Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Traveling with kids

A few weeks ago, Mark and I loaded up the girls and one of our three dogs and headed to my family's ranch in the Hill Country to visit with relatives and clear as many cedar trees as humanly possible. It was a "vacation" but it was also a test, of sorts, to gauge whether or not we really want to drive to Santa Fe for the Christmas holidays.

This was the second time that we'd attempted a long-distance drive with a 3-year-old and 9-month-old and it was just as tiring. Unlike our last long-distance trip - to Port Isabel, Texas (about as far south as you can get without crossing into Mexico)- we only had 7 hours in the car, but we we did the drive in two days so we could pick up my dune buggy in Austin. The other reason was so we wouldn't have to drive the "roller-coaster" at night.

As my friends with kids can attest, traveling with kids is no trip to the zoo. Or maybe it is? As we were half-way home to Dallas and I had read every book in the truck, sung Row Row Row Your Boat until my lips were numb, and fed each girl enough snacks to feed the entire family, I suddenly understood why my parents drove through the night as often as possible. It was because my brother and I would sleep most of the way. They'd drive and drive and drive, occasionally stopping by the side of the road or at a rest stop to catch a couple hours sleep while we remained completely passed out in the playpen in the back of the van.

There's my parents' other secret weapon, which unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on your point of view - is a relic of the 80s. My parents traveled with a playpen in the back of our big white van. We also kept a flip-out couch back there, but only when we were going camping or on long car trips. Since car seats weren't yet required, my parents plopped my younger brother and I down in the playpen when it was time to go to sleep, and off to dreamland we went. I have a dim memory of waking up when we pulled into rest stops, but not much more.

Needless to say, I had all this running through my mind when my brother called to ask why we didn't spend more time at the Ranch and my mother asked why we didn't just travel at night. The answer is twofold: first, it's a long way to the ranch. The difference between his 6 hours and our 7 hours is much more than an hour of time. And second, children are required to be belted into car seats.

I don't know about you, but being belted into a seat - whether it's reclining or not - is far from my favorite way to sleep. And unlike when I was a kid, you can't just pop a few sleeping bags and a playpen in the back and hit the road. It's just not allowed. As fun and convenient as it must have been, it's probably better and definitely safer now that car seats are required.

Luckily for us, the two "test" runs were mostly successful and we've decided that we're still going to drive to Santa Fe this Christmas. It'll be about 10 hours - we hope - in who knows what type of weather (we're hoping for sunshine instead of snow and ice) but we'll stop as often as needed and take plenty of munchies. The girls will be 3 1/2 and 1 then, so hopefully, we'll all be able to run around at the rest stops!

Now the only thing left to do is find a 4WD vehicle to rent and get started on our Christmas shopping.