My children are NOT good in the car. Ever since my son was a baby, he could never handle more then 2 hours in the car-seat before he wanted out. So when we were planning a weekend trip to Legoland that included 16 hours in the car (not counting stops), I knew I needed to be prepared. I expected the worst, but at the end of the weekend, my kids did the whole trip (which turned into 18 due to traffic and weather) with relative ease. I thought I’d take my one success and translate it into tips that will hopefully help your upcoming adventure.
We Talked About It, A LOT: My son doesn’t do well with transitions or change, so talking about what was going to happen really helped. They knew exactly how many hours we were going to be in the car, when we were driving, how often we’d stop, what activities would be available. So when we went on our trip, there were no surprises.
Lots of Food: Some people are opposed to eating in the car, but we are the type of family that has goldfish ground into our seats. For the trip, each kid was given 1 gallon sized zip lock bag full of fun snack food they don’t normally get. We had granola bars, fig bars, fruit snacks, Ritz Cheese Crackers, some clementine, and applesauce sachets. The kids love getting different food, and it was a way to keep them happy and made sure hunger wasn’t a reason for their grouchiness. For the adults we had Trail Mix, Granola bars, and mini Oreos (hey, it’s a road trip, have to have some fun treats), to keep us happy on the road.Full Water Bottles: We took 4 large water bottles from home and filled it up before we left so everyone had one. We refilled at each stop to make sure that everyone stayed well hydrated. It did however mean that we took more breaks.
Pack Activities: My kids love activity books, sticker books, coloring or drawing, and reading. We didn’t really bring toys because it’s a little difficult for them to play with them and stay in their car seats. Also I didn’t want to be constantly reaching back and picking up toys that fell on the floor.
Have The Electronics but Ration Them: This one was key. Once my son gets his tablet, he gets sucked in and refuses to give it up. They don’t often get them, but we thought a long trip like this was a good exception. We usually allowed it in 1 to 2 hour increments between stops. This made sure they weren’t totally sucked in, and they didn’t drain the battery down to nothing.Audio Books: The public library is a wonderful thing. I went to the library a day before and picked up a number of audio books from the juvenile literature section. We listened to Charlotte’s Web, Judy Moody, Ramona the Pest, and Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. My kids are at that great age where they can now listen to a story, follow simpler story lines for longer periods of time. My son reads chapter books and my daughter can now listen to one over a few nights. So this was a great way to have them in the car, off the electronics, but still engaged and entertained.
Movies: My fantastic cousin lent us her car DVD player that came with two screens that attached to the head rest. If that is an option for you, it’s a fantastic one. We used this one when it got dark, and they could no longer read, color, etc.
Road Trip Games: We ended up not using this, but I did have in my arsenal a few road trip games. Classics are “I Spy” and the License Plate Game.
Plan Around Sleep Schedules: If you still have a napper, make sure to plan your trip so you are leaving a stop right as nap is supposed to start. This gives you a good 2 to 3 hour stretch. Also, if you’re up for it, driving after dinner and late or through the night lets your kids sleep longer stretches. We had PJs with us, and the kids changed into them after dinner each night we were on the road. This made it easier to just put them to bed once we got to our location.
Plan Stops: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Coffee are obvious ones. But sometimes you need more than that. Look at your route ahead of time. Is there a McDonalds with a play area on the way? Any good playgrounds or interesting sights off the road? Have a friend you haven’t seen in a while you can swing by and visit? Stops help make the trip easier, and let’s everyone get out and stretch their legs and run off some energy.
Give Your Kids Some Choice: We had dinner on the road two nights, so each kid got a night to pick dinner, wherever they wanted. My kids picked out what snacks they had, what movies they watched. The more choice you give them, the more you allow them to help with the planning, the more they are engaged and invested in the process. And the more likely they will enjoy being on the road.
After a combined total of 18 hours in the car, with the last two hours being in torrential downpour, we arrived safely home with two children who had uttered few complaints the entire trip fast asleep. They even requested we continue listening to some audio books on our drive to school in the morning. It was rousing success and I’m confident we can use this to build on more road trips in the future.
What are some tips or tricks you use to keep the littles happy during long road trips?