For a number of years now, my kids have had the entire week of Thanksgiving off from school. This ends up being a fabulous time to take a family vacation, and since I have recently been in full panic mode about the possible limited number of family vacations we have left due to my oldest starting college next year, we decided to throw caution (and finances) to the wind and take a vacation this year. There was only one small catch: the trip was kicked off with 20 hours of driving. I will not sugar coat this: if you can afford to fly, you should do so, even if it means college will be deferred for a year or so for one or more children.
We did not spring the family road trip on our kids late in life; they are used to it, but that doesn't mean they like it. They know, however, that in order for a family of six that doesn't have access to frequent flier miles to afford some of the trips we've taken, they have to endure the drive. From the time they were infants, we strapped them in the car to drive to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Florida for spring break, just a quick 22 hours away. Later, we expanded our horizons to Colorado and Arizona; during those trips we tried to play up the scenic aspect and the "fun of getting there" angle, with limited success.
We have some great memories from our trips and, in a good year, no particularly negative memories of the drives to and from our destinations. We will never forget the trip when one of our daughters as a toddler started screaming uncontrollably to get her out of her carseat. All we could do was stop in a random parking lot and let her get her stir-craziness out of her system before strapping her back in again. Even this year with less than three hours to go in our trip, we had to make an emergency stop at Target to buy crayons and a Hello Kitty coloring book for my 17-year old (seriously) and "The Hangover" DVD for two others kids to watch (completely inappropriate, I know, but I really did not care what they watched at that point).
One thing that makes the drives slightly more manageable is the fact that we drive through the night. At least this way we kill some time while everyone sleeps. We have it down to a science: we leave after dinner and my husband drives until midnight or so while I catch a few hours of sleep. Then we switch off throughout the rest of the night, changing drivers whenever someone feels even slightly tired. This means, of course, that the driver is the only one in the car who is awake.
Before the advent of that modern marvel called satellite radio and indeed before the iPod even existed, a night driver had to channel surf whatever was available through those dark hours of Kentucky and Tennessee. I am still scarred by the experience of hearing "Rock Me Like a Hurricane" twice in an hour- and this was many years after it should have been heard by anyone. I've found that even satellite radio has its limitations; you tend to feel like you're listening to the same songs over and over, and if you hit on a song you don't like the search begins again. The safest solution is to design your owning listening in preparation for that long road trip.
In addition to prepping a good playlist or two, which I'll get to shortly, this year we accidentally hit on a new option, which I wished I had planned for better: the podcast. One of my sisters is in radio and does a weekly podcast with her radio friend (shout out to The Maggie and Laura podcast, available on iTunes), and I happened to have their most recent "episode" downloaded when we embarked on our trip. Because their show manages to be both family friendly and entertaining, we were able to stretch the 60-minute podcast to almost 90 minutes since we kept pausing to chat and listen to certain parts again. I was only sorry that I had deleted all previous episodes after I had listened to them- damn my efficiency!
When it was my turn to start driving, I was quite grateful for the playlist I've been compiling since I started writing my blog, which I have cleverly entitled "Blog Favorites". Every time I review a new album, I usually come away with between two and four songs that I particularly like, and those are the ones I put on the playlist (I'm assuming everyone else is also compiling a playlist of my favorite songs). Even so, I found that some songs were more conducive to solo night driving than others.
My main piece of advice when compiling your own night driving playlist is to include songs you can sing along to, no matter their tempo, genre or decade of release. Belting out great songs while you drive is a great way to entertain yourself, and because everyone else in the car is asleep you don't have to feel self conscious about your lack of talent. I do have mild concerns that my singing while the other five car members sleep might be reaching their subconscious, not unlike the stories about how people under anesthesia can hear what the doctors and nurses are saying during surgery. Nonetheless, I still recommend the sing-along.
My final piece of advice is to compile a playlist that is family friendly for daytime driving. Again, this will be personal, but I've found that family-friendly movies these days have songs that will be both familiar to the kids and pleasing to the adults in the car. Here are a few to get you started. Disney has a few compilations albums, or you can make your own. Happy trails!
"I'm a Believer" - Smash Mouth ("Shrek")
"Accidentally in Love" - Counting Crows ("Shrek 2")
"You've Got a Friend in Me" - Randy Newman ("Toy Story")
"Real Gone" - Sheryl Crow ("Cars")
"Life is a Highway" - Rascal Flatts ("Cars" and the Tom Cochrane version in "Cheaper By The Dozen")
"Our Town" - James Taylor ("Cars")
"Down to Earth" - Peter Gabriel ("Wall-e")
Postscript: Some unexpected surprises can pop up during the family road trip, particularly if one child, who may or not be a 14-year old boy, develops a touch of the stomach flu or a bit of motion sickness. Please take my advice and keep in your car at all times several gallon sized Ziplock bags, which may come in handy someday just when you need them. After being used, they can simply be zipped shut and tossed in the nearest garbage can- easy! (I will not go into detail about how the sick child stretching out beyond his allotted space can apparently disrupt the equilibrium in the entire car.) If I can save just one family with this message, my efforts have been worthwhile.