Those four little words above are my absolute least favorite to hear on a road-trip. In fact, I have banned them from my car! My son has this down but my daughter is still working on it. This may sound harsh but I feel like it is actually teaching my kids some valuable lessons. You know, things like slowing down and enjoying the ride, experiencing where you at that exact moment, taking in the beauty around you. All things I am reminding myself constantly to employ in my own life! But kids are kids and their patience runs thin and their little bodies are full of energy. So it's up to us to find ways to make road-trips a little less painful for them (and us!). Here are my top ten ways to make your next road-trip a success:
1. Pick A Good Time-
This one is especially important when your kids are little and life revolves around sleep times. We have planned so many road-trips (and flights) around nap times and bed times. One of the best tips I read about when my son was born was to have a lovey, a blanket or stuffed animal, that would help them to feel at home no mater they were going to sleep. Both of my kids have had these and we make sure to always travel with them (and not lose them). So when we are ready to head out on a trip, we grab our lovies, hit the road about an hour or two before nap time, entertain the kids for a bit and then say night-night. I have booked many of flights based on this tip too. A lot of trips have been made easier by the fact that my kids were asleep during a big chunk of it.
2. Have Something New-
Every time we head out on a trip, I make sure to have at least one surprise in my bag of tricks. It can be a game or toy or a special snack (usually sweet) but I make sure it is something that they either haven't seen before or haven't seen in a long time. One example of this was when I was heading out on a cross country flight by myself with my two young kids (Otis was 6 and Lola was 1). Otis was always a champion traveler, and still is, sleeping and being entertained wherever and however we went. Lola was a bit trickier. So on this trip to Seattle, I made sure to be prepared. Lola loves art and I found this great dry erase board from Crayola that had a black side and white side with neon colored crayons that could just be wiped off. She loved her new toy and it kept her happily occupied in her seat for hours, scribbling and then erasing and doing it all over again and again. I made sure to keep that magical Crayola toy in my travel bag for many more trips!
3. Games, games, games-
We took a road trip last summer that the mother of all road trips! We started in Philadelphia, headed to DC, then to Kentucky and then made our way all across the country to Los Angeles, making stops in Memphis, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Flagstaff and lots of other places along the way. So I needed a plethora of ways to entertain the kids! One of our favorites was travel bingo, where the board is full of things you see on the highway like road signs, semi-trucks, farms, rivers, etc. Pair that with a long game of 20 questions and I Spy and you've already knocked an hour off your trip!
The oh-so-important bag of snacks, don't leave home without it! We all know how cranky kids (and grownups!) get when they are hungry and the last thing you want to be doing on a long road trip is stopping every few miles! You also probably don't want your kids eating the crap you find on the highway. I try to keep our snacks on the road healthy but make sure to throw some treats in as well. Our days of bottles and sippy cups are gone but I make sure to pack plenty of drinks for us. We LOVE the HyrdoFlask water bottles and make sure to each have our own for the car (I carry mine with me 24/7). They keep your drink hot or cold for hours! I also pack in a few juice boxes, some apple sauce squeezers, Kind bars (for all of us), cheese sticks, nuts or trail mix, hummus, chips, and a container of cut veggies and/or fruit. Snacking like this holds us over until we either find a delicious side of the road gem or get to the next city and have a nice dinner.
We could actually pass time in the car by talking to each other?? What a novel idea?! But in all seriousness, this is a great chance for you to catch up with each other! You're stuck in the car together after all and there is a good chance your cell phone doesn't have service so there are no excuses really. I have found that kids will tell you more in the car and are more willing to ask questions. We went to France several years ago and took quite a few little road trips visiting cities around the town we were staying. One night on a drive home after visiting a medieval village, my son starting asking questions about the village, the people that lived there and the history that took place in it. My husband and I talked to him to him for an hour straight about it with him fully engaged the whole time and never once asking for an iPad or something like that. It was great, for all of us. Try it out sometime. You just might learn some things about your kids.
6. Make Pit Stops-
I love a road trip where we don't have to be too attached to our itineraries and our schedule. I like to meander, to see what we can find. The best way to do this on a road trip than to make a lot of pit stops. On our big cross-country drive last year, I made sure that we did this A LOT. Drive by a big field of sunflowers, stop and check them out. Spot some Cadillacs buried in the ground off the highway, make a stop. See a sign in New Mexico for the oldest inhabited settlement in North America, pull over and learn about the Acoma Sky City, a place I had never heard of before that. Notice some food trucks on the side of the 5 with long lines, get off and have the best pupusas you ever tasted. There are so many wonderful places to see and explore out there. Give yourself extra time and take plenty of pit stops.
7. Audio Books-
I love audio books. But it never really occurred to me that this might be something we could do as a family until recently. My kids are 5 years apart in age, finding books they both will understand and enjoy is very difficult. But after hearing another family rave about listening to a book on a long drive, I decided to give it a shot. And whatta ya know?? They liked it. We listened to Matilda by Roald Dahl read by the magnificent Kate Winslet. It was great! We all loved trying out the voices, doing our best interpretations, and it was a book that they both enjoyed! I plan on finding some more winners and putting together a list to post on here soon. In the meantime, browse Audible on Amazon and give audiobooks a whirl. Let me know your family's favorite!
We have lots of playlists in our house. My most requested playlist lately is Girl's Rock #1 & #2. My daughter wants to hear one of these every time we are in the car (much to my sons dismay!). I have never been one of those parents that listens to the Disney stations or the watered down pop music aimed at kids. I want my kids to know and love good music, in every genre. We listen to pop, rock, rap, bluegrass, country, indie, jazz, everything. Music is too important in our family to be stuck on a long car ride listening to Kidz Bop or something like that. So we make our kids playlist of good songs we like that we also think they will like too! Trust me, do this instead of getting sucked into the kids music world! It makes life in the car so much more pleasant and gives your kids a solid base of musical knowledge.
9. Let Them Be Bored (and maybe they will see the world!)-
Wow, what a concept! We didn't have iPads or Gameboys or Leapsters or anything of the sort when we were kids and we survived! I tell my kids all the time that sometimes you are just going to have to be bored. Listen, I get it, the main reason we are trying to entertain the little ones is for our own sanity. But if we always do this, how will they ever be able to entertain themselves? It is good to be bored, in fact, recent studies have found that in the summertime kids need to be bored! We over-plan their lives, filling it with classes and extracurricular activities, and honestly, we do it in travel too. Slow down, let them be bored, tell them to stare out the window at the world going by them, to think, to contemplate, to come up with ideas, to imagine. It will do them a world of good.
10. Electronic Devices-
And then, when all else fails, give them their devices. Like I said above, your sanity is a key factor in the happiness of the family and sometimes to preserve that sanity you just need some peace and quiet. We have two iPads in our family so before we head out on the road we make sure to stock both of them with movies and games to entertain each kid. We had a lot of fun on our drive across the country this past summer, in the car and out. But it was also a very stressful time, moving our life to a far-away city, selling our house, leaving friends and family. There were times in the car where all I wanted was to listen to NPR or an audiobook of my choosing (two favorites: Yes Please written and read by Amy Poehler and The Testament of Mary written by Colm Toibin and read by Meryl Streep) or rock out to Pearl Jam as long as I wanted. And the iPads provided me with the ability to do that. I have no shame in letting my kids watch movie after movie on a long car ride, especially after we have exhausted all other options. Whatever it takes to keep us all happy!
Some of my favorite road trip must-haves: