I was more worried about the actual car ride than anything else about the whole vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. Really. Ian and Aaron are decent car riders now, but when they were babies neither liked riding in the car. Lauren, on the other hand, has hated the car since day one and continues to despise the car. She screams 60-80% of the time she spends in the car. We have no idea why. We've tried literally everything we can think to try to make her experience better, but not much has made any difference.
The first thing we did before this trip was prayed. A lot.
The second thing we did was prepare, prepare, prepare. We packed every variety of snack we thought the kids might be interested in eating. We bought new little toys, activities, and DVDs, which I wrapped in wrapping paper to extend the fun a little bit. We rearranged the car seats so that an adult could sit in the middle row and attend to the children better. We also had all the "usual" things like layered clothing, blankies, lovies, pillows, milk cups, water bottles, etc. I spent months getting all the stuff together for the trip. As soon as we got over Christmas, I started gathering the things we were going to take on the trip with us.
The third thing we did was completely load the car (and finish any housework we were planning on doing) the night before we were leaving. In the morning, we got up really early (5 AM), took showers and packed the last minute things like phone chargers and toiletries, and then loaded the drowsy kids into the van. We left the driveway at 6am. We drove in the dark for an hour and I really think this helped with the overall outcome of the trip. By the time we were all ready for our first stop (hungry for breakfast and ready to use the bathroom), we were well on our way! Lauren was tired from being up so early that she took a morning nap and an afternoon nap. We did this both on the way to and from our destination. We also tried to stop every hour and a half to two hours. That's about the maximum for preschooler bladder comfort and also really helped to break up the monotony of riding for hours. We watched for a playplace the entire way to Tennessee so we could let the children play, but we never found one when we were able to stop, but we did let them run in the grassy fields at rest stops. On the way home we did happen to find a McDonald's with a playground so they could play. Just 15 or 20 minutes in a playplace is enough to restart the boring-o-meter on a car trip.
In the end, it was a successful trip. Aside from meals and gas, we only spent a couple dollars in gas stations (Ian really wanted a gatorade toward the end of the ride home and we were desperate to keep the peace! Plus, how could Roger and I both get a pop to drink without allowing Ian to have a drink too?).
Am I anxious to do a road trip like that again? Nope, but I'm so very thankful it went as well as it did. I fully believe that our meticulous preparations made all the difference. So if you're wishing that you could take a vacation with a child who doesn't like riding in the car, I say, give it a shot...but make sure you put in the time in your preparations for the trip. Leave nothing to chance! We even had a barf bucket in the car! Don't forget the baby tylenol and something to block the sunshine from coming in the windows!