How To Have A Great Family Road Trip Part 2: Driving Through the Night | From Overwhelmed to Organized: How To Have A Great Family Road Trip Part 2: Driving Through the Night

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How To Have A Great Family Road Trip Part 2: Driving Through the Night

Have you ever done a drive-through-the-night road trip?  Or does the thought make you want to run to the nearest travel agent and book a flight right away?

Driving through the night doesn't have to be scary.  It can actually be kind of fun!  It gets you to your destination quicker. And saves you the cost and hassle of getting a hotel room.  And sharing a bed with your kids who kick you all night long :)

We often drive through the night at least one way on our road trips.  My hubby and I take turns driving and sleeping.  When the kids were younger we found we could cover a lot of ground during the night because we didn't have to stop as often or as long.  Now we do it so we can save the cost of a hotel and be able to spend more time at our destination.  And the traffic is much lighter at night so we have less delays.

Last week I shared tips for how to have a great family road trip.  If you missed them, you can read them here

Today I want to give you a few more road trip tips, specifically for driving-through-the-night trips. 

Safety first!  

Only drive through the night if you have a driver or a combination of drivers who can stay awake. Lots of accidents happen because people drive when they are drowsy.  I am NOT advocating for that at all!  I want you to have a fun, safe road trip :)

How to Help the Driver Remain Alert

What will keep someone awake while driving may vary from person to person, but we find these things helpful:

  • Upbeat, very familiar music that you can sing along to - turn the speakers all the way to the front and just go to town singing along.  Don't worry if you can't carry a tune - everyone else is sleeping anyway :)
  • Audio books - something really exciting to keep your brain going
  • Caffeine - obviously! We bring travel mugs to fill with coffee or tea (they're often easier to drink from in the dark than take-out cups and some places will fill them for you for free in the middle of the night).  We also pack energy drinks, vitamin water, etc. 
  • Chocolate - goes along with the caffeine in keeping you alert while driving.  And it's just yummy :)
  • Candy - things like suckers, ring pops, and hard candies last awhile and give you a slow release sugar rush, helping to keep you awake
  • Munchies - nuts, chips, popcorn, etc. that you can grab a handful of from time to time.  Even if you're not very hungry, it really helps keep you awake to have little snacks here and there.  The key is to not have tons of them all at once or you'll feel too full to snack a bit at a time.
  • Fresh or cool air - warm air makes you feel sleepy.  Roll the windows down a bit or keep the fan on cool to help keep you alert.  For winter road trips, you can keep warm air on your feet (so you and your passengers don't freeze!), but keep cooler air on your face or upper body.
  • Splash water on your face and neck - I do this each time we stop if I need to be awake to drive.  I even take a damp cloth along in a bag to wet my face and neck between stops sometimes.  
  • Look at mile markers and road signs - you'll see progress and pass time as well as keep your brain alert.  I like to watch for the signs that tell me how much further it is to the cities ahead and see those numbers get smaller and smaller.  Then when I pass through that city I look ahead to the next few cities and count down until I get to them.  It keeps my brain going, which keeps me awake :)

