Car Trips w/ Kids

Family road trips aren’t what they used to be.  Do your parents remind you how fun it was to lay out the blankets and put the pillows in the back of the stationwagon where you would lazily watch the countryside go by while you baked in the heat and alternated between annoying your siblings and playing games or singing songs?  And you have to tell them that it’s a different story now that everyone has to be strapped in place the entire way.  And ear buds and personal electronic devices eliminate much of the games and interaction, though not the “you’re in my space” issues.

Of course, most of the changes are improvements—air conditioning and DVD players to name a few.  But our family, according to our kids, is rather archaic as they have to share a DVD player, and we don’t have a game system.  Along with the fact that our 7-seater van has all 7 seats occupied—from a car seat with a tyrannical 2-year-old to a 6 foot tall teenager who really needs more leg room, fuses can understandably run short.

We are currently returning from California, where we visited grandparents for Thanksgiving, to Colorado.  (We got the entire week off of school due to furloughs in the school district, and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity.)  But since we are not voting, or even considering, to kick anyone out of the car, we had to find other ways to maintain peace as much as possible in our confined space.

One thing we have always enjoyed on family trips is recorded books.  Just one book lasts many hours.  I really like the new format our library has started using—the “Playaway”.  It allows me to check out several books and fit them in a small space.  I have learned it helps to bring along an extra AAA battery just in case, though if you have several Playaways, you can probably find a battery with some juice in at least one of them if the one you are listening to runs out. Today we have been listening to Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, a particular treat for someone who loves art, kids, writing, and Chicago.  Kids can listen to them with their own ear phones, or you can plug it into your car like an mp3 player (we use a tape adapter).

I also checked out several music CDs from the library and we have taken turns listening to each other’s music.  We’ve had a few rounds of the ABC song and also run the cord from the tape adapter to ipods in the back seat.  I even brought along several old tapes that I recently came across and have been listening to my husband’s old mixes.  We’ve found damaged tapes that we can throw away and others that the teenagers actually like.

We also are enjoying, as a perk from my husband’s job–having WiFi in the car, which is why I can be writing this post.  I have been able to catch up on some emails, and upload some photos for my sister-in-law’s Christmas project; my husband has gotten in a few hours of work and worked on our family finances; and my teenagers have worked on their homework and even submitted what they’ve finished.  This is also made possible by the Coleman power converter which plugs into the car’s 12V power port (aka the cigarette lighter outlet).  Ours has a 3 prong 110V outlet and a USB charging point which lets us charge the laptop, phones, and WiFi.

In the past we’ve had WiFi that plugs into a single laptap, which was helpful, but this time we have this thing from Verizon that has been great.  It’s the size of a credit card and can be charged with either a USB or a 2 pronged outlet. It allows several devices to use the internet at once.  So I’ve been working on one laptop, one son working on his History assignment, and another searching on his iPhone for restaurants or interesting facts (“Hey, what does “Sepulveda” mean?, while we were driving in L.A., and he’d look it up and tell us.  By the way, it’s a last name, not a kind of tree like many of the other street names in So. Cal.)

Another thing we have come to enjoy on our road trips is “travel money.”  I’m stingy (“fiscally conservative”) by nature, and never want to buy kids treats at road stops for fear of them begging for things and because I just can’t bear to buy excessive sugar and then make the dentist appointments for the same kids.  So we found a way to enjoy treating them and teach them some financial responsibility at the same time.  It allows them to decide what is most important to them and to save up for it, and it let’s me let them buy beef jerky or Twizzlers at that little expensive gas station store.

We keep a small coin purse for each of them with their name on it that we call their “travel money.”  We take a jar of change with us on the trip, and each half hour there isn’t any squabbling, we put a dime in their coin purse.  Of course, you can choose your own amount of time and money.  (We’ve also starting just adding it up and paying less frequently in lump sums.)  I was considering doubling it for this trip, after all, is 20 cents really enough to motivate a teenager?  But instead I started doing things like saying, “We’ve had a great morning–an extra dollar in everyone’s travel money.”

Occasionally we hear a harsh word from the back seat and we inform those involved that a dime is being removed from their travel money, and would they like us to remove more or can we work it out peacefully?  We also remove money when we find someone hasn’t buckled up their seatbelt. (Little ones are great at making sure they are buckled up, but as they get older, they get worse and worse.) Our son who is willing to sit between the 2-year-old and the cooler and perform all the associated tasks gets 50% extra.

This is also helpful for little ones learning about the value of coins and money.  I find that the way money works in our culture today, they don’t interact with cash very often.

One last thing we are enjoying on this trip are the personal innovations of our kids.  Our 16-year-old somehow acquired a short battery-powered string of Christmas lights that he strung across the ceiling in the back, adding a fun festive feel to the day after Thanksgiving drive as well as a reading light for the 3 in the back.

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About Sunny

My name is Sunny, and my husband and I have five "children" ages 19 to 4. I love learning. I have a M.F.A. in Humanities and dream about going back to school some day. I run around doing "mom" stuff, try to put a nutritious dinner on the table for whomever shows up, and I thrive on creative projects when possible. Mostly I strive to just keep up with the mountains and mole hills of day to day life.
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