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Tips for Surviving Long Car Rides With Kids

Erin Zammett Ruddy

We’ve been up in New Hampshire this week for an end-of-summer lakeside vacay. Tomorrow we get in the car for the seven-hour ride home. I need help with that. Here’s why.  

Yes, I’m on vacation again. I decided semi-last-minute to join my extended family up at their lake house in super-rural New Hampshire. It’s a place I spent many summers as a kid and haven’t been back to in over 15 years. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to revisit all the amazing memories and make new ones with Nora and Alex. Nick stayed home to work (someone has to keep the Ruddy ship afloat) so last Saturday I drove up with my kids and my mom and met the crew. It’s a six-hour drive that took us just over seven with traffic and stops. It wasn’t torture at all, though we had our moments.

Pre kids I was a great road tripper. I went to school in Tennessee and made the drive back and forth to New York often and without much harumphing. At the very least it was an excuse to daydream and eat gas station junk food. I also rarely stopped. I like to make good time, record time if at all possible so that I can then regale everyone with my driving/directional/bladder prowess (it’s a family trait that our respective spouses don’t quite get). It helps that I rarely have to pee. The fact that Nick has to pit stop more than me is a real issue in our marriage. Anyway, the point is, I used to love driving places. But with kids—my super spirited ones in particular—I’m finding that road trips, like most things, aren’t what they used to be.

On the way up, my mom drove and my full-time job was to keep the kids entertained. My mom has a big car with one of those built-in DVD players I refuse to ever have in my car but was happy to utilize for this ride. I told the kids we couldn’t turn it on until we got over the bridge and then we popped in A Bug’s Life and had semi quiet for a while. Maybe 10 minutes before Nora had an issue with her earphones, an issue that would pop up every five minutes for the duration (the issue: she was turning the earphones off and then telling me she couldn’t hear). Alex would have watched back-to-back movies and been fine but Nora is immune to TV and pretty much just wanted to eff with shit the entire ride. The kids “watched” one movie and then a bit of another but the part of me that doesn’t agree with so much tubing out, turned it off for the last two hours. This is the part of me that idealized car rides as a kid. Back in the day we never had TV, we played games, we talked, we entertained ourselves, we used our imaginations! Meanwhile, I recall the Zammett sisters’ favorite car-trip game going something like this: We’d bite each other’s fingers until someone shouted mercy or my mom freaked out on us. Kids are kids and car rides with kids are always going to be a tad stressful. Right?

I spent much of the ride turning around and dealing with some crap or another. For a while we sang songs, we played the alphabet game, we played the car game (everyone picks a color and whoever sees the most cars in that color wins), we even made up games—one point for spotting a kayak, two points for a canoe, five for a jet ski, 10 for a motor boat. In between the flashes of good old-fashioned car ride fun, there was a lot of screaming (the kids, not me for the most part) and disciplining and begging of the children to please behave. They were far apart but not so far that they couldn’t reach for the same things to fight over (a flashlight, a bottle of water, a piece of garbage). I thought I’d been prepared—I brought snacks, I had stickers, I had games, I even had a damn porta potty. My friend had showed me her porta potty recently so I ordered one off Amazon. It came in handy when we pulled over at a rest stop on 95 and the line for the women’s room stretched out the door of the entire place. Nora loved using it and so did Alex. In a pinch, I would have given it a shot too. Overall, we did OK and emerged relatively unscathed. Still, it was a long ride.

We are leaving tomorrow (so sad—best week ever!), and I’m hoping for some tips for making it a bit easier. The good thing is the kids are so exhausted from our week of fun (stay tuned for photo highlights next week!) that they will both surely sleep for at least a few hours. Last time they hung on the entire seven hours without so much as a nod. Do you ever take road trips? How do you pull it off? Any go-to moves that make it semi easier? Apart from the DVDs I didn’t pack any electronics other than our iPad, which I never took out for some reason. Oh yeah, my kids would have beat the shit out of each other over it. Am I crazy to think they should look out the window and reminisce about all the adventures we had?