Monday, June 28, 2010

Traveling with Kids

There are few things that can strike fear into the heart of a parent more than the prospect of spending hours in a confined space with bored children. Miles of open road ahead of you, whining kids sitting behind you. Road trips.

They can be fun. Really. And the time spent in the car doesn't have to be painful.

I've spent a lot of time in the car with my kids. A lot. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way.

- If at all possible, drive overnight. It's rough on the parents, this is true, but it's much easier on everyone in the long run. If you've got more than 12 hours to drive, can sleep in the car and are willing to switch off drivers, this is the way to do it. There is less traffic, you might be able to avoid staying in a motel along the way and the kids will sleep. Obviously this is only an option if the weather is decent and you are sticking to the interstates.

- Pack a lunch in an ice chest and plan to stop to eat it. Throw some perishable snacks in there too, like cheese and yogurts. Much faster than finding a restaurant.

- I bring a small ice chest just for me. I need my diet cokes and my frappucinos. (Have I mentioned that I do almost all the driving? Mama needs some caffeine!)

- Bring snacks, but bring ones that are easy on the stomach. Also think about the mess potential of snacks. I take granola bars, goldfish, fruit and water. Bring reusable water bottles and refill them when you stop rather than buying plastic water bottles. Juice boxes are reserved for use outside the car only.

- Buy a roll of the cheap bathroom sized trash bags and stash it in the driver's door. Every gas station or rest stop, the trash gets cleaned out.

- Even if your kids are past diaper age, stash some wipes in the car where you can reach them.

- If traveling with a baby or toddler still in diapers, keep in mind that you may have to let them get out and walk around so they can poop. I learned this the hard way on my last trip. AJ was miserable, we thought he was teething and hungry. Nope, he just needed to get up so he could go.

- Bring a towel or two to cover the car seat in case someone doesn't make it to the rest stop.

- Tissues, a roll of toilet paper, a roll of paper towels, and a few good ziploc bags (in case someone gets sick on the me). Let's hope you don't need them, but you'll thank me if you do.

- Plan to stop about every two hours to let the kids go to the bathroom. Everyone goes, every time. Ideally, you can plan the stops to be located at large rest stops with grassy areas. Get the kids to run around. On our trip to Minnesota, we'd make the kids race to the rest stop fences and back twice before they could get back in the car.

- Sight see. Find the goofy roadside attractions. Kids love gigantic fiberglass dinosaurs.

- Figure that you will need to add about 15-20% of the expected driving time to your actual travel time. Yes, everything just takes longer with kids.

- Bring an ipod or CDs. There are huge parts of the country without radio stations. Huge. Download some music the kids like and get everyone singing. Besides, you know you love The Jonas Brothers.

- If possible, rotate seats when you stop. Make one seat special, like the closest to the ice chest.

- I'm not at all above popping in a DVD and having the kids watch movies. Bring only movies they all will watch without whining, and movies you will be able to listen to without going crazy. If you're feeling nice, get a new one and surprise them on the road. If you have an old-school DVD player like we do, make sure the kid sitting by the controlling console knows how to operate it.

- Count heads when you get back in the car. Don't leave anyone at the gas station. Yes, this really happened to someone I know.

- Keep the kids busy. Bored kids are whiny kids. And whiny kids make a 500 mile trip seem like 5000.

  • Travel bingo. This may or may not hold their interest. No promises.
  • Sing songs. One that usually works for a little while are the alphabet songs, where you have to alternate thinking of an animal/food/city that starts with each letter.
  • Handheld games. We have Leapsters, but any kind of handheld game would do it. Keep in mind that this may only be a good idea if all your kids have one and you have headphones for them.
  • Color wonder sets. They make great little travel sets, I always get a few of these to surprise the kids with when the boredom sets in.
  • Etch a sketch and/or magnadoodle boards.
  • Fill in the blank books - like Madlibs and Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself.
  • I spy.
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors.
  • Brain Quest - nothing wrong with a little learning on the road. And if your kids are anything like mine, they ask questions constantly. Here's your chance to ask some back.
  • Card games, if your car is laid out in a way that they can play them.
  • Take turns inventing a story. Each person gets to make up a part, then passes it on.
  • Try to find yellow cars. Or road signs with Z's on them. There aren't many. Make it a game.
  • Count cows. Or sheep. Or whatever you seem to be seeing a lot of.
The main thing to remember on a road trip is that the driving portion of it is part of your vacation just as much as the time you spend at your destination. The more fun you can make it, the less painful it will be.

And don't forget to keep your sense of humor fully intact. You just might need it. Okay, so you will need it. That much I can promise.

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