4 Tips for Putting the HO-HO-HO in Holiday Road Trips

BonBon Break

This is the second article in a three part series about Holiday Travel. Read the first article, Holiday Air Travel, here.

When I was a little girl, every Christmas trip to my grandparents’ home included a stop at the side of the road so I could throw up. YEP! I loved Christmas, but smooshed in the back seat with all the gifts, coats, food, and other items meant the car got hot and stuffy. Unable to move, barely able to breathe, but excited too, I simply got overwhelmed and my little tummy revolted. Every year!


On top of all that, my brothers and I fought over the little space available. One loved to stick his finger on the edge of my space, taunting me. As an adult, of course, I’d handle it differently, but back then, I’d scream, “MOM!! He’s in my space again!” Oh, how did my parents survive us?


That’s the magic of the holiday road trip! Visions of sugar plums dance in our heads, but getting there is more reminiscent of Scrooge.


Now a mom navigating the logistics of holiday travel with my own kids, I am determined to do it differently. We look forward to the driving adventure as much as we enjoy time at Grandma’s house. No one gets car sick. In a ten hour trip, I never hear, “Mommmmm….. HE did…..” anything!

Here’s how we put the HOHOHO in holiday road trips.

1) Get the sleigh ready! Just like Santa, we should prepare the car for travel. About a week before the trip, make sure all car maintenance is up to date, not just the oil change. Holiday travel weather often includes heavy rain, snow and ice, so make sure tires are properly inflated and have sufficient tread for safe travel. Bad tires make it more difficult to control the car, adding to driver stress and fatigue.


Check headlights and taillights to make sure all are working. While the “pediddle” game might entertain kids, driving with only one headlight greatly diminishes the driver’s ability to scan for safety hazards and lessens depth perception, again leading to driver fatigue. Fatigue leads to grumpiness… you get the idea.


Along those lines, clean out the inside of the car as well. Packing for a holiday trip includes more than the usual vacation items. Make space for gifts, pillows (especially if kids will be camping out at grandma’s house), and other necessary travel items by cleaning out the day-to-day junk. Less junk means more space. More space leads to more comfort for those traveling.


2) Give yourself plenty of time! According to AAA, more than 42 million people will travel this Thanksgiving holiday and most of them — more than 38 million — will take to the roads. Heavy congestion on America’s highways means slower travel. Allow plenty of time for travel to avoid unnecessary stress. If our family is expected to arrive in Ohio, nine hours from home, for a 5:00 dinner, we give ourselves an extra three hours travel time. That means we leave about 5:00 a.m. to allow for car accidents, the slower speeds of heavy traffic and bad weather. I have to say, those first few hours are the best: very few cars on the road and the kids snooze and eat breakfast in the car — easy entertainment without much fuss.


3) Engage the kids. My boys were seven and four when we moved from Ohio to North Carolina. For two months, I carted them back and forth between the two places as we waited for our house to sell. Driving solo with the boys, I found creative ways to engage the boys — the little guy was too young for license plate bingo and too energetic to watch movies all day long. Our favorite game was “roller coaster.” Driving through the West Virginia mountains, the boys made roller coaster noises – “clack, clack, clack” as we climbed the steepest parts. Heading down the far side of the mountain, they threw their hands in the air and leaned left or right into the curves, just like on a roller coaster. They had no idea they were getting some much needed exercise. They loved those trips — and we still do the same today (maybe not as often), even though they are now 18 and 15.


Beyond car games, ask kids old enough (I firmly believe 4 is old enough) to help get the car ready. Our little one doesn’t like to be left out of big kid stuff. When we’re loading the back end, she’s assigned the “very important task” of washing the door handles. Using a baby wipe — or maybe ten — she wipes down the inside of the car doors while we load the back end. Together, we get the job done and everyone checks their seat to make sure they have enough space. Everyone is invested in getting ready, so when they start to complain, I simply ask if they checked it before we left. Silence! I love it!


A couple days before the trip, show young kids a map of your route. Explain how long they’ll be in the car… Nine hours means nothing to a four year old, so I put it in terms they can understand, “We’ll be in the car for NINE Sesame Streets. That’s a very long time. Let me show you on the map.” Explain how many “Sesame Streets” it is from point to point. For instance, from my house in North Carolina to the Virginia state line is about three Sesame Streets. I point out where we will stop for snacks or lunch, landmarks to watch for, whatever I can to help her envision the drive.


Once on the road, little kids can more easily understand how far they have come and how far they have to go when it’s in terms they understand. Using the above example, when we reach Virginia, we “celebrate.” I ask my little one how many Sesame Streets we already finished and then I ask how many we have left. We also eat a snack! When the whining begins, as it invariably does, I can explain in her “language” what’s coming next, “I know you’re tired of sitting. Remember, where we are stopping? It’s only half a Sesame Street from here.” She gets it. She settles down because she knows she can sit through half a Sesame Street.


4) Prepare yourself. Road trips give us a choice: Will we be the Grinch, with a heart two sizes too small, or will we be the Whos down in Whoville, filled with joy and love? It comes down to that, really. Our attitude determines how the road trip will go. To put the HOHOHO in your holiday travel, prepare ahead using the guide above. Then, whatever happens on the trip, remember that eventually you’ll arrive. When accidents and bad weather mean arriving too late for dinner, choose to think about the turkey sandwiches to enjoy later. Getting angry about delays doesn’t make the trip go faster! If one of the kids does get car sick, remind yourself that kids don’t do this on purpose — how wonderful it is to be so excited to see the family! If you forget something, even grandma’s Christmas gift, accept that it’s too late to change things and let her know she’ll be getting a wonderful package to start her new year. When we choose to keep a positive attitude, we impact the atmosphere in the whole car.


That old saying is true, “When mama ain’t happy, no one is happy.” Why not change it up this year, and choose to be the HOHOHO of your family’s holiday road trip?


Happy Holidays!

If you’d like more unique, family road trip ideas, check out this article at my blog.


ABOUT KAREN: Karen and her family have learned the art of enjoying the travel experience. She shares humorous anecdotes from her own experiences and uses them to equip the reader to travel better. At Family Travels on a Budget, she helps readers plan, budget and experience their vacation dreams.

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