Car trips with the kids along… just the thought would send some parents into panic mode. I will admit I have been blessed with three fabulous travelers, even as I type we have just arrived home from our spring break trip visiting my in-laws in the Philadelphia area and made the trip (about 3 ½ hours) without stopping. This is obviously not going to be the case for everyone and part of my success with taking that particular trip with my kids is that they’ve been doing it regularly (minimum 4 times a year) since they were born. We also live a minimum of 30 minutes from any shopping (other than Wal-Mart) or chain restaurants (other than fast food) so time in the car is very common for us. In addition we’ve made recent trips (last two years) to visit family in Ohio (about 5 hrs.) and to Disney World (yes we drove… from Pennsylvania). We’re NOT experts but have learned a few tricks of the trade and with summer just around the corner I thought it was a good time to share, so here we go!!
First, and possibly the most important, be prepared to break often. Now, I know that goes against my little share about the 3 ½ hr. trip without stopping, but longer trips are a completely different story. That is the longest I would attempt to go without even a little stop. When we’re going to be in the car any longer that that I cut the trip in half and take a break and when we drove to Disney we stopped every 3 hours, unless the kids were sleeping.
Second, have snacks and drinks planned into the trip. Be careful with the types of snacks too as the really salty snacks will cause really thirsty and soon after a whole lot of “Moooooom, I have to go potty!!!” On the longer trips snacks are provided about an hour before stops so what they drink will “hit them” just about the time a stop is planned. Now, if you’re doing a whole day in the car you’ll need to have actual meals. If you’ve packed a cooler than you can do just that, have dinner and plan a stop about an hour later. If you’re planning to stop and eat the best thing to do is find a place next to some open area to run or a play place (Chick-Fil-a anyone??) eat immediately (go for the chocolate milk over juice or soda, I’ve found the milk doesn’t make them have to “go” as much) then allow them to run around and play for a while (20 minutes usually does the trick) and have them go the bathroom just before getting back into the car. Doing this usually gets us to the next planned stop before needing a bathroom break.
Third, have LOTS of distractions ready but don’t give them everything at once. Have a bag of “goodies” up front and every few hours (or when things start to go south) pass them something new. These don’t have to be brand new toys, I usually get a few new things (from the Dollar Tree) to mix in with some favorites from home. The key is to have several different items that will break up the monotony. Remember to save some for the ride home too!!!
Forth, invest in (or borrow) a portable DVD system, if you don’t have one installed in your car. Getting one of these was a definite game changer. While I never let them watch it the entire time a good full length movie will kill 80-90 minutes and give the entertainer (ME) a much needed break.
Fifth, have other video game toys (we have Leappads) charged and ready to go. Backup batteries would be a good choice as well. Once again, they don’t usually have full access to these but rather something I would add to the ‘goodie bag’ and give it to them for a while and secretly take it during a stop and give it to them at another point in the trip.
Sixth, have well stocked medicine and emergency boxes. I created mine for our trip to Disney and they have been on every trip since then. They’re always ready to go and I’ve found I love having everything I could need at hand when traveling with kids. The medicine box is very straight forward, I have Tylenol and Motrin for the kids (and mom and dad), allergy medicine (for Miss L and her Daddy), Tums and/or Pepto, and I always have Benadryl handy as none of my kids have been stung by a bee yet and don’t want to be without it in the even any of them are allergic. My “emergency” box is a bit different. It has a change of clothes for each of the kids, paper towels, Lysol wipes, hand sanitizer, regular wipes (in individual packages so they won’t dry out), laundry detergent, tissues, lotion, sunblock, shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, and a trash bag. Most of the items in there were free trials I had laying around, I picked up a few travel size things (with coupons) to fill in what I didn’t have. Both ‘boxes’ are in plastic totes and are in the car on just about every trip we go on.
Seventh, have a list of “If all else fails….” activities ready to go. Things like listening to some of “their music” (for us that’s the Fresh Beat Band, Backyardigans and Jake and the Neverland Pirates), playing I Spy, or asking them silly questions may be just the ticket to avoid a meltdown.
The most important thing is to be prepared. I’m probably over prepared for most of our trips but I’d rather be safe than sorry in the event we have an unforeseen issue. I like the idea of being able to handle an issue quickly and without too much ado than to endure even a few moments of chaos before finding a solution. Car trips can be long, boring, and stressful. But being prepared for the kidos will make the time manageable and maybe even fun!!!