Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Traveling with Kids

When I was a child, we would take a vacation to Myrtle Beach every summer. It was about a 12 hour drive (of course, I'm not sure if that was with stops or before stops). That is a long drive for anyone. My parents helped the drive feel shorter (and helped us get there in time to check in) by leaving at 3 am. We would climb into the back of the car and sleep for the first part of the trip. Once we were up, My parents made sure we had ways to be entertained - we filled our drive with the license plate game, auto bingo, coloring, and homework (we went in the fall). I might not have always enjoyed the long drive, but I was a good traveler. We drove everywhere. Even when we flew somewhere, we drove once we were there. When we took a summer vacation to Arizona, we flew into one city and then drove throughout the state to see all that Arizona had to offer. When we took a summer vacation to Europe, we flew into Germany and from there, drove to Austria and France. For my brothers and I, driving for vacation was just the way it was.

When I started my own family, desire to see family drove the need for the kids to become great car travelers from a very early age. I know people that feel that traveling by car with kids is not an option - that their kids can't or won't make the trip. Many of them accommodate by not traveling or by driving at night. I don't want to not travel and I don't want to be any more exhausted upon arrival, so I knew that my kids would just have to learn to travel. With a little bit of practice, they are now good travelers.

Like my parents, I do my best to make the trip as easy for them as possible and provide lots of entertainment for them. When we are making a shorter 3 or 4 hour trip, timing of departure is a little bit less critical and frequently we will drive it straight through, but when we make a 6 or 8 hour trip, we schedule our departure to align with our desired first stop. Typically, we like to get half way or a bit further before our first stop. This is reasonable because the kids can make the 3 or 4 hour trip with no stops. We make the first stop a stop for lunch or dinner and of course, a bathroom break. Then, usually a couple of hours later it is time to stop again for a bathroom break. This approach helps in a few ways - it breaks up the trip into manageable chunks and by pushing the first stop out to 3 or 4 hours, it helps to minimize the number of stops needed, keeping the trip length from growing too much as a result of stops.

As for backseat entertainment, my kids sure have a lot of options that I did not have as a child. We have a rear seat entertainment system in our car, which allows the kids to watch movies or episodes on DVD or listen to their own music when we travel. We only use this when we are making a real trip. For local travel, even trips that are an hour we don't watch shows - which makes it a treat to them on longer trips. Watching movies and shows really can keep them entertained for large chunks of time, helping the trip feel faster for them. Of course, my three year old usually loses interest before the movie is over - so the episodes work better for her. My son will also bring along his DS to play when his sister has selected the movie (play it on the trip, but not while we are visiting - those are the rules). Much like when I was a kids, we bring along games and books to play on the trip as well. In addition to the coloring books that we pack, we keep a stack of notebooks tucked between the kids seats that they can use to draw or write. Last year before our vacation, we picked up some extreme dot to dot and travel activity books for my son to work on during the trip. Reading is a popular activity as well. This is a great opportunity to sit and listen to the three year old "read" her books to her dolly. Then, there is always napping. The kids though are getting older and sleeping in the car happens less often than it used to.

We also pack the car with snacks and beverages. We bring a mix of snacks - not only for the drive, but for the destination too. I try to stick with snacks that we can put into a little bowl with a lid. This way, the kids can keep the snack in their cup holder and nibble at it as they please. Some snacks that work well for this are raisins, Cheerios or other cereal, Goldfish, and Cheez-Its. I also will sometimes pack fruit and yogurt - but those are usually consumed at a stop, rather than in the car. For the beverages, we used to use sippy cups, but now that the kids are older, I have a set of Take'n Toss straw cups that allow me to give them juice or water for the drive without having to worry about significant spillage. Generally, we don't allow them to have soda, but sometimes as a treat we will. I learned however on our recent trip home from Niagara Falls that 7Up will bubble up through the straw if you drink it in just the right way. My daughter's drink was spouting everywhere, but my son's was not. Eventually, I had my daughter pull the straw above the drink before she put it in her cup holder to stop the spouting.

For the most part, I don't hear much "are we there yet" from the backseat. I think the key is to break up the monotony of the trip. We do this by breaking up the trip in manageable chunks with the way we plan stops. We have different entertainment options that allow the kids to break up the trip with a variety of activities. Having snacks and drinks on hand allows us to keep on driving, even when hunger and thirst arise. Traveling by car with the kids, works for me.

This post shared at Works for Me Wednesday. She has a great post on Organizing your Life, which I know I could use a little more of.


Lori Yoder said...

What an awesome tip! We will be doing this quite soon and I'll be using this info! Thanks!

I would love it if you would link this to my Tuesday's Tips at

Heather said...

Good Advice.
Sounds like the same strategies we use for our thirteen hour trip to home throughout the year. Last year we drove clear from Texas to Niagra Falls with four kids and me eight months pregnant.

I totally agree on not letting the kids watch dvds unless we are on a road trip.

I have also been known to pack a small bag of new (dollar) toys they may only open after they spot a Flordia license plate, or some other such nonsense.

Nice to meet you. Stop by sometime.

NeedANap2 said...

We've started borrowing books on CD from the library to help when on long trips. Our kids recently enjoyed The Moffats and Hotel for Dogs (we haven't seen the movie).

'Becca said...

Great tips! One that's worked well for us is a magnetic drawing pad (MagnaDoodle type), which allows for drawing/writing with no mess, and you can't lose the pen because it's attached!

We also like books on CD when it's my turn to drive. I am able to read in the car without feeling sick, so when my partner is driving I sit in back with the kid and read to him. For our 3-days-on-the-road trip when he was 2, we checked out 2 tote bags full of library books and hid them until we left; then we put 1 in the back seat and 1 in the trunk, and we switched them each day, so we had a great variety of new-to-us books to choose from!