Hey drivers, pace yourself or this could happen

What’s the longest you’ve ever driven without stopping? A half a day? Twenty-four hours? More?

Well, try this on for size: We needed to get from Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado back to our home in Orlando. But we only had two days.

That’s about 2,000 miles and at least 30 hours of driving. I’ll tell you how that turned out in a minute.

We’ve actually tried out a number of different driving patterns to see which results in the best travel experience. And after five years of experimenting, we might just have one. The trick is to start early, limit your distance, rotate drivers regularly and stop to stretch your legs.

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Start early
The sooner you leave the sooner you’ll get there, right? Of course. We try to finish our drive between 1 and 2 in the afternoon so we’ll have time to enjoy our stop-over destination. Depending on the distance you plan on traveling – I suggest driving no more than 6 to 8 hours a day – that can be as early as 6 a.m. If you have little kids, they will likely sleep the first two hours and as a bonus you’ll avoid rush hour traffic at the start. During summer months, you’ll be finished before the roads really get heated up.

Limit your distance
Don’t trap your family in the car for more than 8 hours a day. Use a mapping tool, like Google Maps, to plot your stops. We start with the bookends, our furthest destination and our home town. Using the map plot and alternate routes, we look for interesting cities between 400 and 500 miles apart. That roughly translates into 6 to 8 hours of drive time with breaks for gas and meals.

Stop and stretch
After the first few hours someone – and it only takes one person – will lose their cool. They may become an annoying human beat box, or superstar backseat drummer. Even worse he or she may get touchy feely or start talking non-stop. As soon as you recognize the signs, start looking for a rest area, park or playground to play catch, tag or frisbee. We also like to pull into small towns and walk along main street. Anything that’s not confining, will get the blood flowing and squeeze out the sillies will help improve the emotional climate of the transport.

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Rotate drivers frequently
Staying alert behind the wheel is a big problem for extended road trips. There’s a mesmerizing quality to the road and the whir of the wheels. That’s why it’s so helpful in getting young children to fall asleep. To help you stay in top driving condition we suggest switching drivers every two hours. Before getting behind the wheel, take time to do some stretches to avoid cramping – especially if you think you’ll encounter traffic.

About that 30 hour marathon drive …

In case you’re wondering about that 30 hour slog from Colorado to Florida, here are the painful details:

Tuesday, 11 p.m. Checked out of the Far View Lodge at 11 p.m. Yes, that’s right I said p.m. The children transferred easily from their beds into the car seats and resumed sleeping. The parents didn’t.

Wednesday, 2 a.m. Collided with an owl just south of Durango. I kid you not, an owl hit us. That really woke us up. Better than a shot of espresso.

4 a.m.Buzzed through Albuquerque. Alas our favorite place for breakfast, The Grove Cafe, was still closed. Didn’t matter the kids were still asleep.

10 a.m. Stopped for breakfast in Amarillo.

6 p.m. Arrive at Dallas. First stop is Whole Foods to pick up dinner, then off to the SpringHill Suites in the historic West End.

8 p.m. Everyone to bed for a few hours sleep.

11 p.m. Time to get up and go. Packed the car and on the road by midnight.

Thursday, 10 a.m. Stopped at peanut stand and to gas up. This was our first and likely our last stop for boiled peanuts.

1 p.m. Lunch at Subway in Tallahassee. Ordered chopped salad with Sriracha. Forced to explain the whole Jason incident to three children. Awkward.

7 p.m. Arrived home to a clean house and three furious bengal cats.

The grueling sprint, which delivered us home a few hours early, left us needlessly crushed for the next 24 hours. Take my word for it, a marathon drive like that will leave you wrecked – even if you’re sharing time behind the wheel.