Summer travel with kids is exciting and can be challenging. These tips will help keep the mood up in the car during long hours on the road and make the experience more enjoyable and healthful for everyone.
Make a Travel Plan
Map out your trip, making motel or campground reservations ahead of time, and planning to be done driving by early afternoon each day. Mark the map with your route and give it to the kids to keep track of progress. It is empowering for them to know the plan and takes the stress off of you by knowing in advance where you’ll be sleeping each night. By keeping the driving day short, you have time to unwind at the motel pool and you’ll avoid rush hour traffic if you happen to be going through an urban area.
Kids love to help out and giving them specific tasks will help them feel more participatory in the trip and less like they’re being drug around. Get their input when making the travel plan. Let them do an internet search for their favorite restaurant and map them out on the plan. Give them a check list of items to gather and pack. Have them track the mile markers along the way. Let them be the trash collectors for each stop responsible for gathering all the wrappers from the last bit of the journey.
Stop driving every 2-3 hours and get out of the car and stretch and run around for about twenty minutes. Keep on the lookout for outdoor parks, or if the weather is poor, for fast food restaurants with a play place. Kids need to move and so do you.
There’s nothing more dehydrating than long hours in a car or airplane. Drink water and make sure your kids drink water. This will also help facilitate the need for frequent stops.
Healthy Snacks Often
Its fun to hit the convenience stores at the gas station and fill up with bags of chips, candy, and giant sodas, but also have a cooler full of veggie sticks, peanut butter to dip them in, trail mix and other healthy snacks. The La Leche League cookbooks, which are dedicated to helping families raise healthy, joyful kids, is full of simple and delicious healthy snack options. Just like your car needs high quality fuel every few hours, so does your body need good snacks every 3-4 hours.
Create Comfortable Space
Let your kids brings their pillow, blanket and special toy. They need a sense of personal space to feel secure, comfortable, and ultimately, happy about being cooped up in a car for hours on end. Also, dress them in layers so they have environment control in their space and can lighten up if they’re hot or keep covered if they feel cool.
Car games are a great way to pass the time and shift the focus off the kids discomfort. Some classics are the “ABC Game” where you race each other through the alphabet by reading passing signs. In “Slug Bug” you hit the roof whenever you see a Volkswagen. If you’re in a remote area and not likely to see other cars, you can make it “Slug Beaver Dam” or whatever is appropriate. Also, pack notebooks, clipboards, paper, pens and coloring books for the kids to exercise their creative abilities.
Make Up Stories
The sense of adventure of travelling somewhere along with the confinement of the travelling itself makes for ideal story telling conditions. Let each child make up a story, or do it as a group effort where everyone adds to the story or brings in a new character. As a bonus, bring along a recorder and capture your family’s creative efforts. The playback itself will continue to entertain.
Play The Thankful Game
One day, out of sheer frustration from my kids constant bickering I discovered the “Thankful Game.” It’s simple – you just announce the game and begin by saying, “I am thankful for…and name at least three things. Then pass it onto the next person until it goes around the car. Science is finding that a state of gratitude enhances a sense of well being, making this game a very effective way to quickly shift the mood back to something more positive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude#cite_note-WoodEudamonic-22
Skip the Hotel Restaurants
After a long day of driving, the last thing your kids want is to sit quietly to eat dinner in a restaurant. Instead, have your evening meal outdoors, bringing along a camping stove, pot, spoon, and paper plates and make boxed macaroni and cheese and hotdogs with carrot sticks. The fresh air and lack of need for manners will be appreciated by all.
Travelling with kids really brings to life Ralph Waldo Emerson’s observation that “life is a journey, not a destination” and reminds us to have fun as we safely travel with our families this summer.