How to Help the Passengers Sleep Comfortably

  • Bring pillows for all passengers.  We've tried to cut corners on this to save space and used rolled up jackets or sweaters instead, but if you really want everyone to sleep then take real pillows. 
  • Build up an area beside each passenger so they can lean.  It's not easy to sleep in a car but if you make a way that your kids can lean on something it gives them more support and will make it easier to sleep. {This only applies to older kids who aren't in car seats - those in car seats are probably used to sleeping in the car already!} What this looks like will depend on your vehicle and number of passengers.  In our case, we have one kid on each bench of our van during the night and pile up suitcases or duffel bags beside them and then lay their pillows on top.  You can also build up some stuff beside the window if you don't have space on benches or if you have captain seats.  Just be careful that all windows and doors are locked {see the safety first point above!}
  • Bring a pillow for any co-drivers.  This way they can sleep when they're not driving and be more refreshed when it's their turn to drive.  
  • Pack a few blankets.  It can get cool during the night, and if the driver needs cool air to stay awake then the passengers may need blankets to stay warm.  Plus it's just nicer to sleep when you're curled up in a blanket.
  • Dress young kids in pajamas overnight. This will help them understand that it's time to sleep and it clearly separates nighttime from daytime.
  • Follow your normal pre-bed routine as much as possible.  If you usually read stories or sing a certain song or say a prayer before bed, then do those things before "bed" on your road trip too.  If your children have special stuffed animals they sleep with, give those to them at bedtime.  Again, this helps younger children understand that it is now time to sleep and sets the expectation that they will do that. 
  • All co-drivers should wear comfortable clothes and shoes.  You don't have to change into pajamas when it's your chance to sleep, but if you're in elastic waist pants or shorts and comfortable shoes you'll find it easier to sleep.  You can even slip your shoes off when you're not driving. The main thing is to be comfortable so that you can rest up for when it's your turn to drive.

A few other tips

Other driving-through-the-night tips include:

  • Bring a flashlight so the navigator can read directions or find snacks (or dropped stuffies!) in the dark
  • Keep a close eye out for wildlife that come out at night and can be hard to spot in the dark
  • Make sure your GPS is programmed and securely attached to your windshield or dashboard
  • Look ahead at the directions or GPS to make sure the driver knows what's coming up (especially if the navigator is sleeping)
  • Keep your gas tank filled up regularly.  Service centres close during the night in smaller towns, even along Interstates.  Fill your tank before midnight and whenever you pass through a large metropolitan area during the night with stations that are open, fill it again, even if you still have 1/2 a tank.  You don't want to run out of gas during the night, or spend a lot of time (and gas) driving around searching for an open station.
  • Choose a route that is well traveled so you can stay with other drivers.  I love following someone else at night who's traveling around the same speed as me.  It helps me see the turns in the road ahead and makes it less stressful to drive at night.  Especially if we're driving through mountains.  
  • Pack a toothbrush for the morning.  Nothing like stopping for breakfast after driving through the night and being able to brush your teeth!  
  • Plan to stop extra the next day if you're tired from driving through the night.  We like to plan on some stops at shopping centres so we can walk around a bit.  Or rest areas where we can run around and play.  Gets your blood going again and wakes you up :)  Here's my hubby playing catch at a rest stop on our recent drive-through-the-night trip home from Florida.

Sorry, I don't have a lot of pictures for this post... taking pictures of my family sleeping while we drive at night would wake them up and defeat the purpose of driving through the night! :)

Now back to the safety point I mentioned at the beginning.  If you're too tired to drive, pull over and stop!  Change drivers if you can.  Or do something to wake up. We've pulled into Super Walmart at 5:00 a.m. to use clean bathrooms, change diapers, walk around a bit, and maybe pick up a new snack to keep the driver going a few more hours.  {We're not the only ones who do this either!  We've bumped into other families doing the same thing.}  If you need to sleep, then stop somewhere to do that.  We've pulled into hotels at 3:00 in the morning because neither of us could stay awake enough to drive safely. Even 3-4 hours of sleep can be enough to get back on the road.  We got to our destination later than we'd planned, but we'd rather do that than cause an accident.  Safety first :)

So are you ready for a drive-through-the-night road trip?  They're not for everyone, but we find the benefits are worth it.  We save time because we stop less often and the traffic is lighter.  We save money because we don't have to pay for a hotel room.  And we save sanity because the kids sleep and don't need as much attention as they do during the day.  Plus we're able to spend more time at our vacation destination.

I hope these tips help you have a great drive-through-the-night family road trip!  And I hope I've removed any fears you had about driving through the night :)  Don't forget to check out the first part of this post with tips for road trips in general (and pics from our recent trip to Florida!).

Do you drive through the night on family road trips?  Any other tips I missed?

Happy organizing!

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