Driving cross country with kids isn’t all sunshine and roses

As I sat across the table from my friend Mara in DC one afternoon in November, a thought occurred to me. I was holding it together more than people knew. I’d been running at 125 percent for over three months as we moved from Seattle to Maryland. I didn’t think anyone knew the inner crazy that had been brewing since I got in the car to start driving cross country with kids for almost two weeks. True they were my kids, but still.

Mara told me that since she knew me she could tell that although my social media streams on Facebook and Instagram were showing pretty pictures and a peppy, upbeat attitude throughout our road trip across the country, she knew better. She could see through the pretty and point blank said, “you had a great first part of your trip, but the last part wasn’t as much fun was it?”

She was right.

Driving cross country with kids

Driving cross country with kids wasn’t a barrel of laughs every day. Being stuck in the car for hours on end stinks! Even without the kids, I would have lost my mind. There were moments that I thought my kids were doing better than I was. I would get stir crazy but know that we had hours left to go before we arrived at our hotel for the night. We couldn’t stop just because I had to get out. I had to find ways to entertain not only my kids, but myself too.


Our journey

The first part of driving cross country with kids was filled with magical parks, giant trees, impressive cliff faces, friends and archways our car could barely fit through. Every day was a new discovery. The last part of our journey was 10-hour days in the car for three days straight. Sometimes even more than 10 hours. No one was ever meant to be in a car that long. The drive through New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas was flat and boring. Yes, there were plenty of places we could have stopped and explored, but we had prioritized the sights and national parks in northern California and the southwest. We had no time to stop now. We had to get to Maryland. I’d planned a tight itinerary and we needed to stick to it.

Our itinerary was scheduled to the day. Any deviation would have thrown us off track for my husband to start his new job.

How did the boys do?

My boys, who are 2 and 5 years old, did magnificent. Like I said, there were days that I was climbing up the car walls trying not to lose my mind. Not only was I stuck in the car driving cross country with kids, but also I was stressed about the move. We needed to find a new house, and we were in the middle of selling our Seattle home. I had a lot on my mind and endless hours in the car to think sure didn’t help.

The boys, especially my 2-year-old Ty, did have their moments though. Ty would cry for 30 minutes straight. Usually this was around naptime and he would eventually pass out, but that took endless playing of the same Front Line Assembly album. Thank goodness he finally settled on a full album, and an instrumental one, that he could make him fall asleep. Before that he had to listen to A Thousand Years by Christina Perry over and over again. Anyone who has ever driven in my car around naptime knows the words to that song. I can’t even hear it anymore. It’s just background noise to me.

We had to remember to stop and stretch every few hours. Ty would jump out of the car and just start running. He didn’t care where he ran. The best rest stops had loops around a grassy area. We would let him run around and around those loops for 10 minutes to really get him stretched out before we got back in the car again. I ran with him most times. We started stretching more and more the longer we drove. Ty, Dek and I did a little yoga. I’m sure we looked ridiculous to the one other person at the rest stop we would see. We were driving through deserted territory with very few people pulling over except truckers stopping for the night.


Cracker Barrels and screen time

We learned which gas stations were the cleanest (Loves) and which to avoid (random ones that you never heard of). When I started counting Cracker Barrels as we were driving cross country with kids I knew I was getting desperate. This was a game Mike (my husband) and I used to play as we drove back up to Philly from our college in Savannah. Instead of Cracker Barrels we counted Waffle Houses. There were eleven Waffle Houses at the time in case you are curious.

On the longer drive days we tried to stop for only one sit down meal. This saved us money, but also saved our sanity by giving us a solid chunk of time out of the car. I watched movies with the boys and bought more videos at hotels when we had Wi-Fi so I could watch something new too. The boys played endless games of Angry Birds. There was whining, fits of anger and tears of frustration from the boys and I. Mike was our rock. He loves to drive, but even he had his limits.


Sunshine through the storm

Overall the trip was a smashing success though. We had our bad and boring moments throughout driving cross country with kids. We had times when I thought I should just have Mike drop me off at the airport and he could continue the drive with the boys and I’d meet them in Maryland. For being trapped in a car for one and a half weeks with a two and a five year old though, we did really well. I don’t think I’ll be jumping in the car for an epic cross-country road trip anytime soon, but that has more to do with me than my kids. Like I said, I hate being stuck in a car when I could be flying.

Would you drive across the country with kids?


Driving cross country with kids

Tunnel in mountain via ShutterStock.com

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9 thoughts on “Driving cross country with kids isn’t all sunshine and roses”

  1. Val in Real Life

    Hahaha, sister I feel ya! Thanks for keeping it real.

    Whether at home or traveling, life just isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. I’m the opposite though, I’d take a long road-trip any day over flying.

  2. tripsbylance

    I agree about Love’s. It’s a great truck stop chain and I always seek them out. I have a family of three, including a son who has always been great sitting in the car for long periods of time. My father was a truck driver and when we did road trips when I was a kid we only stopped when the gas tank needed to be refilled. So I sat in the car for a good four hours at a time. I’ve gotten a little better for my wife’s sanity, but I think it’s the former distance runner in me. I like to get into a groove and just go. I once drove straight through from Philadelphia to Memphis in one day, only stopping for gas. Anyway, I would do what you did but I can’t imagine how much tougher it would be with two boys. My brother and I fought all the time on road trips.

  3. shere @shereypaul

    Your plan was really tight!! We drove from San Francisco to Napa, Yosemite, Death Valley, LA, Zion, Grand Canyon and finally LA in 2,5 weeks. I can’t imagine doing such a long driving hours each day.

    1. Keryn Means

      It was super tight Shere. We were trying to squeeze in as much of CA and the Southwest as possible before we moved to Maryland. We only had two weeks to get there so we did what we like to call a “scouting” trip to see where we would want to spend more time.

  4. Reesa Lewandowski

    While the view looks amazing, gosh that sounds scary! Anything over 8 hours is too much for me in the car! Kudos to you for keeping it real! #TypeAParent

  5. Martha Harrris

    I can completely understand your feelings. I had travelled from Toronto to New York with two kids aged 3. I had to travel because I got shifted to the NY office with a promotion. Thankfully, I only had to take care of the kids. All the packing and moving were done by long distance mover in Toronto whom my company had assigned. The worst part was keeping the kids entertained. Thanks for sharing your experience here, it brought back old memories.

  6. Angel

    Sometimes I think about going from Idaho to NY in the car with my husband, 5 yr old, and a 2 and a half yr old to see my family and go home, but then I just read this and felt nauseous at the idea and terrfied. 😉 😛 You’ve got balls, to be frank. I’m sure it was really hard, but I hope for you it ended up being worth it.

  7. Sharia

    I’m planning a trip next month from Michigan to Texas. Its just me and my 4 lil ones. ages 9, 7, 5 and 2. This is gonna be real interesting :/

    1. Keryn Means

      Oh man. At least your older ones can help a bit with the younger ones Sharia. All I can say is lots of entertainment and movies. That’s how I survive on my own in the car with the boys. Lots of snacks they can open themselves too. And a nice lunch break to stretch your legs. Books on tape are my godsend as well so I don’t lose it in the car.

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