I feel like that should sum everything up in and of itself–WHEW. WHEW, that was a trip. WHEW, I can’t believe we did that. WHEW, did I mention the part where we drove for 21 hours straight because a snow storm was coming?
See, we decided this year to pack the kids up and drive down to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with Kyle’s family, largely because (a) flying five people round trip to Texas is very expensive, and (b) we hadn’t been to Texas since before the twins were born. That meant that the twins hadn’t yet met a LOT of Kyle’s family, and I’m not a fan of that. And when you factor in that Kyle and I haven’t really spent any major holidays with his family in a very long time, it sort of seemed like a no-brainer to us.
We knew going into it that the trip would be harrowing in a lot of ways, and it was–hell, the last day of the trip was that 21-hour drive straight from Birmingham, Alabama, to our home in Massachusetts to try and outrun the snow storm that was bearing down on us.
(we did outrun it; more on that later)
And here, two days home, I’m exhausted but writing this all down while it’s still fresh in my mind because we learned a lot, and I want that to exist somewhere for me to see or for someone else to see. Hence: what we’ve learned about traveling with three children under the age of 6.
#1. Rent a bigger car than you think you’ll need, and pick it up the day before you leave.
My father-in-law graciously offered to help us pay for the rental car, since our minivan, much though I love it, is something of a fossil. I don’t mind trusting it when we’re within a tank of gas from the house (read: up to Maine, down to New York, that sort of thing), but if we’re halfway across the country, I get concerned. The problems it could have at this age would lead to us being stranded VERY far from home, so a rental car seemed our best option.
I wanted to be nice and helpful, so I chose the least expensive rental option that could seat seven passengers, and therein lay my first mistake: I didn’t calculate for luggage. We ended up with a fantastic Kia Sorento (P.S. to Kia: your 2020 Sorento is a fantastic car, and I love it and wish it was my car always) that definitely fit all three kids… but we also had to squeeze in two pack n plays, a double stroller, an enormous suitcase, three small day bags, snacks for everyone, puke clean up supplies (more on that in a minute), and Christmas presents. Kyle managed to get everything in on the way down, but on the way back… well, thankfully, my mother-in-law had been planning to ship some of our Christmas gifts to us anyway.
It was a tight fit is what I’m saying.
(I know, they’re forward facing, but just for this trip)
I’d also scheduled the rental to begin on the day we planned to leave–that is, Friday, November 19–figuring that packing the car itself would be much easier and less time consuming than packing the bags.
I was wrong.
I think Kyle and I made record time packing the suitcases on Thursday night. We rolled everyone’s outfits like cake and stuffed suitcases without thinking twice. We had everything we planned to bring all set up by the front door well before we crashed for the night, and we even had time to spend just vegging that evening. The next day, however, even though I went to get the car pretty early, we still didn’t get everything into said car until almost 11:00, largely because we had so much stuff and so little space that Kyle had to play a game of Tetris to make sure it all fit.
(he was okay with it because, as he points out every time we do anything, he was the quartermaster for his Boy Scout troop, and he can make anything fit anywhere)
That late departure followed us for the rest of the day, because…
#2. If you will be driving through a major city, plan your entire day around being stuck in traffic.
…day one was also the drive through New York City. Had we left when I’d expected us to, around 9 a.m., we’d have reached NYC around lunch time and been long gone before rush hour. But we did not. The car needed packing and that took a year, and it was nearly–or even past, I’m not sure which–11:00 by the time we pulled out of our driveway.
And, factoring in one (1) stop for lunch and one (1) stop for a bathroom break just outside the city, we hit New York right as everyone was leaving work the Friday before Thanksgiving.
Weirdly enough, our GPS didn’t direct us around the city, even with knowledge of the snarl we’d gotten ourselves into. I don’t imagine the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is the route around New York City, was much better, and without traffic, that route adds another hour and a half to any given drive through New York. Regardless, we planned poorly and found ourselves scooting along at two-and-a-half miles an hour through Manhattan on the Friday before Thanksgiving.
On the plus side, everyone inside the car remained in mostly good spirits, because what can you do? In that level of traffic (which was obscene, I cannot emphasize this enough), you can’t get off onto side streets because that’ll just make everything worse. You can’t pull over onto the shoulder because the shoulder is taken up by cars already. You just have to put on some music or a podcast you like and hunker down for the long haul and pray that nobody in your car gets car sickness.
