For the past few weeks I’ve been writing about traveling with children, particularly as a solo parent. Last week I wrote about how I think driving with children is easier than flying with them, and not just because driving trips are cheaper. (And not just because three days after arriving home from my most recent flight I’m still waiting to -- hopefully! -- be reunited with my bags.)
The monotony of the open road, in my experience, has a tendency to pleasantly lull children into, if not sleep, at least calm. I like to fill those miles with podcasts, but sometimes I just enjoy the quiet, too.
Of course, it’s not all contemplative quiet. There are moments of “tell him to stop making that face,” “what’s that smell?” and “she’s touching me!” Perhaps it’s because we’re an Army family, but when kids misbehave in my car, they get “smoked.” They pay with exercise, and I don’t just say, “Don’t make me pull this car over!” I really pull the car over.
When the whining and fighting starts in full force, I exit at a rest stop or some other big open area and burpee time starts for the offenders. Sometimes, I reason, they’re misbehaving because they just need to burn off some energy. Sometimes, running and jumping has the magical effect of shaking the bad out of them.
If two kids or all three are misbehaving, I have them run sprints instead. If the behavior is especially bad, I’ll tack on air squats or push-ups. Exercise has never not worked to get everyone back on track and ready to motor on nicely, and our roadside PT session usually take no more than 10 minutes. The effect the exercise has on my children is well worth the lost time. Occasionally, I’ll even get a solidarity honk from other parents passing by.
Another strategy that works great for us on extended, multi-day driving trips is assigning someone to be “king for the day.” Each time there’s a decision to make (where will we eat lunch, what music will we listen to, who will sit in which seat, etc.) I pick three or four options and then let that day’s child-king choose between them. I keep the king for the day game going when we’re on a trip with a flexible itinerary, letting each child choose what we’ll do (from my list of curated options) on their day.
Another game we play both on the road and throughout our journeys is “photo safari.” My kids are too young to have their own cell phones (In my opinion, but that’s a hot topic of discussion with my 11-year-old right now). If your kids have phones already, this would be a super-easy game yours to play. Mine do all have their own tablet computers and they all love using them to take pictures. Before they had tablets we played this game by letting each of them use one of our old cell phones -- ones with cracked screens or that didn’t function well anymore.
If I’m well-caffeinated and feeling chipper that day, I’ll come up with a scavenger hunt-type list of things for them to find. At the end of the day we all look at each others’ pictures. Whoever snaps shots of the most items on the list wins some kind of prize, usually candy or a special privilege. If I’m not well-caffeinated or just not feeling energetic, I issue a challenge for each to take pictures of the neatest things they see all day and then we all look at those shots at the end of the day. Sure, a lot of their pictures look random to me, but it’s fun to see the world through their eyes.
One last tip that’s worked well for me: When I’m traveling in the summer months, I often intentionally don’t pack sweatshirts or jackets for any of us. I do this to save room and also because sweatshirts make great souvenirs and they’re easy to find at tourist destinations. If a cold front blows through before we get to a destination we want to remember with a souvenir, nearly every town in the U.S. has a Walmart.
Wherever your journeys take you, whether it’s an epic road-trip or a jaunt to visit old friends or family members, don’t let your solo parenting status keep you at home if that’s not where you want to be. With a little planning and a few solid strategies, you can see as much of the world as you’d like, with kids in tow and without another adult to help.