We just made a 500 mile trip to the beach and along the way, I realized I’ve gotten pretty good at road tripping with children. As I was thinking about doing a post on tips for road tripping with children, I was reminded I already had!
Jennifer over at Family Friendly Knoxville wrote a great post sharing her tips for taking summer road trips, including some travel tips I shared in a post that ran at my previous blog, which is now reserved for just for documenting my family.
Here is updated list of things that work for us, adapted from my original post after our Spring Break trip to Rosemary Beach in 2011, including more ideas that work for us as our children get older.
- The most important thing to keeping everyone happy on long drives are snacks! I pack an insulated cooler bag with cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, fruit, carrot sticks, supplies to make hummus wraps on the go, Horizon milk boxes and small (for the sake of potty breaks) juice boxes. In a dry snack bag I keep surprise foods to dole when needed. Such as their favorite kids Cliff Bars, Annie’s organic fruit bunny snacks, the individual bags of Late July peanut butter crackers and Spry gum. All of these are things we’ve limited since our 10 Day Real Food Challenge, so they were very happy to unexpectedly been given them on the trip.
- We visited the library the week of the trip to check out books. We signed up for the summer reading program where children are challenged to read a certain amount of books, or listen to them – depending on their ability. I have a reader and a two listeners. So we checked out books for all three ages, which also included six books on CDs for my middle child. Thankfully they don’t get car sick so they spent a good amount of time reading, and documenting it for summer reading program.
- We have a DVD player in our van. Instead of checking out movies out from the library this time we went to McKay’s (where they sell used books, CDs and movies) to pick out a six “new” movies. The Jetsons and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were the favorites for this trip.
- I also provide art activities in the car. This time each girl had a sketch book that was recently given to them by a friend who is teaching them weekly art classes at home this summer. They all spent time drawing in them during our recent trip. Sticker books for my youngest girl still work great. And on long car trips, the stickers can end up anywhere. Vinyl sticker books are great for decorating windows and so are gel clings. Wikki Sticks are a great car art activity too. For drawing, a wooden art board is nice to tape paper to and keep it from falling on the floor while riding. A clipboard would work nicely as well.
- When the girls were babies and young toddlers, I used to buy new things they had never seen before trips. Now I just pull out things they haven’t seen in a long time and I’ve learned it works just the same.
- Be organized. Know where everything in the car is at. As the girls are getting older, I’ve found they enjoy having their own backpack of things and being responsible for it. Now, for nonfood items on long trips, I tell them to pack their backpacks with the books and activities they want to do, but explain that it all must fit in one bag. In an effort to travel light (which is almost a joke with five people), this is all the “extra” stuff they are allowed to bring. For smaller three hour trips, I give them their snacks up front and say when it’s gone it’s gone. There stuff stays in their area, by their seat. I have several plain, fabric bins from Thirty One parties which keep everything in their place when we travel. I also keep small trash cans in the car.
- Have a flexible plan in mind for passing the time, watching movies and doing nothing at all but looking out the window. On long trips we drive for about 30 minutes in the morning before offering a movie. When that is done we have snacks and some non-media time where they entertain themsleves with books or conversations. We plan lunch stops in towns where we can find something other than fast food options, and there is a Starbucks handy for the parents. Then they watch another movie while my toddler naps, and we get some adult time. Snacks happen again and so forth. During the last hour of the trip we do whatever possible to deter the every 30 second question of, “How much longer till we get there?” During this last trip I was armed and prepared to start throwing cheese puffs at them, which would have been a once in a million special food treat for them. Luckily it didn’t come to that.
- There are mandatory bathroom breaks – like it or not. Everyone goes, or at least tries. This comes from potty training, and being mindful of staying ahead of the what could come – if you know what I mean? Plus this way we can pretty well gauge who is saying they need to go and who is just saying it to get out of the car (because there is always one of those in the group). Our recent trip was our first since my toddler became fully potty trained, which made three little bladders to keep up with and dodge who needed to go when there was no exit in sight. We averaged about one stop every two-and-a-half hours. We still keep a car potty packed for emergencies. Drinks are doled out strategically, and not right after we’ve stopped for a potty break.
- Make it fun. I’ve learned my attitude about travel is a key component as to what happens inside the car. When the girls start to kick and aggravate each other – showing some good old fashioned sibling car bordom – if I keep my cool it helps them do the same. Instead of snapping back and just turning the radio up louder (which can be very tempting), practicing some gentle parenting techniques can be contagious in the car, in a good way. Focus on the fun of a road trip. Break out silly music, sing loudly and stop if you see something interesting. My middle girl loves watermelon and peaches. So when we saw this side of the road stand selling both, we made sure to pull over. It made the last leg of our trip a bit more peachy, as she munched down on her favorite fruit.
Happy travels! I hope this helps your journey, and your drive to get in the car and just go for it. In the end there is not a trip we wish we didn’t take. Only more I wish we did.