We are not so lucky.
#3. If your child has ever gotten car sick, they will get car sick on your trip.
Both of my boys have gotten car sick in the past, but with both of them, Kyle and I thought we’d gotten to the route of the problem and wouldn’t have to worry about puking for the entire trip. Isaac faced forward, which helps him see the horizon (not ideal, but I wanted to do what I could to help him), and we made sure to block sunlight from his face as we drove so he wouldn’t have to deal with the strobe effect.
An hour out from our house, it began, right before we stopped for lunch. We heard a cough, a sob, and then liquid, and sure enough, everything Isaac had eaten so far that day was now on his lap, reminding us that milk before a car trip is always a mistake. We pulled over for lunch, changed his clothes, figured he’d gotten it all out of his system, and carried on.
But it was about to get so much worse.
New York City rush hour traffic is rough on even the most iron of stomachs. The stop-and-go nature of the traffic makes your stomach’s contents lurch dangerously, even if you never get car sick. If you do get car sick, you are so deeply, wretchedly, horribly screwed.
Thus, about 10 minutes into our scoot through New York City, Isaac threw up. And did so another five times before we left the city.
I’m proud of us because we didn’t give him milk at lunch, but I’m annoyed because we didn’t plan for his pukeyness happening more than once that day. Usually, he gets the Treatment: Benadryl (which has the same active ingredient as Dramamine, the more you know), a bib of some sort to cover his clothes, and several rolls of paper towels at our disposal. For some reason, though, we didn’t expect him to keep throwing up after the first time, so when we buckled him back in after lunch, it was without any of those things.
We eventually pulled off into some really shitty service plaza just off the George Washington Bridge so that we could get Isaac cleaned up and so that Sam and I could stretch our legs a bit. We’d gotten to New York City at around 3, and by the time we stopped, it was past 6. AUGH!
It didn’t end there, though, oh no. On the drive back, Isaac started puking again, though we were prepared for him this time, with bibs and paper towels and such. We were not, however, prepared for what happened on our last day driving, when Sam’s stomach ache turned into projectile vomit all over the back of the rental car in the middle of the night in North Carolina. Sam hadn’t gotten car sick before that point since he got ear tubes put in when he was about the twins’ age. He had nothing in the back seat to catch the puke or prevent it from going, well, everywhere.
…I totally forgot to tell the car rental place about that. Oops.
But then again, I’m tired because…
#4. You will not get any sleep ever.
This can really be broken down into 4A. No sleep in hotels, and 4B. No sleep because driving; they both play into each other, though.
We brought the twins’ pack n plays with us, but while we were on the road, we may as well have just never used them. Both twins screamed and sobbed until we held them between us in our hotel bed, and though Kyle and I don’t usually bedshare (tl;dr – we are fat people, and though we are trying to lose weight, we have not yet lost enough to fit three children between us in a queen size bed), it was the fastest way to get them to sleep.
And that would’ve been fair! Except as anyone who’s ever bedshared knows, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not the parents get any sleep throughout the night. The last night in the last hotel, the twins arranged themselves horizontally between us, giving Kyle and I each about 6” of bed space, so we spent our precious few hours in bed trying very hard not to fall off and make a loud noise that would wake up everyone (including Sam, who was very much about sleeping whenever we were in a hotel).
(look at all that space they left for us!)
Even when they weren’t making us into a human H, the twins found ways to make themselves comfortable at our expense. I woke up the second morning of the drive because Carrie was desperately trying to meld her head with mine or make my head softer or SOMETHING; basically, she was driving her head into my head. And my GOD did that ever hurt. Isaac, meanwhile, would wake up in the middle of the night and just be patting me all over and giggling to himself as the excess skin he gave me jiggled for his amusement. Very funny when I’m awake; kind of a nuisance when I’m asleep.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if the driving hadn’t been exhausting, but it was. Our New York day set us up for awful driving schedules; we didn’t get to our hotel that night until well past 2 a.m., and the following morning, we slept in and spent more hours than we should have washing Isaac’s clothes in the hotel’s laundry facilities. And because of that, we didn’t get to the next night’s hotel until well past 2 a.m., and even when we got an earlyish start on the third day, we still didn’t get to our final destination until past 10 at night.
