Help plan a road trip NY to NC, June, with a nearly 4 year old.
March 29, 2017 6:23 AM   Subscribe

We're loading up the car and heading to North Carolina for a wedding in late June, from Long Island. I'd love some ideas and tips for things to do, places to stay along the way. We're planning to break the trip up quite a bit and make an event of it. We've never roadtripped with the li'l dude before though and we don't really know how he'll handle things like hotels, long drives, camping(?), etc. Any thoughts and ideas are welcome.

(I realize that lots of/most folks would just toss the fam in the car, knock out the 12 hour drive and not bat an eye.)
posted by Shutter to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What route are you planning on taking down there, and what's your final destination in NC?

Others will surely have better advice for local stuff along the way, but having just driven NYC to Northeast Florida via Charlotte a couple of years ago, I strongly encourage you to take 81 down through the Shenandoah Valley rather than 95 through D.C. and Richmond. It's a really beautiful stretch of highway, and about 1000 times less stressful than 95. Depending on where you're going it might even be quicker, especially if you'd otherwise be hitting the Jersey Turnpike and/or DC during peak traffic times.
posted by saladin at 6:34 AM on March 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I totally agree with saladin. By taking the longer, western route over a couple extra days, you could include the Blue Ridge Parkway on your route. It's a scenic federal road/national park memorialized in a Ken Burns program on national parks. There are so many ways it's incredible--our country once built a road hundreds of miles long just to provide drivers with a stunning drive! Can you imagine? You get views of both sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can get on and off--speed limit is very low but that's the whole idea. It's slow travel at its best. There's a lot of Civil War history along the non-Blue Ridge Parkway western route--Antietem. You will see vineyards, split rail fences, black cattle grazing way up on hills. Yes, trucks, traffic, etc. but many more rewards and less traffic than I-95.
posted by Elsie at 6:57 AM on March 29, 2017

This will vary greatly depending on your kid, but when you set your daily goals and timelines, allow yourself time for frequent stops. When we road-tripped last Labor Day with a 5- and 2-year old, we needed to make a 15-20 minute stop every hour and a half or two hours. You don't have to stop that frequently if the kid is doing ok, but if you don't have that flexibility built in, you'll cause yourself a lot of unnecessary stress as you worry about making X more miles by Y o'clock.

On preview, is your kid's carseat such that he can see out the window? If not, that should factor into your decision of whether to take the scenic route.
posted by telepanda at 7:02 AM on March 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Henderson is our destination, on I-85, which looks like it's about a hundred miles from I-81. Maybe worth it though, thanks for the notion.

The little dude can indeed see out the windows and is mostly chill when in the car, but he's not one of those kids who spends hours in the car all the time. We've taken a couple of 2hour+ trips to CT that he's tolerated just fine though, so we're hopeful.

Thanks for all the thoughts, folks.
posted by Shutter at 7:30 AM on March 29, 2017

Our longest trip in a vehicle is about 6 hours (4 hours pre-kid). In about 2 hour chunks we have to stop and get something to eat, go potty, hit up a playground for a while. This is where the trip expanded from 4 hours to 5-6 hours. Some of our trip is in very spotty phone/internet country, so we pre-downloaded some videos on the Kindle Fire (some old ones and new never-been-seen ones) to get over that hump. And then YouTube Kids time on my Android phone when we *did* have phone signal and the kiddo didn't want to watch the Kindle videos.

Some books like "Cars And Trucks And Things That Go" by Richard Scarry where you have to look for Goldbug helps. And lift-the-flap books (I have a 3.5yo, so your 4yo may have aged out) where kiddo actually can DO something helps. We got a magnadoodle-type toy to draw with that doesn't require fetching crayons off the floor.

The trip goes the worst for me when we need to be somewhere at a certain time. The trip goes worst for the kiddo in the late afternoon when he is just tired of sitting there and wants to do something else. We are usually close to home by that time, so push on through the grumpies, but if we were still in travel mode, we'd probably stop for dinner and play time and find a place to stay for the night.
posted by jillithd at 7:44 AM on March 29, 2017

You say "we" several times, so I assume you're traveling with your SO. This might fall into the "no duh" category, but I suggest one of you sit in the back with the kid, or take turns doing so. His past behavior on shorter rides is not necessarily an indicator of future road trips.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:48 AM on March 29, 2017

Henderson is far enough east that I-81 only makes sense till about Staunton - then you'll have to cut east and south down through VA on US highways and state routes. That means you'll probably miss the Parkway, unfortunately.

I'd keep an eye out for carsickness, particularly on two-lane roads in hilly or mountainous terrain - that can be miserable for a little kid. (Spoken as a former little kid who spent many weekends doped up on Dramamine because her parents loved driving through the mountains.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:55 AM on March 29, 2017

Drove from Westchester to Chapel Hill several times with a 4,5 and 6 year old in the car. We powered on through every time. We had two rules of thumb. One, do not stop if they are sleeping. Even if we wanted to stop. Wait until they awake, you will have to stop then anyway. Two, although we rarely let them use electronics at that age, they could use them as much as they wanted.

Also, the timing of the drive was critical. We would leave at 4:00am. The kids would be grumpy but eat a bagel and go back to sleep in the car. Also, traffic at that point was really non existent. If you are going to take the Belt Parkway to the Veranzano to the Outerbridge Crossing to the NJTP, do it before 6:30am or after 9:45 if it is a weekday. The NJTP is actually much improved since they completed the additional lanes. I am rarely ever stopped on the Turnpike now. You also want to time DC so that you are not on 495 during rush hour.

I also recommend you paying for the Express lanes south of DC. Quantico is always, in my experience, a backup in the regular lanes. I don't know that I would pay it everyday, but for $4 or $5 while through traveling with little ones, it is cheap. 85 from 95 is a really nice drive. There are only rest stops, no full service areas. If you want to get food or something you will have to get off and go local.

The other consideration would be to take the NJTP to 95 to 495W to 66 in Virginia to 29S to Charlottesville. You could take 29 south and stop in Charlottesville, Lynchburg and end up near Chapel Hill. There are definitely many small(er) towns along the way that have interesting history. Not sure how much a nearly 4yo will get out of it, but you never know.

We all have our own preferences and travel styles, so, if it were me, I would get up early, and power through if you are going to go the 95 corridor route. If you want to do the frequent stops and see the country thing, the western route, 78 to 81 to Skyline drive is the way to go.
posted by AugustWest at 8:55 AM on March 29, 2017

Scenic roads mean twisty roads, so...

In addition to the normal rolls of paper towels, spring for the blue shop paper towels as well. They are a bit tougher and better for getting up the spew. Have a couple of burner towels on hand, one placed on the seat under the kiddie seat that you're okay with losing would be ideal. A bottle of carpet cleaner and a spray bottle of water will also be useful. Air freshener will be helpful as well.

I wish I knew this our first long car trip and I wish I remembered it on future trips. Now it's a must have for every trip over 4 hours. If we don't use it, great! We are happy. If we do need it, not as great, but we are happy to have the tools we need on hand.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:47 PM on March 29, 2017

Get a hotel suite, not just a single room. You can close the door on the child and stay awake yourselves. And check out Weird America for possible stops.
posted by kerf at 9:01 PM on March 29, 2017

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