Guest post by Aura Walker
Being a former military family, we have mostly lived far away from relatives. With the high cost of plane tickets and having four children, we have a lot of long holiday road trips. Keeping kids entertained and keeping them from arguing is a challenge. From California, to Maryland, to Florida and now Virginia, relocation orders meant several days of travel and proved to be an even bigger challenge. Over the years we have had good trips, some not-so-good trips, and one trip that we just refer to as, “the incident”. It took some effort, but we found what works for us. Below is some tried and true, good old traveling advice and the lessons I have learned when traveling with kids.
Good Old Advice: Make The Kids Comfortable
Lesson learned: Comfortable clothes are paramount on a road trip. After a few hours, tight waist bands and itchy shirt tags can cause an irritable mood. Messy or wet clothes are uncomfortable. Keep a change of clothes easily accessible in case clothes get soiled. If your car’s seats are not very cushy, make extra padding for the seat with a fleece throw. The fleece throw will come in handy later on if there is an air conditioning complaint or someone goes to sleep. Thank goodness for three-row seating! Even with room to stretch, there are occasional territory line disputes between the two kids that happen to share the middle row. We have learned to bring a large throw pillow that we use as a wall if needed.
Good Old Advice: Bring Food For The Trip
Lesson learned: Packing meals for a trip has never worked out for my family, unless we were planning specifically for a picnic. The restaurant billboards all along the interstate make food from home less appealing and do I even have to mention how long the smell of tuna sandwiches linger in the car and on clothes? Juice boxes, water bottles and individually wrapped snacks on the other hand, are almost never turned down or wasted -but you should pack only what you know your kids will eat. This isn’t the time to try a new organic granola bar, just get the chocolate chip granola bars they like.
Good Old Advice: Have an Emergency Kit
Lesson Learned: I have learned that if I need more than a small first-aid kit, a wound or illness needs closer attention and I should find a pharmacy or an urgent-care clinic. I am a nurse by vocation, my medicine/first-aid cabinet at home is stocked with everything but an ambulance. On the other hand, my car medical kit has the bare minimum. The small 3”x5” plastic box contains a small tube of bacitracin, four medium bandages, four large bandages, a roll of Tums and individual-dose travel packs of ibuprofen, Dramamine and antihistamine. It is much better to have this stuff already in the car, than to stop for it. For car emergencies, I have learned that it is much better to upgrade my insurance for the month of a road trip to full coverage with roadside assistance. Auto clubs require year-long membership dues and the benefits aren’t always worth the fees. A cell phone charger for my car completes my emergency kit.
Good Old Advice: Schedule Regular Rest Stops
Lesson learned: The top rest stop lesson I have learned; when a kid says they think they are going to be sick, Pull Over! It’s true, stopping to stretch your legs is good for the circulation but there are other benefits to scheduled rest stops. A stop every 3-4 hours on a long road trip gives you a chance to grab snacks, eat a meal, use the bathroom, wash up, fill the gas tank, and replace items used from the medical kit. For teenagers who need their “space”, It can be oppressive to be stuck in close proximity with your whole family. Rest stops help diffuse the tension; you can keep your cool when you know you’ll get a break soon. Don’t knock the value of roadside oddities. For my kids, tourist traps tend to be a highlight of our trips.
Good Old Advice: Keep Kids Entertained With Car Games and Sing-Alongs
Lesson learned: DVD players, iPods, and hand-held video games are not the only thing kids need on long trips. Kids will tire of electronics and will want real human interaction. I ask my kids to reserve their electronics for a time when they need a mental break and time to themselves. Then they can put on their headphones and tune out whatever is happening in the car. Audio books are a great way to keep the kids from hyper-focusing on each other. Car games are fun, the best ones, are not competitive. We count and keep a tally of specific things, like American flags, red barns or license plate from other states. We make up “knock-knock” jokes and elephant jokes. We make up stories, taking turns adding one sentence at a time. One of our favorite things is our epic sing-alongs. Even though my kids are getting older, they still like singing at the top of their lungs. We have graduated from songs like, “Down by the Bay” and “Old MacDonald”, to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and anything by The Beatles.
There are many good websites out there that offer ideas and tips for traveling with kids. A lot of what we do on road trips has come from travel advice I found online. By trial and error we have found what works for our family. Try out some of the games before the actual trip, that way you aren’t stuck with an itinerary of activities that your kids don’t like. Every family is different; you may have to tweak games and activities to find what works for yours. The main idea you want to reinforce is that your time together can be enjoyable. Of all the ways we pass time on our road trips, the most important factor in having a good experience is having respect, patience and love for each other.
Check Out These Websites for More Tips and Lists of Car Activities for Kids