Long Distance Car Travel

Most people would not do what I do when it comes to traveling with a small child – even just traveling alone, actually. I received a lot of interesting responses when I told people I was driving to Nova Scotia (from Pennsylvania), most of them not even realizing I’m traveling it as the only adult with a small child along for the ride. I actually let some people (acquaintance/coworkers) assume that I was flying unless they directly asks to avoid the awkward conversations.
Its not for everyone. and I get that. Not everyone could do it – and not everyone would want to. BUT, it is for me. I wanted my car, I wanted my camping gear, I wanted the flexibility. I knew I could break the trip up to make it manageable, I knew L was flexible and laid back, and I knew that with enough caffeine, I could tackle the driving. I chose Cape Breton Highlands National Park, because it was something unique, different, “exotic” (to me!), but still within driving distance. I also knew Acadia National Park would be a good in between spot to spend a few days in on the return trip. I felt it was about as adventurous as I could get given my situation.
I had similarly driven down to the Florida Keys in January 2016, so I am not a stranger to long driving trips. L was younger then, so my mom and sister flew him down to Miami to meet up with me, and I really broke the return trip up into several destinations – we stayed several nights in several locations through Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. I also grew up traveling to Massachusetts from Pennsylvania several times a year (where my moms family is), and of course, when I lived in Nashville, Louisville and Indiana, I made a lot of long driving trips home. So, that is all to say I may not find driving distances as intimidating as someone who has not been exposed to it the way I have.
So,  how did I do it? I’m lucky enough to have a DVD player in my car, so I stocked up on a few new videos I thought L would like. I’m not a huge fan and screen time – but L gets so little of it otherwise, that I don’t mind letting screen time in the car be largely unlimited. We do what it takes to get where we need to go. Interestingly enough, he wanted to watch the same 6 episodes of Paw Patrol over and over. 🙂 I use my headphones to listen to podcasts or music when he watched something. I also bought several dry erase activities boards (drawing, numbers and letters) and a sticker book (P.S. he put all the stickers all over his shirt lol). Sometimes he will spend a good half hour coloring or “writing” in the car. I sent a snap of him working on his numbers, and my friend responded with “Summer school!” 🙂
I had packed food for the two travels days, so we stopped at a nice rest area for lunch on the first day. Leander ate and then chased butterflies around. While I had packed snacks, we usually bought drinks (more coffee for me!) and occasionally a special treat when we had to stop to get gas or use the bathroom. While for a shorter trip, I would have tried to limit stops – I took the approach of stopping often, taking our time, just getting through. L has a neck pillow, and I had that, his stuff animal and a blanket up with me. He did nap for each of the drives, although sometimes not for very long. He also enjoys just talking – so many questions!! I will usually try to distract him when he gets frustrated or bored by talking about what we can see outside. We drove to Augusta, ME the first day, and stayed in a hotel with a microwave, an outdoor pool and free breakfast. I found it on Expedia once I could estimate where we would end up for the night. We stopped between 5-6, and got to spend some time in the pool where we were lucky enough to find other kids! We had dinner in the hotel room – I had brought leftovers for me, and made Annie’s microwavable mac and cheese for L, and lots of fruit. And, we were able to eat a sit down breakfast and fill up before heading back on the road! I had also packed a bag with what we would need just for that night, so we wouldn’t have to unpack much.
With L only being 4, we did stop several times for him to pee on the side of the road/parking lot/etc, because sometimes we were in the middle of nowhere, and I did not want accidents! You just have to be flexible with kids. Also, lesson learned – fill up for gas whenever you can. Before we crossed into Canada, we were in a fairly remote section of Maine. I remember seeing a gas station and thinking we should stop – but instead, decided I would stop at the next one. Of course, there was not a next one for a long time, the gas light came on, and my gps said the next gas station was 70 miles away. Thankfully, we passed a campground that had a diner and two old fashioned pumps out front. It took forever to pump, and we paid at the diner, but so so so grateful.
Summary of travel tips:
  • Be Prepared! Pack for the travel time: bag of activities, what child needs to sleep/be comfortable, all food for the trip, travel documentation (reservations, passports), bag just for overnight (if more than one day of travel), get gas way before you run out 😉
  • Be Flexible! Screen time and snack rules loosen, stop as many times as you want, have a plan but play it by ear
  • Allow for Breaks/Be Active! Stay at a hotel with a pool or playground, get kids out of the car and moving when you can
With the right mindset and planning, and of course knowing your child’s capabilities/personality, it can be done. We drove two days in a row up to Nova Scotia (about 20 hours total), the drive from Nova Scotia to Acadia area (about 10 hours), and then the drive back to Pennsylvania (another 10 hours). By the end our trip, L was no longer asking “Are we getting close?” but had moved onto “We aren’t close yet, are we?” 🙂