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We’re leaving on a road trip next week. But not just any road trip. An 18-hour road trip. With a two-year-old and four-year-old in tow. In honor of this trip, I decided to create a list of things that might help us survive – and maybe even really enjoy – the drive.
- Three words: Portable. DVD. Player. Every parent who’s ever gone on a long trip with kids will extoll the virtues of this device. I don’t typically advocate using videos as a babysitter, but in the car I think it’s valuable tool for breaking up long spurts of essentially just sitting around, especially when kids are too young to read. Here’s another idea – take advantage of Redbox and pick up new movies at various stops along your trip. You can return the DVDs to any machine, so you can always just have one or two out at a time and your kids will get a new variety of entertainment.
- Pack plenty of blankets and pillows. I’m a nester… I want any space I’m spending time in to be comfortable and feel homey, and I’ve always been that way. It’s a lot more pleasant to be stuck in the car for a long time if you’re snuggled up with a blanket and pillow!
- Offer prizes. Yep, I resort to bribery on long road trips. We usually go buy up some cool-looking Hot Wheels cars for $1 each, and some other items from the Target dollar section. In the past I would just periodically pull one out for each of the boys, but now that they’re older I want to incorporate some fun into it – the small toys can serve as prizes for correctly guessing an I Spy, coloring a great picture, or for winning a round of the quiet game.
- If possible, travel when the kids are sleeping. I really hate driving (or, ahem, traveling… Brian does most of the driving on our road trips) at night, so we very rarely abide by this one. It can really make things easier, though! Our boys typically go to sleep around 8:00, so if we drive until midnight that gives us four hours of quiet drive time.
- Listen to audiobooks and FUN music. Growing up, we always listened to music on road trips, but now with how easy it is to load up audiobooks on your MP3 player, these are a great option for listening material in the car. Chick Fil A and Taco Bueno are both offering great audiobooks in their kids’ meals right now, by the way! We’ve amassed a collection of VeggieTales stories from CFA, and two Scholastic books from Bueno. Another idea: After you listen to a story, ask the kids questions to see what they remember, or what they thought about certain things that occurred. It’s a great conversation starter! As far as music goes, it’ll vary with the ages of your children. With small kids like ours, though, sacrifice your musical integrity and listen to some Old MacDonald. A family sing-along can be a lot of fun for everyone.
- Play games. I referred to it earlier, but games definitely make trips go by faster! Brian and I play “My Father Owns a Grocery Store” where you take turns thinking of an item from the supermarket that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet, and the other people have to guess. It’s surprisingly fun and helps make the time go by more quickly. If you’re looking for other game ideas besides the standard I Spy, here’s a list of 101 ideas you can choose from. I’m also a huge fan of MadLibs, and so are the boys. I like to come up with my own basic stories for them because then I can center the subject around something the boys really like.
- Drive a vehicle with plenty of space. I know it’s not always possible, but the more space you have, the happier everyone will be. We get to try the 2011 Ford Explorer on our road trip, and are excited about having a lot of space for both luggage and our family.
- Provide a variety of snacks. If you have a cooler along with you, I’m a big fan of string cheese. The boys take forever to eat it, and it’s a healthy option. Grapes (I cut mine in half because I’m paranoid about the boys choking) are another good choice. Crackers and chips can crumble all over the place, so think about the mess potential when you’re picking food to bring. Oh, and always have lollipops on hand. Those can buy us a good 10 minutes of happy silence!
- Art time! Instead of pulling out coloring books, bring cardstock along and let your kids create masterpieces to mail to family and friends. Another idea is to work together as a family to create a storybook – draw all the pictures first, have the kids place them in the order they want, and then write the story to go around the images.
- If you’re stopping overnight on your trip, pack one “hotel” bag. Nothing’s more annoying than getting to your hotel late at night and then having to dig through luggage to find everyone’s suitcases and toiletry bag. Instead, pack PJ’s and the next day’s outfit for everyone in one duffel bag with toiletries. If you have small children, pack some outlet protectors in the bag too for a little childproofing.
I’ll be writing a series of posts starting next week that chronicle our trip, so I hope you’ll tune in and follow along. In the meantime, you have any tips for traveling with small kids, I’d love to hear them!