Road trips are nothing new in my family. My husband and I have been throwing suitcases in the trunk and hitting the interstate since before he was my husband. We made a few adjustments to our road trip routine once baby #1 came along, but by the time baby #2 entered the scene, everything we thought we knew about traveling by car had been tossed out the window on I-264.
Once we finally became accustomed to driving long distances with two children who did little else besides eat, sleep, cry, and poop, those kids went and grew up just enough to change the rules again. Now that we claim an 8-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, we have a whole new set of road-tripping routines.
Whether you’re PCS’ing, visiting family while your spouse is deployed, or heading off on a family vacation, here are some tips for road-tripping with kids.
1. Keep necessities close at hand. Baby wipes for dirty hands and spills, antibacterial gel for less than sanitary gas station bathrooms, tissues for nosebleeds, plastic grocery bags for the carsickness-prone, and snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. Because the kids will be hungry ALL DAY LONG.
2. Electronics are your friends. We don’t have DVD players in our cars, and my children don’t have handheld video game systems. However, my rules regarding electronics are null and void when it comes to road trips. Borrow a friend’s portable DVD player if you don’t have one, and load up your iPhone with kids’ apps. And don’t forget to bring adapters so you can charge every gadget known to man in your car.
3. Listen to audio books. Your local library should have a section of audio books just for kids. Not only do my kids love listening to someone other than me reading stories in funny voices, but it also keeps them quiet. Sometimes it even lulls them to sleep (bonus!).
4. Play interactive games. “I Spy” is a classic. Look at the people in the cars around you and guess where they’re going and why. Keep a tally of state license plates. Create a story in which each family member adds one sentence at a time. (Make sure you either write it down or record it on the voice memo on your phone so you can listen to the whole thing at once when you’re finished.) Or ask your kids to make up a game, as my daughter recently did. Although I’m not a big fan of 512 rounds of “What If” (What if you had an arm for a nose? What if you were a purple elephant? What if you ate rocks?), it did keep us giggling for awhile.
(And when you’ve had your fill of that…)
5. Encourage them to entertain themselves. Before the trip, laminate a road map of your route and let them navigate with a dry erase marker. Let older kids read to younger siblings. Bust out the coloring books. Then point to their backpacks that are strategically filled with their favorite portable toys and remind them that they’re quite capable of playing independently.
(Speaking of those backpacks…)
6. Do not let children pack their own bags. I recently made the mistake of telling my kids to pack their own backpacks with things that would occupy them both in the car and at our destination. When my daughter continued to complain about being bored in the car, I did a sweep of her bag to discover the following contents: 2 stuffed animals, markers (but no paper), a purse with 1 Matchbox car inside, an empty water bottle, a keychain, a whistle, a plastic snake, sunglasses, 3 bracelets, and 36 cents. Not exactly a wealth of entertainment. You can save yourself a whole lot of “Mom, I’m bored!” by simply helping the kiddos pack.
7. Buy each child a new toy before the trip and present it as needed. A large part of the appeal of birthdays and Christmas is not the joy of giving, but the joy of watching your children disappear in their own little world of make-believe. New toys keep my kids’ attention for hours. But remember, this is your secret weapon. Don’t give it up until you absolutely have to.
8. Don’t let the “Are we there yet?” repetitions get you down. If your children are anything like my daughter, you will hear this question every 7 and a half minutes. You’ll attempt a variety of different answers. But when no, almost, not quite, maybe, I’m not sure, check the map, and for the love of all that is good in this world please stop asking are no longer working, well, then you’re just going to have to tune it out. Or come up with more creative answers. Whichever keeps you sane.
9. Talk! You and your family are trapped in an enclosed space for an extended period of time. This is the perfect opportunity to find out more about your son’s summer camp friends or where your daughter wants to celebrate her birthday. When kids are this age they still actually want to talk to you. Take advantage of their loose lips before they turn into teenagers who do nothing but text their friends and plug in headphones so they can ignore you.
10. Never underestimate the power of The Quiet Game. “Let’s see who can be quiet the longest. Ready, set, go!” Eight-year-old boys (well, all boys for that matter, including your husband) want to win any challenge they’re given, and 4-year-old girls just want to do what their big brothers are doing. So yes, The Quiet Game works. Employ it generously. It may be the only quiet you’ll get all day.
What would you add to the list?