We took a roadtrip this August from our home in Virginia to Door County, WI (look it up). We took two kids under 5 on a 40 hour car ride round trip and lived to tell the tale so here is how we survived.
1. We packed up the night before and left early. I'm not talking just after breakfast early, I'm talking 6am kindof early. We had the kids sleep in very comfortable clothes the night before, jammies that could pass for clothes so that we didn't have to change them when they woke up. We loaded them into the car while they were still asleep along with their special blankets and lovies and away we went.
2. I packed all kinds of food. I made popcorn and cornbread and sandwiches and cookies. I packed clementines and apples and lots of juice boxes. We made a breakfast out of cornbread and apples at around 9am the first day which means we got in about 3 hours of our drive before we had to stop for food. Not to shabby.
3. Car seat arrangement. We drive a Honda CR-v and I had each kid next to a door with a big basket of toys in between. This basket doubled as a toy box once we got where we were going. We used the space beneath their feet for most of the food we brought, that way it was accessible.
4. Portable DVD player! I love this particular invention. My kids watched Finding Nemo about 7 times on the way to Wisconsin but I'm OK with that. We did turn it off from time to time so that they could enjoy the scenery and we could have some family time together but for the most part, there's not much scenery from the toll road in Ohio and Indiana so bring on Nemo.
5. Think outside the box. When looking for places for your kids to stretch their legs on a road trip, may I just suggest a Walmart during off hours. Think about it. You've got these long aisles for kids to run, it's well lite and if you're there during off hours, there aren't very many people to run into. We did laps around the garden center so that we were getting some "fresh" air as well. The garden center was particularly great because you're outside but it's fenced in so the kids can't get too far from you and run into trouble. That, and the Walmart bathrooms are much nicer than the typical rest stop bathrooms.
6. Don't expect to be able to do more than 12 hours (that includes stops) in a day. If you start traveling at 6am, you're checking into a hotel at 6pm or your kids will be friend and you'll have a bad next day. There are no quick stops with kids, plan on at least 45 minutes for lunch, potty, and run time before you're back on the road.
7th and final tip. Most rules are suspended on vacation. The nutrition police go on strike, the bed time patrol is asleep at the wheel. Even the behavior cop is a bit lax. This is OK! You will run into some trouble because of all of this but it's more important for your kids to be able to get to know the rest of their family and build good memories with them than for them to eat all their veggies or get to bed by 7:30 on the dot. Your kids will understand that the rules kick back in after you get home. And yes, you will probably have a couple of bad behavior days once you get back home but this is to be expected and would probably happen anyway.
There, now you have no good excuse for not heading off to that family reunion in the sticks. Kids do travel and as long as you're cool, they will be cool. Be prepared and all will be well. As always, good luck!