It’s a Grand Life – Car Trips with the Grandkids

When I was a young child, except for the occasional train trip, traveling meant long hours in the car. Driving from northern Virginia to two or more towns in Texas for two to three weeks was, how should I characterize it, an adventure. The trunk was jam-packed with luggage and my dad’s golf clubs — suitcases would be left out before those clubs stayed home. There was always a new set of crayons and a coloring book or two, a few snacks and games my sister and I could play in the car (try finding a squirrel or a stop sign out on a highway to cross off on your car-trip bingo board.) Our car had leather seats and no air conditioning, and the temperature only went up — imagine when we ran into rain. After 10-12 hours, with few stops (“Better go now, I’m not stopping again.” -Dad), we were rewarded by staying where there was a swimming pool. By the time we arrived at my grandparents 2½ days later, we had usually melted some crayons and a candy bar or two by leaving them on the back ledge in the hot sun; endured trailing behind a truck full of pigs while driving through the mountains in Tennessee; drawn imaginary lines down the backseat that were not to be crossed by even a pinky finger; and raised my parents’ blood pressures by several points. No wonder my dad brought his golf clubs — he definitely needed some time away.

Our daughters had few trips of that length. With better highways and interstates, when we chose to drive, we could make it to my parents’ house in Florida in 11 hours. We had better distractions for them than my parents had for us, but by the end of the day, we were all ready for it to be over.

Fast-forward to today and traveling with grandchildren. My first real experience with this was last April when I drove with my daughter and her two children, aged 3½ years and eight months from Charlotte to Corpus Christi, Texas. Was I looking forward to it? To be honest, no, but I wasn’t about to let her make that trip alone. A friend who was originally going to go with her had a work conflict, and I was the available substitute. Thoughts of my sister’s and my behavior as children on our trips came to mind, and I could feel the gray hairs breaking through the dye. My fears were never truly realized. Maybe my daughter and son-in-law had taken them on many road trips from an early age, and they were used to it, or maybe it was having little dollar store surprises to give throughout the two-day trip, a portable DVD player to watch and games to play on the iPad. As my daughter drove, it was my job to keep the little ones happy. This basically came down to taking off my seat belt, turning around in my seat and retrieving a pacifier, toy, water cup or iPad, or handing out a snack. There was very little crying or complaining — I was most impressed.

My next experience was this past December when my husband and I stayed with them in Texas while their parents were on a trip. We decided to take them on a trip to San Antonio, and once again they amazed me with their ability to be content on the 2½ hour drive going and coming. I failed to bring extra toys and could have used more snacks but, fortunately, we made it back before this became a real issue.

My advice to other grandparents who may be experiencing this for the first time is: depending on the age, make sure to pack extra clothes, plenty of diapers and wipes, a stroller, special little surprises, ready-to-use formula and bottles, sippy cups, water, pacifiers, their favorite blanket or toy, appropriate DVDs and player, games made to travel, things you know they will eat and lots of snacks. Ask their parents for ideas, as well.

You are making memories, so have fun and safe travels!

“It’s a Grand Life” is a new monthly article about the joys of being a grandparent, by Susan Woodall. It will sometimes gently offer advice or suggestions, while other times just be a fun read.