One of the reasons why my husband chose to live in Santa Fe is because his parents live half the year in Phoenix, Arizona as “snow birds.” We frequently use this as an opportunity to escape Santa Fe’s winter weather. Grandma and grandpa enjoy seeing the grandkids and we love the “free babysitting” service. The warmer weather allows the girls to escape being cooped up indoors in Santa Fe and there are many things to see and do. While there are many reasons WHY we go to Phoenix, what continues to evolve is HOW we get there.
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding how to travel with your twins. It is no small feat getting through an airport with all the necessary items. While you have more space for gear if you take the car, your little ones might not take kindly to being strapped into their seats for hours on end- especially if they are still rear facing and not old enough to be easily distracted by toys and videos. Then there are nap times, feeding schedules, and costs of transport to take into account. It is not always easy to decide which way is the best to travel, and that answer may change as your children grow.It takes approximately 8 hours to drive from our house to Phoenix without stopping. The first time we made the trip with our 2 month olds it took us 11 hours. They were young enough that they did fine and slept much of the trip, but there were frequent stops for feedings and diaper changes. As they got a little older, road trips became more challenging. The girls would cry more, especially once the sun went down. It was very difficult to soothe them and keep moving. Driving in a car with a wailing child is not fun!
We decided it was time to fly. From about 6 months until they turned 2 years, we chose the 1 hour flight and the challenges it posed to the long road trips with crying children. We would take shorter trips by car, but would avoid long road trips whenever possible. This was a sanity saving maneuver for us and it worked. (For more on flying with infants and toddlers, please see our other articles on flying with twins.)
Something changed just before our girls turned 2 years old. While I suspect there are a number of reasons that they were suddenly road trip champions, there is one that stood out above the rest. It was at that time that we changed their car seats to face forward. Once they could see the world zipping by through the windows, the girls became much happier car travelers. Their development also contributed. We were able to talk about what we were seeing through the windows and this evolved into educational fun sessions. We took a 2500 mile road trip through Italy just before our girls turned 2 years old. They were still too young to be distracted by Ipads and videos, but there was very little crying despite the amount of time spent in the car. (Elmo and Curious George would become our saviors a few months later.) Once the girls turned 2, with them now being road trip champions, we prefer to drive to Phoenix rather than pay for 4 plane tickets.
HOW DO WE DO IT?
Schedule. When is the best time to drive? This depends on multiple items: your schedule, kids’ nap/feeding schedules, length of drive, how your kids tolerate car travel, etc. While your kids will invariably get off their routine on all long trips, it is usually fairly easy to get them back on track. We often leave shortly after breakfast and have the girls catch a nap in the car before stopping for lunch, playing (I hate to say it, but thank you McDonalds for your play areas), and climbing back in the car. We have also left in the evening to allow the girls to sleep during most of the trip. Be creative and use whatever works best for you and your little ones.
WHAT TO BRING?
1. iPad/tablet/CD player/visual content :
We follow the guidelines of the American Pediatrics Association that toddlers should not be exposed more than an hour to TV per day. In fact, our girls were rarely exposed to TV at all before age 2 unless we were traveling. When we are at home they might watch 30 minutes total of Elmo, Curious George, or other educational cartoons in a day. They enjoy it and it is a reward for good behavior. When we are on the road, these rules go out the window.
We strongly recommend getting an Ipad or other tablet for travel with young twins. While there is limited memory(in the tablet), you can play the same 1 or 2 favorites over and over to the endless delight of your child. We bought a video from Itunes called “The best of Elmo 2” and so far that was the best $10 that we ever spent. It keeps them entertained as long as it is on no matter how many times we replay it. It is our emergency distraction. Even when things look dire and a meltdown is approaching, it saves the day. Beware loading up new videos before a trip. Bring your child’s trusted favorites as you never know if they will like something new.
As opposed to CD players, tablets also allow for educational games, drawing programs, and books in 1 portable device when you are flying or traveling in a manner during which you can interact with your child. Some of these functions are more difficult while driving with young twins, but will be good entertainment once they are a bit older and can play without your help and supervision.
We are not saying that you play videos continuously when traveling- far from it. We rarely if ever allow more than 2 hours of video in any trip. It is simply one of many things you can do to keep your children entertained while you are on the move and it can be a life saver when there is a Chernobyl incident in the making.
Do not forget to bring the tablet charger, AC adapter, or extra battery(ies)!
2. Go to a dollar store or a dollar aisle at Target and get new toys. I bought indestructible toys like dinosaurs or maracas. I will not spend more than $4 total. When they get bored or cranky, bring out these new toys as a surprise. Don’t put all the new toys where they can reach themselves. Offer to them when they are getting cranky. The goal here is to have something inexpensive. Kids this age love to explore new things, they don’t care if they are cheap.
