If cries of “road trip!” and “I call shotgun!” no longer thrill you, you are probably a parent. While parenting is tough in general, being confined inside a car with your children for extended periods of time while dealing with traffic, GPS directions, and pit stops, can curl any parent’s toes. So are there really ways that parents and children can enjoy this time together other than by having the kids plug into a movie on their devices with the headphones on?
Some kid-trained travelers share their tips on how to turn a road trip with your kids from tiring to terrific, by planning ahead to make sure you have the perfect road trip planned for your family.
Creative Car Games!
While this is an oldie, it’s still a goodie. Kids love car games, and if it can make them take out the earbuds for a while, it’s worth it. After all, movies don’t make memories on a car trip, but a fun car game can!
Try some simple games such as the classic “license plate game” in which players try to “collect” as many license plates from different states as possible from the passing traffic.
Another great game is “Banana!” In this game, passengers keep a lookout for yellow vehicles. When one is spotted, the first person to see it and shout, “Banana!” gets a point. If two players shout it at the same time, it’s a banana split and they each get a point. If a player shouts “Banana!” and the vehicle turns out to not be completely yellow, they lose a point. A scorekeeper sets the goal for twenty points or more, depending on how long they wish to play.
Pack the Snacks
Tame your little travelers with lots of snacks. If you have time to prepare separate snack packs for each child ahead of time it will save on the stress of fighting over snacks in the backseat. Some great healthy snack ideas are popcorn, dried fruit, trail mix, beef jerky, veggie chips, peanut butter crackers, and granola bars. Be sure to also pack individual water bottles and refill them at pit stops. Juice boxes are also great for traveling.
You can pack a few not-so-healthy snacks for special treats. These are handy to have around when you need to use them to “bribe” children into being quiet in a tricky traffic situation, or to hand out as a reward for good behavior when children are being exceptionally well-behaved. You can always get back on track with such things as restricting sugar after your trip. Sometimes traveling with kids means you need sugar in your bag of travel tricks.
Be sure to carry wet wipes to clean up spills and sticky hands and faces while on the go.
Plot Your Pit Stops
One helpful tip is to plan your pit stops at interesting places along the route. Depending on how much time you have, you can plan to stop at places with interesting sights. You can look for farmer’s markets, curiosity stops, children’s museums, miniature golf, or national parks. Even quick stops such as a scenic area for a picnic, or a tourist curiosity shop can be helpful for breaking up a trip, stretching legs, and getting a second wind to keep you going when you get back on the road.
If you have a baby or toddler, be sure to pack a great lightweight stroller to use on pit stops along the way. Bringing along a good baby carrier is another great way to get around with ease while making pit stops in scenic areas, or while visiting a museum or curiosity shop on your trip.
Take pictures along the way because some of the best memories of traveling can come from the trip itself if you plan it right!
Help each child create a car “busy bag” filled with things they can play with during the trip. These vary a lot depending on the age of the child, but some ideas are coloring books and crayons, travel games, latch hook sets, small puzzles, sticker books, and color forms. One handy hack for traveling with young children is to keep a special travel toy such as a velcro dress doll set, a special Lego set, or fun color form, and only allow your child to play with it during road trips. For young travelers, this can give them the motivation to begin the trip in good spirits because they can’t wait to get to play with this special travel-only toy.
Reading on the Road
Travel time is the perfect time for your children to hear a great chapter book read aloud to them. This can be enjoyed by the entire family. There are electronic books available, but nothing makes a better memory than having a parent read a good book out loud to children during travel.
Books to choose for reading on the road will vary with the age of the children, but some great ideas that can be enjoyed by kids of all ages are “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “A Secret Garden,” and “Heidi.” Older children will love “Harry Potter,” “Holes,” “Eragon,” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
You can also choose books that are set in the place of your destination, especially those that present the history of the area in a fun and factual or fictional storyline.
Bring the Sick Kit
The last thing you want to be doing on a road trip is taking a sudden side trip to pick up medicine for a sick child or bandaids for an injury. Be sure to bring along a road trip sick kit packed with essentials like bandages, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, Dramamine, and any medications that might be needed. It’s also a good idea to bring airplane barf bags. If you don’t have any official barf bags, you can pack gallon-sized Ziploc bags to use for sudden bouts of motion sickness.
Bring Out the Electronics
While family togetherness can really make your road trip memorable, it’s okay to take a break with some scheduled time with electronics. Bring a device with some good children’s movies or programs downloaded or a travel DVD player. Then, let your kids relax and unwind with a good movie. This is the perfect time to bring out the popcorn and enjoy a little escapism. Smart parent travelers plan this time for those parts of the trip where traffic requires all of the driver’s attention, or for evening travel before stopping for the night so travel-wired children can relax and become sleepy. For traveling tots, this can be scheduled before nap time to help ease them into sleep.
Remember, while it might be tempting on trips to throw out the screen time limits, you won’t regret putting the time and effort into having more personal time with your children during family road trips. Books, car games, and great pit stops are the moments that will make the memories of your trip last forever.