Road Trips are a fun family tradition I look back on with fondness....UNTIL I became the Mom and realized all the behind-the-scenes work that my Mom must have put in to make it all happen! The planning, organizing, gathering, etc. etc. etc, just to make sure we were all happy.
Because every road-trip parent knows that the ride is a lot more fun for everyone if the kids are occupied and happy than if they are restless and cranky.
My family of 5 (ages 5, 3 1/2, and nearly 2) just wrapped up our 2nd annual cross-country road trip, and this one wins the title of best trip ever. With a little preparation and advanced planning, your next road trip can be full of fun memories, instead of "are-we-there-yet" headaches.
1. Use your local library
Get materials that will be new and engaging for your children. Go early enough before your trip to request holds or transfers on items you want. Some libraries also have travel-kits available for check out that have activities, coloring sheets, and books your kids will like. Search-and-Find books captivate my kids, from 18 months and up, as they are visually stimulating and can mostly be used independently from a parent. Some even have Board Book versions. Look for these Search-and-find books:
- The "I SPY" series by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick
- The "Can You See What I See" by Walter Wick
- The "Look-Alikes" by Joan Steiner
- The "Where's Waldo" series by Martin Hanford
- The "1001 Things to Spot" series put out by Usborne. Search by title, because they are published by several different authors names.
Check out Books-on-CDs for your kids, too. We love the short stories, often found in the children's section. Sometimes I leave the books at home and just listen to the stories while we drive. Other times, I make sure to take 2 copies of the books, so each child old enough can have one to follow along. One big tip: Compile all the short stories into 1 CD before you leave. Otherwise you will be juggling with lots of CDs and cases every 3-5 minutes.
Check out some longer books-on-CDs, too. For our ages, we've been captivated by:
- The Magic Tree House books on CD by Mary Pope Osborn
- A-Z Mysteries by Ron Roy
- The Romona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary
- Shel Silverstein's poem collections (Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, etc.)
And remember to get something for the parents, too. There will be times that the kids will be asleep or self-entertained. This is a good time to have something you will enjoy individually or as a couple. Get some books to read, or a book on CD you would enjoy together. We always take at least one stand-up comedy CD. Try Bill Cosby, Brian Regan, or Seinfeld.
2. Plan your Stops ahead of time
Your trip will be a success if you remember these 3 things that kids need but are often ignored in the car.
1) Wiggle Room
2) Natural Sunlight
3) Permission to use their energy
Every family will have to stop at some point to get wiggles out, use the restroom, and have a meal. Why not plan it around something captivating for the kids? Check out roadsideamerica.com to see what amazing Road Trip sights are on your route. Yes, this includes the largest ball of twine. We used this site on our most recent trip and found amazing stops along the way, including a toy train musuem just minutes off the main highway. I kept a list of interesting sites and addresses on hand, so when we were ready to stop we could just plug it into the GPS. Also, if you have a smart phone, type in "splash pad" or "playground" into Google and the cities you are approaching and you will be able to find a great park to picnic in and use some energy. You will all feel refreshed and rejuvenated after some fresh air, natural sunlight, and running around, even for a few minutes. And you'll end up seeing more of the country than the interstate rest areas allow.
3. Plan Healthy Snacks
Eating the wrong foods while driving can affect everyone's moods ... and digestive systems. Keep junk food to a minimum, and try to maintain your regular eating schedule. Instead of allowing kids to graze and munch the whole car ride, anticipate lunch time and snack times and have the food prepared for them before they get too hungry. Treats are fun, but remember that sugars will make kids hyper and then sluggish...a bad combination for being strapped in a car for too long. Sugars also affect the drivers, as they make you feel tired and bloated. You will feel more comfortable and alert by choosing natural foods and sugars, as found in fruits and veggies, other than chips and processed foods. Most importantly, keep everyone hydrated. Water Water Water. 100% Juice Boxes are great too, but keep water as your main source to keep your bodies feeling great. For some more ideas, click here.
4. Bring activities that Engage their Brains
Perhaps you've noticed, but kids are happier when their brains are being active. Instead of relying on DVDs or Electronic games, neither of which require brain exercise, bring a variety of activities that will keep the kids active and engaged. When their brains are happy, their moods are more likely to be happy. When their brains are not engaged, they will more likely be bored, and as a result, complain and whine. To have a happy trip, help the kids stay happy with the right activities. For example:
1. Books to look at, Books on CDs, and parent Read-Alouds.
2. Coloring Books and Crayons. Divide the crayons into baggies for each child. In my opinion, road trips are worth investing in Crayola's Color Wonder Books, with markers that mark only on the special paper and nothing else. Have Tape in the car to display their pictures on the window.
3. Take cookie sheets to act as table tops for their laps. This helps keep markers, toys, and food in place.
5. Make Mini Marshmallows and Toothpicks Sculptures(on their cookie sheets)
6. Magnets are fascinating, too. Take the ABC magnets from your fridge for car learning, or put magnets on the back of puzzle pieces, using your cookie sheets for magnet table top.
7. Thread Pony Beads onto Pipe Cleaners -- the pipe cleaners are bendable and have friction so the beads don't slide off! Again, the edged cookie sheets are great! Fun to make for presents if you are going to be seeing family or friends along the way!
8. Print out Travel Games and Bingo at crayola.com. Also print off Coloring Pages, Dot-to-Dot, Color by number, and other activity pages from here.
9. Bring Postcards and stamps. Write at least one postcard each day to a family member, or to your family to receive when you get home. Send it from a city along the way.
10. Cotton Balls or marbles and egg crates. Youngsters love to place the balls in the egg cartons over and over again. Older kids can play a fun games by themselves, with a sibling, or a parent. Put a marble in every hole except for one. Find a marble that can jump over one marble and land in the empty hole. Remove the marble that was jumped over. Now you have 2 empty holes. Continue jumping marbles around the crate until you can't jump anymore...the challenge is to get it down to 1 marble remaining.
5. More Helpful Hints
1. Keep your car organized and clean. Discard trash each time you stop. Put toys back in their bags frequently. An orderly vehicle can help everyone's spirits stay bright.
2. Take a screwdriver and extra batteries, or rechargeable batteries and a car charger. Helpful for any battery-operated toys or games.
3. Ziplog bags of all sizes are helpful, too. We use them to pass snacks back to the kids or to store unfinished snacks. They're great if someone has an accident or gets carsick as it locks any stink right in until you can get to a trash can.
4. Keep bubbles close by to Mom. When the kids need a quick mood change, blowing bubbles into the back seat does wonders!
5. Use bungie cords to help toys stay close to carseats for little toddlers.
6. Give bigger kids plastic grabbers (you know, those plastic claw things?) so they can pick up their own dropped toys.
The most important advice I can pass on from our trip is this: Let your vacation begin the minute you leave your house and last until the moment you get home. Happy Road Tripping!