3. Hardcover books. My girls love books. Make sure it is hardcover so they won’t eat them as it is hard to supervise while driving. Offer the books when they ask for them and/or when they start to fuss. Toddlers get bored easily so have a number of small options to keep them occupied.
4. Bring healthy snacks like crackers, fruit, dried fruit, sausage or cheese. Don’t bring sugary or messy snacks. Do not bring unfamiliar foods. Road trips are not the best place to try something new (except for toys). I use a little container for each of them (2″ tall) so they can grab it without making much of a mess. There are various ‘spill proof’ containers that toddlers can use to minimize spills. That said get a powerful hand vacuum to clean up your car after road trips.
5. Bottles for us were an emergency backup plan when traveling until our girls turned 2 years old. Even when we were transitioning to sippy cups, we would bust out the bottles when traveling. They helped soothe the savage beasts when crying on the plane, in the car, and in our lodging. We found them especially useful in getting the girls to sleep when jetlagged. In short, it was our emergency plan before they had the attention span for videos. A couple of rules are that we only gave our girls milk, formula, or water and water almost exclusively if they got a bottle during a nap or at night (to protect their teeth). You should not be letting your kiddos sleep with milk/formula/juice in the bottle. Always have plenty of water, milk/formula, and as many bottles as you need (we would usually bring 4 or 5) in case of emergency.
We stopped giving them bottles at age 2, but this was a critical aid when traveling until that time. Now we bring sippy cups with water. We use spill proof sippy cups and invested in bottle strings so that even if they throw the cups, they are still hanging from their car seat so they can reach them without assistance.
6. Have more supplies than you should need for the trip readily available in your diaper bag (we keep ours behind the passenger seat in the car on the floor). This includes snacks, drinks, diapers, wipes, cloths, medicines, and 2 extra sets of clothes (It is always wise to have 2 portable emergency sets of clothes in case of accidents. We used little jumpsuits folded into a ziplock bag. If there is a disaster you wash off the baby, rinse the clothes, and put the dirty clothes inside the ziplock to be cleaned later.) You goal is to have everything you need so you don’t have to open any suitcases before you get to your destination.
7. Bring a favorite toy, stuffed animal or blanket. The girls love their stuffed bears from grandpa. These bears come with us on all flights and road trips.STOPS :
1. Meal stops: When the girls were young, we had to stop every 2-3 hours for them to feed. Now, we only stop 1 or 2 times during the 8 hour drive- usually around lunch time. This will undoubtedly change again once they are potty-trained. We are not a fan of eating at fast food restaurants, but travel is an exception to the rule. It is a quick and convenient meal and there is a place to change the kids before setting out again. As an added bonus, many McDonalds restaurants have a play area that lets toddlers stretch their legs and gets them ready for an after lunch nap. We are certainly not endorsing frequent fast food, but a rare stop in the middle of a long trip has its advantages.
2. During our bathroom break stops our twins usually stay in their seat while mom and dad take turns going to the restroom.
Overall, the girls only come out of the car once for the whole 9 hour journey (including stops) unless they are in need of a diaper change or there is another unexpected emergency. We just get them excited about meeting Grandma and Grandpa and restart some form of entertainment. Certainly, if there is no rush, your trip is not too long, and/or it is a beautiful day there is no harm in getting your little ones out a few times to see things, walk/toddle, play, and stretch their legs. Just beware that they might not be happy when you get them back into their carseats!
The last three trips that we took at the age of 24, 25 and 26 months ended up with no tears at all. Sometimes we felt like it was just the two of us in the car. The girls were amazingly well-behaved during the 9 hour trips.MORE TIPS :
1. You don’t have to rely on toys and videos. You can play games, sing songs, and just talk about things you can all see from the car. Songs such as “Old MacDonald” or “Five Little Monkeys Swinging in the Tree” can make the miles fly by.
2. Explain to them about why we are taking a road trip and who are we going to meet or what they will see. Teach them that sitting in the car is the way to get to someplace fun (Grandma’s house, Auntie’s house, etc.).
3. Point out to them if you see trains, school buses, fire engines or anything that they will enjoy seeing. At this age, everything is a learning experience!
4. If despite your best efforts there is a meltdown, pull over at a safe spot to make sure there isn’t an easily fixable problem (hungry, thirsty, fever, dirty diaper). Try your “go to move” to attempt to get the child calmed down. If everything fails, you might have to keep driving (with the child in the car seat) despite the crying. This isn’t fun for anyone, but the child is usually just over tired and will often cry him/herself to sleep.
5. Please do not take the children out of their car seats for feedings, soothing, or any reason when the car is moving. This is exceptionally dangerous and can lead to injury or even the death of your child. Never, EVER adjust or unbuckle the car seat for any reason with the car moving. Find a nice safe place to pull over, stop the car, and address whatever issue needs to be fixed. There is nothing more important than your child’s health and there is no need to risk it.