|Photo by Cookie Flores via Flickr|
Road trips are easier if there are two adults - one to drive and one to entertain the kids - but I often do long drives alone. My family lives 9 hours away and while my work schedule is flexible, Hubby's is not. Plus, I don't think he wants to spend days on end with his in-laws. I love my family, but don't begrudge him this fact. I'm sure I wouldn't want to spend 2 straight weeks with my in-laws either.
The first major road trip I took with kids was when Zippy was 20-months old. He and I made the trek to Vermont to visit my family. What should be a 9-hour drive took 12 or 13 hours, but with an Elmo's World dvd on repeat and several stops to run around, the drive itself actually wasn't too bad.
More recently, I took both boys on the road. I have to say that traveling with two kids is much tougher than traveling with just one. Two kids to keep happy, two kids to drive each other batty, and two kids to wrangle during bathroom breaks. Whew! No wonder I was so glad to get back home.
Anyhoo, let's get on with it, shall we? Here are my tips for traveling with little ones:
- First and foremost, put aside any expectations about "making good time." You know the If I drive fast and don't stop to pee I'll get there more quickly mentality? It has no place when traveling with young children. Babies need to eat and have their diapers changed often. Little kids need to stretch and run off excess energy. You can probably count on your drive being 25% longer than usual.
- Be strategic about when you drive. Some people travel at night so the kids will sleep for most of the drive. This makes a lot of sense, but it isn't something I've done myself. I usually try to overlap with naps and coordinate our breaks with mealtimes. So I might leave at 10 am, drive a couple of hours, stop for lunch, then drive a couple more hours while the kids nap, stop for snack, pop in a dvd, arrive at dinner time - just as an example. I also find my kids ride best in the morning, but I'm sure every child is different.
- Know your child's limits (and your own). For instance, on our last road trip I planned to stop over at a friend's house on the drive up, thus splitting the drive over two days, and I was going to do the entire return trip in one day, to maximize our time with my family. However, I realized after the drive to Vermont that 5 hours on the road was the most the boys could handle in a day, especially Bee. He doesn't sleep much in the car and starts getting antsy and fussy unless we watch Thomas & Friends nonstop. So I booked a hotel for our return trip and we left a day earlier than planned. I'm pretty sure I saved myself a very stressful day!
- Plan stops that allow your kids to run around. Grab a bite somewhere that has a play area. Better yet, get your food to go and find a grassy area to picnic. If it isn't mealtime, look for a park or any wide open space that gives the kids a chance to stretch. Fifteen minutes of moving makes a world of difference when it is time to get back in the car.
|Ice cream stop in New York.The boys didn't sit for long!|
- Bring along lots - and I do mean lots - of entertainment. Some of our favorites are the boys' Leapfrog Tag readers, magnetic drawing boards, See n' Say (for Bee), View Master, a stash of little cars and figures, and tons of books. Before the trip, I always try to pick up a couple of new car-friendly toys that I think will hold their attention. Then I fill a bin that sits between the boys in the back seat, but also keep a bag handy up-front, so that I can hand books or toys to them after Bee dumps the bin onto the floor.
- Don't underestimate the power of food to keep your kids occupied. Aim for snacks that take time to eat - small crackers or raisins, for instance. My stepsister recommended a stash of lollipops, so I tried that on our drive home. I'll overlook the sugar-factor and the fact my kids think it is funny to eat the sticks (huh?!) because my stepsister was right - lollipops have a magical ability to shush a fussy kid for at least 10 minutes. And when you are on a long trip, every minute of peace counts!
- Pack music your kids enjoy. Zippy has a couple of favorite cds that he is happy to listen to over and over while doing nothing else (except dancing along, if he's in the kitchen). You might also pack sing-along cds and join in the singing, giving the kids a sense that you are doing something together. I think the thing that is most difficult for Bee on long drives is the lack of contact with me, so finding ways to engage with him really helps.
- Books on cd are great, if your children are old enough. Whether they read along with a book or simply listen, audiobooks can keep kids engaged without always resorting to videos. I discovered that I can download audiobooks to my Kindle and plug it into the USB port of my car so it plays right through the speakers!
- If your children are old enough, play games while you drive. There are a number of games that can be purchased at the store - car Bingo or the license plate hunt - but there are also games that don't require any special supplies. I recently introduced Zippy to the alphabet game, where we try to find the letters of the alphabet in order on passing signs and cars. I also just found this great resource - Moms Minivan - full of ideas for games and activities for the car.
- While I am not a fan of using a dvd player in the car on a routine basis, I highly recommend one for long road trips. I'm not sure how my parents survived a drive from Vermont to Florida with three kids crammed in the backseat without one. Thanks goodness for technology! I try to be strategic about when we turn on the dvd player. For instance, rather than pop in a dvd the moment we leave, I wait until the boys start to get antsy. After we stop for lunch, I might encourage them to close their eyes and rest a little, then let them watch a dvd when they wake up. But I also throw our screen-time rules out the window when we travel. If I have to use dvds the whole drive to keep the kids from hysterics, I will. My goal is to survive the drive!
Planning a road trip? Been on one lately? What are your tricks for keeping the kids happy? Please share!