Road trips with kids can be a blast, but they can also be a challenging test of patience. Family trips on the road typically start off with lots of excitement and anticipation for the big adventure and things are great. Then as the hours go by, either the boredom sets in, passengers get uncomfortable, and then of course the inevitable, "I'm squished" or worse the "mom, dad, he/she's looking at me!" bickering.
It is the latter moments which make everyone want to pack it up, turn around and go home. The good news is, even if these moments become frequent on the trip, with a bit of pre-planning, these fires can easily be prevented or at least put out quickly if one does erupt. A good philosophy to follow is to make the happy moments outweigh the not so great ones.
Here are some tips and tricks to help make road trips with kids a bit more manageable:
Safety should be a planning priority. Be sure to check car seats, boosters and seat belts to make sure there are no abnormalities and children can be properly secured. Additionally, get your car checked out and be sure to have a spare tire on board - the last thing you want to do is get stranded with the kids and deal with a breakdown or flat tire. Clean out any unnecessary junk that can go flying across the car's interior if you have to stop short or someone rear ends you. Lastly, be sure to pack an emergency kit, this way you're prepared in the event supplies are needed. 1
Keeping the kids occupied in between stops one of the most important things to a successful and low-stress road trip. Bring games, books, crayons, and paper for the little ones. What I used to do was buy a few toys and tuck them away into a travel bag; these toys would only come out on road trips. This way these toys were new and interesting rather than grabbing toys from home the kids had access to every day.
For the older kids, don't forget to pack the Nintendo DS, other hand-held video games, tablets, iPods, music players or even just a batch of their favorite CDs for everyone to listen to. If you have a portable DVD player, this is also a great distraction for kids of all ages. Allow each child a choice of his or her favorite movie and then allow everyone to take turns.
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Take Breaks and Bring Snacks
Semi-frequent stops are always a good idea with kids. There are always going to be the eventual restroom stops, and it's good for both you and the kids to take a break every so often. Even if you're pressed for time, the break may be enough if just to allow everyone to quick stretch their legs and grab a bite to eat or a treat to snack on.
Even if you do make a bathroom and food stop, it's always a good idea to keep some extra drinks and snacks on hand. Crackers, fruit or even some cookies are fun choices and, this way if the kids get really hungry, they can have a small something to tide their appetites over until you can stop for a full meal.
Play Car Games
This will depend on the age of your kids, but word and counting games can be fun. The family can count big rig trucks, look for specific kinds or colors of cars or track license plates from different states. Or, move away from motor vehicles and see how many birds or animals you can spot. "I Spy" is another good game to play.
Rhyming games are good for little ones or, for the older kids, add the challenge of having them restricted to words they can choose. For instance if one person's word ends in an "e", the next word chosen has to begin with the letter "e"; there are many varieties and creative ways to come up with words. Even the most reluctant older kids can often be lured in for at least a couple of rounds.
If your family enjoys music, why not try some sing-a-longs, or make up your own songs? See who can come up with the silliest rhymes. You can keep it freestyle or make a theme (such as about your destination or something else trip-related). Or you can simply just pop in some fun CDs.
Include Kid-Friendly Stops
Depending on your destination, you may or may not have some flexibility in this, but if it is at all possible, try and plan some fun stops for the kids. Longer than a simple rest-stop trip. If it's a lengthy car trip, making a leisure stop will help break up the monotony, get everyone some nice time to stretch out, and the kids won't go from being bored at a rest stop to more boredom in the car.
Some great choices are state parks, playgrounds, kid-oriented museums or other sight-seeing locations. Even anywhere that has a patch of grass where they can safely run around. It doesn't matter where you choose, what matters is the stops are places the kids can burn off some of that built-up energy and have some fun in a change of scenery before loading back up in the car.
Scenery might be pretty from a car window, but kids are more likely to appreciate getting out of the car to run around a bit. Image on I-81 in southwest Virginia.
Traveling the open road with the family is one of those things that can be a wonderful memory in the making, or can end up as one of those horrible childhood memories of being squished in the car and bored. If you plan ahead of time and be sure the kids have enough to keep them occupied, you'll ensure it will be a treasured event for years to come.
Going on a road trip with the family indeed has its ups and downs, but by making the trip more kid-friendly, you and your children will have some pretty terrific memories to take home and keep forever.