Traveling with Kids: Edition 1-Successful road trips
Spring and Summer vacation time is upon us, so I thought this republish from 2009 might be helpful as you’re planning your spring and summer road trips. Enjoy!
We just got back from our spring vacation with the girls. It was a long ride in the car, logging about two thousand round trip miles to travel form the cold Midwest to the sunny beach. This trip was actually made more difficult by some poor weather conditions and hellish traffic in Atlanta, outside of Charlotte and outside of Indianapolis. Except for a little bit of melting down on Littlebit’s on our first leg home (which was soothed by a stop for a late dinner, running around a rest area and some favorite lullabies when we got back into the car) our road trip was, from the standpoint of the kid’s behavior, a success.
We do a lot of car traveling and with the rising cost of airfare, air travel for a family of soon to be five really isn’t in our budget. Well, it could be in our budget, but it would severely limit our vacation options, Since I feel travel with kids is something that we’re successful at, I’d like to share a few tips we’ve found to make car trips easier.
1) Be willing to stop.
I know this seems like a no brainer and I know that most travelers are desperate to get to their desperation, but road trips work easier for everyone, including little ones, if Mom and Dad are willing to take the time to stop. We normally stop every two hours for 15 to 20 minutes, giving everyone time to go to the bathroom AND stretch their legs. For active little ones, like Littlebit, these fifteen minute breaks that we’re willing to take makes a big difference on outlook. Some states have fantastic rest areas with open spaces (bring along a ball or a Frisbee) and some even have playgrounds. Not only do these trips stretch the legs, but they can help tire out restless little ones into a nap.
Additionally, we’re willing to stop for a longer, sit down meal about half way through our trip. Obviously these stops add time to your trip, but an hour and a half extra time on the road for peace is worth it. And, if you’re traveling to a warm climate from a cold one, the trips to the rest stops are usually your first hint of better weather and everyone seems to relish them
If we intend to travel long distances we break the trip up into two, one day legs and try to arrive at a time that allows time for play after the travel. This year, we stopped in Nashville. We let the girls play at the beautiful Centennial park and walked around downtown at dinner time. A little bit of beforehand research can help you pick a destination that will suit your family.
2) Bring your snacks.
I normally pack a reusable grocery bag with juice boxes, pretzels, crackers, cookies, string cheese, apples and nuts. I try to include the protein as they can help stretch a hungry traveler a little longer and the apples, nuts and string cheese give good balance to normally less than healthy road food. I find the one bag of food feeds us for a two day leg and I replenish the bag before we head home. The Princess likes helping select the snacks and we all like having something there to stretch us through from breakfast to a later lunch. It’s also helpful if you have kiddos that melt down when their blood sugar gets low.
3) Use technology to arm yourself.
I’ve totally been one of those parents turning up her nose at DVD systems in cars, but on long trips, they really can be useful. Yes, I know I went on road trips without DVD players. I was one of the unlucky ones who got car sick and couldn’t read. Sure, we played some games (mostly, a wholly unwholesome game of mocking fellow drivers), but if you’re asking your kids to withstand long days in the car, why not make things a little bit pleasant. On-board DVD systems are nice and much preferable, IMO, to portable car devices (they operate better, for one. Our Chrysler Pacifica also featured wireless headphones and a six disc DVD changer. We loaded the changer with car trip only discs and they stayed safe, always in the car and in good shape). But, if you don’t like the idea of shelling out for an on-board system or even a portable system, consider an IPod. Yes I know, they can be pricey, but they’re multi-functional (mine not only provides entertainment to the kids, but stores our music AND serves as a photo backup device as well). For about $2/each you can download episodes of popular children’s shows and Itunes is always running $10 movies deals as well featuring at least a movie or two your kids will like. Rentals run a little cheaper, but you can only watch them for a limited amount of time on your Ipod. Video podcasts are great to download too. They’re free and feature some of your children’s favorites like excerpts from Drake and Josh and ICarly, musical excerpts from Dora the Explorer and some full episode shows like Super Why and Lazy Town. Littlebit also adores They Might Be Giants free kid offerings as well. I like owning the electronic copy only. It makes for less junk around the house and you’re guaranteed that little fingers won’t ruin your DVDs.
4) Old Favorites.
Never underestimate the usefulness of a bag of toys and books. Older kids can choose with guidance (The Princess constantly makes poor entertainment choices and ends up bored). Word Searches and coloring books are other good choices and we’ve had good luck with magna doodles and aqua doodles. Color Wonder Crayola products are good if you’re worried about kids being loose with a pack of crayons in your back seat. Spending a few dollars on new backseat distractions will usually be worth the cash. The trip, Littlebit enjoyed a small toy set that featured a doll on a metal tin that came with clothes on a magnetized sheet. She dressed and undressed the dolls for hours and they’re easier stored for next time. In fact, I typically leave a bag of toys and books in the car for Littlebit. We have the space, it saves packing time and sometimes you need a bag of toys.