Some parents of twins cope with newborn chaos by camping out at home. We survived by staying on the move and buckling up for the wild ride ahead. We warmed up by strolling our twins home from the hospital, ramped it up with daily walks in Central Park, and by two weeks old launched into our first mini road trip: 75 miles from New York City to New Hope, Pennsylvania.
We discovered rest stops and scenic turn-offs we never knew existed as we tried to calm a chorus of newborn tears with side-of-the-road breastfeeding, messily mixed formula, diaper changes in the trunk and (finally) me sitting between the car seats where the babies could cling to my index fingers.
We navigated our double stroller over the bridge from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and into a restaurant with outdoor seating that we had frequented as a married couple. All I remember is trying to juggle babies, bottles, breasts and what I’m sure was a delicious meal that mainly ended up in a to-go box. (Note to multitasking diners, order something you can eat without a knife. Bonus if you can inhale your meal with just one hand.)
It seemed like the only way the babies would stop crying was to feed them, so that’s what we did. In hindsight, our little ones were probably just exhausted. Blessing upon blessings, they slept the entire way home.
Wearing the twins in our carriers probably would have simplified our journey. We actually tried our carriers on for the first time before leaving our apartment—but we were too intimidated by all the straps and buckles and figured we had enough variables on this outing without the added hurdle of figuring out new baby gear. Now whenever a new mom friend hesitates to try her carrier, I come alongside to help her position the baby and get comfortable with the setup. Parenting is not for the proud—we need all the help (and gear) we can get!
Our New Hope adventure was a test run for a five-hour drive to Vermont a few weeks later. Since then, we’ve set out on road trips once or twice a month, playing the maddening game of trial and error to address the inevitable tantrums, whining, hunger, accidents, throw up, boredom, spills and nap-disturbing laughing fits we face on the road.
Five years later and hundreds of hours of family drive time under our seatbelts, I’ve gathered a few tips to share with fellow parents before they pack the trunk for their own adventures.
Pack a backpack for each kid with their essential items: lovey, activity book (Usborne wipe-clean books and Melissa and Doug Water Wow books are great), change of clothes, water bottle, and snack. Store it within the kid’s reach to encourage independence and so you don’t have to repeatedly contort your body from the front seat.
Store a clean-up bag in your car for spills and accidents. It could include wipes, paper towels, upholstery cleaner, empty plastic bags, Band-Aids, spare burp cloths, and a portable potty.
Plan to make way more stops than road-tripping adults need. To minimize stops, limit liquids in the car. This also means thinking strategically about snacks. Eating salty chips and crackers will make everyone thirsty and need more bathroom breaks. We try to avoid mindless snacking and use it, instead, to extend drive time an extra half hour. A loaf of bread works wonders.
If kids are legitimately hungry, they will eat a slice and it will tide them over until mealtime. If they were just requesting a snack out of boredom, they will probably skip the bread. When you do stop, make sure everyone uses the bathroom—the only exception being sleeping children.
Have kids’ music on hand for when you need to change the mood of the whole car. Music Together CDs have been a lifesaver since my twins were little. At 10 months old they would immediately stop fussing when the “Hello Song” played. Other favorites include music from Vacation Bible School and The Wiggles.
Time driving with naps and bedtime. The drive will go so much faster if at least one kid is asleep! To avoid disturbing a sleeping child during quick stops, use the trunk as an additional exit option and leave the car running and music playing.
Keep the kids’ minds engaged with a game of I Spy or a road sign letter scavenger hunt. My son loves it when we ask him math questions (for instance, “What is 22 + 24?” or “What if Zachary had four cookies and gave one to each sister. How many would he have left?”) My daughter loves animal questions (“I’m thinking of an animal that flies and is nocturnal. What could it be?”) My one-year-old loves when my husband uses her stuffed animals play peek-a-boo from behind the front seat.
Clip a pacifier to baby’s car seat strap or seat belt so when it pops out you know where to start looking.
Use GPS to estimate your arrival time. Answering the “How many minutes until we get to the restaurant?” question with a specific, updating number is far less annoying than a repeated chorus of, “Are we there yet?” Better yet, establish an ETA and let your older kids do the math to figure out how many minutes until you will arrive.
Run a mini bedtime routine at your dinner stop. Change the kids into pajamas and brush/floss teeth so that when you arrive at your destination, the kids can just do a quick potty check before jumping into bed. Make sure you have the right footwear to work with whatever PJs you pack. For example, bring boots to fit over footed PJs or an extra set of socks if your daughter changed out of tights.
Pack all this bedtime prep gear in a big bag along with your diaper bag, milk, or other items you’ll need inside. Then you can quickly exit the car (and make a mad dash for the bathroom) instead of shuffling through luggage to find your supplies.
If your child gets carsick, teach them to hold and aim for a plastic bag. Younger kids can wear a bib or even a trash bag with holes cut out for their head and arms, like a poncho. As soon as it’s safe to do so, switch to a front-facing car seat. Time and choose your food wisely because whatever goes in will be the aroma of the day if it comes back out.