As summer approaches we start fantasizing about hitting the road, but the reality of traveling with little kids brings our revelry to a screeching halt. So many of us are intimidated by the idea of making a long trip with very young children, but doing so is not only great fun, it lays the groundwork for a future of traveling undaunted by mere distance.
Given that we have family in New England and California, our kids became accustomed to entrapment in their car seats for many hours on end, and to this day we all love long road trips. That is not to say that we didn’t learn many lessons the hard way. I am here today to spare you some of these headaches.
First of all, make a comprehensive list of the things you will be needing to bring along. When you are finished with it, put it someplace (e.g., your underwear drawer) where you can find it for future reference. Likewise, keep a copy of house notes left for the person caring for pets and plants, etc. so you don’t have to write new ones each time you go away. Changes can be made as necessary before the next trip, without having to create the whole thing from scratch.
Bring along lots of nutritious snacks and drinks. Stopping in parks or playgrounds for snack or lunch, and runaround time will make the next stretch of travel much easier. You can spend an hour having a picnic and getting the wiggles out instead of having to further restrain the children in a diner. If you plan to go the restaurant route for meals, go on-line and map out the locations of some acceptable choices. Having to search high and low for someplace to eat with a car full of hungry, cranky kids is not fun! (Remember to do a headcount when leaving a pit stop. Driving off without one of the children happens far more often than one would expect!)
Packing a bag of “stuff” (notebook, crayons or colored pencils, small toys, books, a deck of cards, a ball or Frisbee for pit stops) for each child to keep themselves entertained is most useful. Or, you may want to dole these playthings out one at a time every hour or so.
Never travel without a large box of Ziplocs and a couple of bath towels kept within easy reach in case of a sudden onset of carsickness. The bags don’t leak and the smell is contained until you are able to dispose of it.
Perhaps most critical is lots of kid-friendly music that parents can fall in love with and tolerate listening to hundreds of times because this is what kids do. It doesn’t have to be “kid’s music”- so much of that becomes terribly annoying in short order. But there are a few gems out there. Our very favorite children’s artist is Tom Chapin. He is a singer storyteller and in my opinion a talented genius who either knows kids extremely well or has a vivid recollection of childhood.
Exposing children to a wide variety of music is a gift that lasts a lifetime. You can’t go wrong with the Putamayoseries of world music, Benny Goodman(big band/jazz), folk music (Peter, Paul, and Mary; the Weavers), or classical music that tells a story (Carnival of the Animals, Fantasia)
While you may be tempted by the possibility of keeping the kids occupied through the use of a DVD player, keep in mind that when children are watching TV, they are missing a world of first-hand experience. Children become so excited when they see a herd of cattle, or the huge sculpture of a dinosaur, or various other landmarks.
Numerous travel games keep the whole family entertained. Have everyone in the car pick a color and count cars. See how many different states can be identified on license plates. Play word games. (I learned how to read playing the alphabet game using the signs we passed).
You may be surprised to remember the large repertoire of songs you learned as a youngster in school or in scouts. Even if you can only remember part of a song, it is very easy to find the lyrics on-line. Kids love learning the silly songs we learned as children.
Of course, long road trips with little (and not so little) ones are not all fun and games. There are the inevitable spats that have a way of escalating to unacceptable proportions. Pulling over to the side of the road, turning the ignition off and sitting quietly (without letting yourself get sucked into the fray) until they decide it’s time to move on is most effective in restoring the peace. In extreme situations, removing a child from the car (regardless of weather, and always with close parental supervision) provides a clear message that the behavior will not be tolerated.
When planning a road trip, including all family members creates a team spirit. Discuss beforehand the expectations, limits, and consequences of certain behaviors. When children are equipped with this information ahead of time, they are eager to cooperate; and if it becomes necessary to enforce disciplinary measures, it is by choice of the person misbehaving .- RDW (5-13-10)