or cat carrier for those tricky car – hotel transfers.

* Pack coloring books with WASHABLE crayons and markers. Yes, washable. You don’t want stains on your interior. If all else fails, baby wipes are a great way to clean up every surface. And don’t forget to pack plenty of paper towels and Kleenex.

* If you have more than one kid, insisting they share when they’re cranky or tired is tough. Just bring multiples of everything.

* And yes, let them run wild – though, of course, not in a restaurant! Whether it’s after a meal or at a rest stop, encourage exercise (for the whole family) to use up that pent-up energy and get the blood flowing.

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