Traveling with kids can be absolutely insane sometimes. A chorus of “Stop touching your sister!” and “Are We There Yet?!” ring out through the car, and eventually, everyone realizes something HAS to give. Whether you’re going by plane, train, or automobile, it helps to have some great ideas to make travel easier!
When I start planning a road trip, or any trip, I consider the old wedding adage and start with…
Something old. A few weeks before a big trip, by plane or car, I make sure to set aside a toy that is oft-played with, a favorite, and hide it someplace safe until the trip. I’ve noticed that kids play with other toys in the meantime, and that specific toy is out of mind for awhile. When things start to get restless on the trip, it’s time to pull out this hidden toy and surprise your child with it. They’ll be so excited to see this old-toy-turned-new that it’ll settle things down for awhile as they enjoy this old favorite again. Plus, it costs you nothing to hide a toy for a few weeks until vacation!
Something new comes next– new things are always an exciting treat! Before a trip, I create a fun trip gift! I buy a small toy (seasonal gift or dollar sections at Target or Walmart are a great resource for finding something small!), a new book, and a small snack and drink, then package it in a gift back. It’s a great way to surprise kids at the start of a trip, with a personal bag just for them filled with an exciting new treat!
Shopping together is a great way to involve everyone in the trip planning. Whether it’s a new bathing suit for the trip, or healthy snacks to enjoy along the ride, it’s important to include your child in the planning and talk about what the trip will be like, including step-by-step discussions of the drive. One thing I love to do in particular is to bring Zach along to pick out great snacks at the grocery store, emphasizing healthy choices, a few days before the trip. Together, we can grab baby carrots and travel-size containers of dip, apples and grapes, and sandwich items, plus his favorite crackers and cookies, to make sure we have some great snacks for the drive and our arrival. It’s a great way to talk about the upcoming trip and get him involved in the planning for what’s going on next.
Play games on the drive! Our family favorite is the “I’m looking for” game, and it gets played on trips short and long. A twist on the classic “I spy,” this is a little easier for younger kids. One player starts, saying something like “I’m looking for a pickup truck!” If someone finds the object, they’re it and get to pick the next one. If a bit of time goes by and no one finds it, the person chooses a second object– “I’m looking for a pick up truck OR a Christmas tree.” For younger players, you can be very general– “A car,” or “A bird” work well. For older kids, you can get more specific “A red pickup truck with a dog in it.” Because this game is easy to tailor to different ages to make it more or less challenging, it’s fun the whole family can play. We’ve gotten really crazy with ours, also– including “A cloud that kind of looks like an elephant,” “A dead raccoon,” and “A blue car with jet skis.”
Plan the route together. You can hang a string through the car with the various points you’ll pass through– major landmarks, special cities, and more– and remove the points as you pass through them. It’s a great visual to show kids that you’re getting through certain points on the road, and to show them that you’re getting closer and closer.
Pick a fun stop along the way. If you’re going by road, it’s a great choice to look at options for stretching your legs. Find a children’s museum, a fun playground, or an exciting restaurant to stop at along the way, particularly about halfway through the trip. It’ll be a great way to get off the road for a few minutes and just enjoy a few minutes. If going by car, even an impromptu choice can be a good one. We had stopped for lunch and had everyone get out to stretch their legs, and found this fantastic coin machine. The goal was to land your quarter exactly right to hopefully push other quarters off! We set a budget of a dollar, and Jeffrey won $2, but then lost them all. Even though he walked away with a dollar loss, it was a fun way to stretch our legs, and we had the whole family and half of Subway cheering him on!
Magnet games are a great way to play with no mess. You can easily find board game boards by doing a Google Image search, or design your own in a program like Paint.Net or Photoshop. Once designed, print the game board and pieces on magnetic paper. Then, pack a small cookie sheet or metal board and allow for hours of magnetic play. No pieces will get lost! You can even create paper dolls or a mini dollhouse in metal mint containers or other small metal containers, allowing for play with no missing pieces and no mess in the car.
A family playlist is a diplomatic way to make sure everyone’s favorites get heard. Before the trip, have every member of the family write down (or dictate) 5-10 of their favorite songs. Track them down and make a mixtape or playlist of the songs on shuffle. During the trip, play the songs and guess who added the songs to the list. With some families who have varied tastes, this game will be incredibly easy, but for families with similar interests, it’ll be challenging! Either way, there will be great tunes, and since everyone picks some songs, there will be no arguments about “How come we only listen to THEIR music?!”
Don’t be afraid to use technology. It’s okay to give your kid a little bit of tech time on a very long trip. It can be sanity saving to pull out an electronic device before you pull out your hair. Before the trip, load up the Kindle, iPad, or other device with some educational games and books, then save it for the last stand– that stretch where NOTHING else is working. Another good option is a brand new DVD. Both Walmart and Target sell a selection for under $5.
When all else fails, follow the rules. Have a tally sheet, and any time someone violates one of the rules of the road (like asking “Are we there yet?!” or pestering a sibling), they get a tally. The person with the fewest tallies gets to pick the next rest stop, or choose an activity while on the trip, or even get a special small treat when you arrive at your destination. Everyone will be working hard to follow the rules and win the Best Traveler Award!
Have any tried-and-true travel tips to keep kids entertained on a long trip? Share them in the comments below!