I thought I’d planned our days so well, but I didn’t realize…
#5. The unexpected will happen.
I mean, that’s just life with kids, but it still hits you like a ton of bricks when it does happen.
On the way down, it was the NYC traffic kerfluffle that messed us up and had ripple effects for the rest of the drive. We had a marvelous visit in Texas that included an early Christmas, a late birthday date, and a delightful Thanksgiving feast; and all too soon, it was time to leave again.
Which… well, rewind for a minute. When we’d started talking about this trip, my in-laws had worried that we’d run into a blizzard during the drive, which made me sensibly chuckle.
Southern New England–and especially the regions we’d drive through on later days–doesn’t really see huge amounts of snow this early in the season. We may get flurries on Thanksgiving, but the last time I remember there being appreciable snow in late November/early December, I was nine. We can typically plan for December through January to be cold but dry or rainy at the most, and for most of the snow to dump on us in February and March. The idea, therefore, of a blizzard hampering our travel over Thanksgiving was a bit silly.
But then, of course, because we’d said aloud that we weren’t worried about snow, the forecasts started talking about a snowstorm. A big snowstorm. Upwards of a foot of snow, maybe more, and ice and mixing stuff, all along the 95 corridor, which is where we’d be driving.
When we left Texas, the day after Thanksgiving, Kyle and I had no idea what we wanted to do about this mess. Should we try and hunker down somewhere until the snow was gone? Should we stick to our plan and hope for the best? Should we leave super early on the final day of our drive and pray we’d beat the storm by enough of a margin that it wouldn’t be a big deal?
We didn’t make our decision until the very last second, when we’d stopped for supper at QuikTrip in Charlotte, North Carolina. We still had another six or so hours before we could turn in for the night, but we didn’t know if anything else would come up before we reached our hotel. We’d need to spend another half hour or so getting everyone settled in the hotel once we arrived, and then we’d have to get up and start driving by 3 a.m. if we wanted to beat the storm and the traffic.
So we bit the bullet and said, “You know what? Let’s just drive straight on through.”
I went back into the QuikTrip and stocked up on overnight snacks. We vaguely planned out our shifts but mostly just planned to switch drivers whenever we got too tired to keep our eyes open OR whenever we stopped for gas. I agreed to take the first shift and downed a grape Extra Strength Five Hour Energy, and we were off on what would end up being a 21-hour driving day.
And honestly? It was probably one of the easier days we had. The twins and Sam slept through most of it, and Kyle and I were able to switch out our shifts with relative ease. And I’m proud of myself–while Kyle snored obliviously beside me, I successfully navigated the highways and byways of both Washington, D.C., and New York City–albeit, in the small hours of the morning, so the streets were mostly empty.
Every time we looked at the road around us, we agreed that we’d made the right choice. We zipped through the Jersey Turnpike without so much as a drop of rain falling on the car; the Jersey Turnpike promised to be slick with ice the next day. As I drove through New York City, I came across an enormous truck that had failed to heed the warning signs blasting across the previous six miles of road that the bridge was too short; the truck had crumpled like a soda can, and the police were only just setting up flares around him. I can only imagine what that did to traffic afterwards.
By the time the first snow started falling, we’d been home for five hours. Kyle and I had both enjoyed naps in our own bed. We got a pizza from our favorite local place for dinner and stayed warm and safe throughout the worst of the storm. It was a great decision.
But I am still tired.
In the end, though, I have no regrets. I’ll absolutely do things differently next time–rent a minivan, pick it up the day before we leave, cover Isaac and Sam in tarps (Carrie, bless her, did so well in the car with her only complaint being a lack of cuddling), leave at midnight to avoid NYC traffic, and just plan for everything that could possibly go wrong to do so–but I don’t regret this trip or anything that happened on it. We had an amazing time! From Sam exclaiming in delight that he saw “trillions of lights” in New York City to Kyle and I giggling in a sleep-deprived giddiness as we pulled up to our house at the end, it was an amazing trip, and I can’t wait to do it all again.