When the boys were younger, we were able to feed them an early dinner, get them into pajamas and head out around 5:00 equipped with snacks, the DVD player and some movies, and a few toys. They would eat a snack, watch a movie, play with a couple of cars, and be asleep within two hours.
But sometimes you need to head out in the morning. So, with three-day weekends and winter break coming soon, how can you make the trip more bearable for the kids and the grown-ups? I'm so glad you asked.
1. Emergency Kit
Act like a Girl Scout or Boy Scout and be prepared. You just never know what will happen. There was one trip where we were in stand-still traffic on the thruway when my then-four-year-old vomited all over himself and his car seat. It has not happened since, but we are still prepared.
In addition to a small first aid kit (Band Aids, antiseptic wipes, and first aid cream), we also carry a roll of paper towels, a package of wet wipes, and some empty plastic bags in the trunk. Depending on the weather and the age of your children, you may also wish to create a more well-equipped car kit.
Pack snacks in individual containers. You do not want to deal with opening packages or pouring goldfish crackers in the car. That is just a mess waiting to happen. We have a snack bag (a great repurposing for a used gift bag!) that gets filled with granola bars, fruit leather, boxes of raisins, and assorted other favorites portioned out into 8 ounce plastic containers (such as Ziploc). Don't forget to pack some snacks for the driver and navigator as well.
Staying hydrated is also important while traveling. We fill up the kids' sippy cups and our reusable water bottles, plus we fill one or two extra reusable water bottles to refill the kids' cups.
3. Good Music for the Whole Family
Set the mood with some fun, upbeat tunes. Of course you want your kids to be entertained during the road trip, but it doesn't have to be at your expense. If some of their music really grates on your nerves, you may want to "forget" those CDs at home, or temporarily delete them from your MP3 player.
Some of our top picks in kids' music: Welcome to Ralph's World by Ralph Covert, Juice Box Heroes by Imagination Movers, Snack Time by Barenaked Ladies, and No! by They Might Be Giants. Laurie Berkner and Dan Zanes also make adult-friendly music for kids.
Obviously, the items you pack will depend on the ages and interests of the children. We opt for things that do not have too many parts and do not require help from mom or dad. Right now the boys - ages 3 and 5 - enjoy playing with Matchbox pop-up adventure play sets in the car. We have the Mickey Mouse, Sponge Bob, and Diego sets (all were gifts for our boys).
We also usually grab some cars, dinosaurs, and other random fun toys; in this case, a slinky and Rubik's cube-type toy. I am a big fan of the dollar bins at Target, Michael's, and A.C. Moore. Also The Christmas Tree Shops and Dollar Tree usually have some fun options. You can pack things up in a tote bag, used gift bag, plastic zip-top bag, or even repurpose a used diaper-wipes container (below). One container per kid, and when they get bored they can switch.
5. Coloring Books, Crayons, and Stickers
Along with toys, we like to pack things for the kids to do. Crayons often get lost in the car, but we have found that stickers keep them occupied. TIP: I like to remove the background from sticker sheets ahead of time so it is easier for the kids to peel off the stickers by themselves.
When you visit the dollar bins at the stores mentioned above, keep an eye out for Play Packs (mini coloring book, stickers, and four crayons...all for $1), invisible ink pads, etc. These are great options for the car. Crayola Color Wonder markers and paper are also convenient for the car.
You can also put together a binder full of activities for older kids (ages 2 1/2 +)...which will be featured in Part 2.
6. Mile-Marker Rewards
If you don't want to offer the kids all options at once, consider wrapping up the toys and trinkets and reward the kids every 100 miles for their good behavior. Start the trip with one reward and explain that if they are on their best behavior, they will get another reward when the car reaches 100 miles. Map the trip ahead of time and plan accordingly so you don't run out early.
I loathe the fact that we allow our kids to veg out in the car and watch an endless loop of Scooby Doo. However, sometimes it's a necessary evil. It passes the time, and pacifies the kids so you can have a bit of peace during the trip. Of course, the usual suspects are a portable DVD player and DVDs and hand-held games. Santa Claus brought a LeapPad for the boys to share, so that is a new favorite in the car. We have to keep an eye on the clock so that both boys get equal time to play.
8. Sing Some Songs
Yes, it's reminiscent of the Griswalds, but your kids will have fun. Bust out the classics like Old McDonald, BINGO, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Row Row Row Your Boat, and anything else you - or your kids - care to belt out. Laughter is guaranteed.
9. Play Classic Car Games
- I'm Going On a Picnic - One person starts with, "I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing apples." The next person says, "I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing apples and bananas." The next person says, "I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing apples, bananas, and chocolate." And so on. For older kids, try to go in alphabetical order with the picnic items.
- Color Safari - Look out your windows and search for all the colors of the rainbow. The first person calls out a color. The person to find something of that color first gets to call out the next color.
- Letter Hunt (Shape Hunt for younger kids) - Find each of the letters of the alphabet on signs, license plates, etc.
- Simon Says - "Simon Says touch your nose," and any other motion that can be done sitting down.
10. Activity Binder
Check out the next post in our Tips and Activities for a Road Trip with Kids series to learn how to make your own!
I hope these ideas help put your mind at ease and make you better prepared for your next road trip with the kids. Be sure to check out the next post for the final page of the Activity Binder, and one super-fun activity.
Do you have more words of wisdom to share about road trips with the kids? Be sure to Post a Comment and let us know. Thanks! As always, thank you for reading.
Tips and Activities for a Road Trip with Kids - Part 2
Tips and Activities for a Road Trip with Kids - Part 3