I routinely travel down to the Philadelphia area and thereabouts with the Duchess and Honey by myself and with no DVD player or other electronic devices. Many people have asked me, "How do you do it?" So in the spirit of the holiday season, here are my how-tos:
1) Timing is everything: I have always liked to leave as early as possible, 7 or 8am, especially if I am going against traffic. The trip to Philadelphia can take anywhere between 6 (best time) or 8 (worst trip ever) hours, so I like to be aware of when naps and snacks occur. When the Duchess and Honey still were taking morning naps, this was a very good time because the first nap would occur in the car, so I could get out on the road for a while before having to stop. When I was breastfeeding, I would feed immediately before getting in the car so they'd be tanked up for a while. Now that we need to do potty breaks, I make sure the Duchess always pees right before setting out. My goal is to go at least 90 minutes before the first pit stop. Now that they don't nap in the morning, I'm able to get out on the road for 30 minutes or so and then hand out granola bars so that they can be occupied by snacktime (which we traditionally have at 8:30am anyway). Then we have lunch around 11 or 11:30 and by the time we get back into the car, it's time for afternoon nap. Then we get to grandma's.
2) Make strategic stops: If you have ever driven down to Philly, you'll know that there are several different ways to get there. I keep a running tally of good stops on the different routes, which I choose based on the likelihood of me hitting rush hour in New Jersey. A helpful app in this endeavor is the Playspace app, which shows McDonald's playspaces. I like to get lunch at McDonald's and then let the Duchess and Honey run around a little bit. As you know, the Duchess has food allergies so I have to bring her lunch separately, and it turns out that Honey actually doesn't like McDonald's very much, so I'm the only one stuffing her face with fast food, and the kids are exercising. Still, it is a good way to let them stretch their little legs a bit.
3) Carry a travel potty: I can't emphasize this enough. Get the folding kind and bring a lot of Glad bags that seal up really well in case you are, say, in the parking lot of an industrial park off the Baltimore-Washington parkway and there are no rest stops around, and your kid says, "Mommy, I have to poop." Those tight seals will also be useful in the event that there are no trash cans around and you have to carry that poop until you can dispose of it properly.
4) Don't be in a rush: Because all of your pit stops will take longer than you want them to. So enjoy the ride.
5) Big bag o' entertainment: I am opposed to letting my girls use my iPhone for entertainment because a) I don't want them fighting over it, b) I don't want to run out of juice, and c) I want to be able to call my sister or friends to say hi when I am bored. So instead I pack a bag of fun things and encourage them to look at their books and talk to each other and play with stuffed animals. One time I found balloons on a stick at a supermarket and got a LOT of mileage out of them, no pun intended. The Duchess also likes to play with stickers, so I pack those Highlights sticker books.
6) Don't worry about it: If they aren't happy, so what? It's okay for them to be bored once in a while. There are many years of tedious family car trips ahead, so they might as well get used to them now.