Sunday, May 22, 2011

Travelling With Small Children

Long road trips with small children can be an adventure for various reasons. In an emergency situation when you're evacuating from something like a hurricane or industrial accident, they can be even worse due to packed roads. I want to share some lessons learned in routine car trips that would be applicable to a bugout situation as well.

This weekend we went to a cousin's wedding up in New York. Depending upon traffic the trip can take anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours. We've done this trip many times when visiting my family, and we've learned a lot about long car trips with small children. Our girls are now 8 and 6 years old and I wanted to focus this post on kids in that age range.

To preserve your own sanity it's important to have something to keep them occupied. I'm in my 40s and remember well long car trips with nothing to do but read, play games like "spot the pidoodle," and fight with my younger brother. The Sony Walkman and similar devices came out when I was a teen, so I had music to pass the time for the trips my family took then. Nowadays, kids have iPods, game machines like Nintendo DSes, and portable DVD players. We let our girls buy iPod Touches with money they got on their last two birthdays, so they are able to use them for music, a few movies each, and some games. Along with their DSes, the iPod Touches do a really good job of keeping them entertained while I drive.

We always ensure that our kids' iPods and DSes are charged before we leave on a trip. However, the charge might not last for a very long trip, or you might need to leave in an emergency and not have time to charge them beforehand. It's important to have car chargers for each device, and if you're bringing something that would need A/C power to charge, bring an inverter. Recent vehicles like my '07 Xterra are well-supplied with 12V receptacles. E.g., my '97 Expedition had 3, the Xterra has 4. But older vehicles may have only 1 or 2. You can buy splitters, which will turn a single 12v outlet into 2 or 3, and sometimes include a USB charging port. Amazons sells a variety of 12v splitters here.

Another thing you sometimes have to contend with is a sick child. We had that yesterday, unfortunately. It seems that my older daughter's stomach can handle only small amounts of fried or greasy food. Shortly after we got started she vomited. Most of it landed on her, her Pillow Pet, the towel she was sitting on, and the back of the front passenger seat.

Dealing with a sick kid at home is no fun but it's a lot worse on the side of the road. HAving certain items with you will make handling this situation much easier:

1. A change of clothes.

2. Unscented baby wipes to clean off your kid and the inside of the vehicle. Baby wipes are pre-moistened and don't tear as easily as paper towels. I keep mine inside a Ziploc bag so they don't dry out as quickly. You can add water to them if they do.

3. Paper towels are good to have as well; get something like these shop towels, which are tougher than regular paper towels.

4. I'd had both kids sit on old towels during the trip, mainly to catch crumbs, but in this case they helped protect the seat from vomit. A little still got on the seat so I had her sit on a blanket for the rest of the trip.

5. Water to moisten the paper towels and for drinking. Anyone who gets sick will also appreciate the chance the rinse out the taste. We had some bottled water with us but we could have used some more. Today I added a 2 liter bottle to my truck box.

6. Some large plastic bags to hold soiled items. I had some plastic shopping bags but they weren't big enough to hold my daughter's Pillow Pet. Because it was so covered in vomit we just tossed it when we stopped at a gas station about a half hour later, after driving with the windows down.

My Nissan Xterra is a storage compartment built into the front of the roof rack. As explained to me when I bought it, it's for wet items you don't want to bring inside the vehicle. You could also lash bags with soiled items to a roof rack, so bring some string. Paracord is good for this and has many other uses.

I bought some spray air freshener at the gas station which masked most of the stench for the remainder of our drive.

7. Have some Tums and/or Pepto Bismol with you to settle an upset stomach. Also have some Immodium in case someone in your party get diarrhea. If anyone in your group is prone to motion sickness then Dramamine is a must.

One item not specifically related to this post that I consider a must for long car trips is a standalone automotive GPS with up to date maps. I use and like Garmin automotive GPSes. Aside from directions, you can use the GPS to find the nearest hospital.

Make sure you keep your GPS updated. Updating the maps once a year is probably enough. I'd updated my Garmin nuvi 200w before the trip and found that the current maps of the lower 48 now are larger than its storage capacity, so I had to limit it to the Eastern half of the country. I figure that I'll get a new unit sometime next year.

I do not consider phone-based GPS an adequate substitute for a standalone unit, especially if you'll be in areas with spotty cell coverage. Without a data signal, your phone won't be able download maps on the fly, making it useless.

Naturally, it's also smart to have current maps of the areas in which you'll be travelling. The Delorme Atlas and Gazeteers are good.

Travelling with small children can be difficult but you can make it easier with some advance preparation.