It’s vacation season and many of us will be piling the car full with the kiddos to take a trip at some point. As exciting as this can be it can be just as daunting to consider riding in the car for 3 + hours with kids. Of course some ages are easier to travel with while others are..well can be a nightmare. But here are a few tips that we’ve managed to pick up over the years that help to make things a little more bearable.
1. Consider Your Sleepers Of course napping is a great way to help the time go by when traveling but I find that you need to be smart about traveling during naptime. If we decide to let the kids nap during traveling we try to have them nap earlier than normal because what I don’t want is to get to the beach at 7:00 pm and have kids full of energy because they napped late in the day. Our first night away we want everyone in the bed early because we are usually tired and just want to get a good nights sleep to be ready for the next day. Also, kids sleeping in unusal places can be trying to get to bed in the first place, it sure doesn’t help matters if their not good and tired at bedtime.
2. Stop and Go Although we travel with four kids we stop as little as possible yet we try to make the most out of our stops. When we stop for bathroom breaks (which isn’t often) everyone must go. We also make the kids walk, run, skip, kick a ball, race around, do anything to burn energy and get moving while we are stopped. Nice grassy rest areas are perfect for this although we’ve been known to find a quiet parking lot on occasion. When and if we have to stop for food we do not go in and eat, drive-thrus are our friends. It takes our kids about 30 minutes to finish eating a meal, we take advantage of that time the are occupied and drive.
3. Don’t Take the Kitchen Sink The last thing I want to do when traveling is pack the inside of the car with extra toys, bags, coloring books, crayons, etc. Take a few things that kids can do quietly and alone and leave it at that. Children’s books-on-tape are great for us, we don’t have to have loose books laying everywhere and I don’t have to scream to read a book aloud. Our library has a good selection of these. For the older kids sometimes I’ll print off some activity sheets about travel and staple them into a little booklet to work on while the younger ones are sleeping. You know things to look for, licence tags to find, find these words, those kind of things. Things I don’t like to take are, crayons/markers, books, lots of loose papers, any small toys or anything that makes noise. The only reading material (with the exception of a book for a child who can read on his/her own) that I usually take are magazines. Toddlers like to flip through and look at pictures and once they are done I can trash it (or recycle it) and it’s no longer taking up room in our car.
4. Snacks in Moderation Sure food is a good distraction but again don’t overdo it. Think things that take time to eat and aren’t super messy. Grapes, soft granola bars (hard ones will leave a million crumbs), string cheese, and bite sized foods that aren’t too crumbly work pretty well. Stay away from crackers, chocolate, chips, and fruit snacks (my kids can down a pack of those in about 2 seconds). Keep in mind that the kids aren’t really burning many calories, they don’t really need that many snacks.
5. The Last Resort We save the movie as the last resort. We don’t own a DVD player for our car (and don’t really want one) but we do take a laptop for a movie when we are going on vacation. We try to exhaust our other options and save the movie for when we need a mental break.
A couple of other things to remember: It is OKAY for you to expect your kids to sit quietly for a while. They do not have to be occupied every moment while traveling. It’s actually nice for them to learn to observe what’s outside the window or have a calm conversation with a sibling. Sure, you need not expect them to do this for a long time but for a short bit, it’s a good thing.
Keep a “ringer item”, something like a sucker will do just fine. This is great for when the toddler starts falling apart in the backseat, bring out only if necessary.
If all else fails do something unexpected like roll down the windows, take everyone’s shoes off, drive through a car wash, or stop at a gas station, buy a bag of gummy bears and throw them to each person one at a time and remember it’s all going to be over soon!