Road trips are a fun and affordable way of travel. You just need a car, gas, a map, and you’re good to go! However, it becomes a little more complicated when you’re with young kids. The long hours in the car test their patience (and yours!). With all the tantrums, spills and constant whining, many parents swear they’ll never take another family road trip until their kids graduate!
However, there are ways to make road trips more comfortable and entertaining for your kids. You prevent the tantrums, plus turn the journey into a way to bond, and learn, together.
1. Pack a toy kit.
This can keep your child entertained on the road or any small motels where you’ll be staying along the way. Ideally, the toy kit should have magic slates (for playing tic tac toe), a small box of crayons and paper, play dough, cheap toys (like the ones from Happy Meals).
For your sanity, don’t bring a toy that repeats a song or makes loud, distracting sounds. Imagine what it would be like to hear the “Elmo Song” while traveling across three states.
2. Bring favorite songs and videos.
If you’re lucky, you have a portable DVD player. That alone will keep them happy for the entire trip. But if you’re still waiting for Santa to give you one this year, the next best thing is an iPod loaded with your child’s favorite songs.
3. Avoid the mess.
Keep baby wipes in the car to clean up little spills. Instead of opening big bags of snacks (which can spill all over the backseat), divide these into kid-sized portions and then store in Ziploc bags.
You also spare yourself a lot of headache by banning all juice in the car. Juice will only lead to sugar highs and sugar crashes (do you really want restless or whiny kids stuck in an enclosed space?) and stains are impossible to remove from upholstery. Serve water instead.
4. Be prepared for car sickness.
Car sickness can strike anytime. Keep a barf bag in the car, along with a spare set of clothes for your kids and you (just in case you were part of the, er, “collateral damage”).
To prevent car sickness, tell kids to look out the window at a fixed spot, like a point in the horizon. The body gets confused by what it feels (motion) and what it sees (constant, non-moving objects such as the view of the front seat).
Don’t let kids do anything that involves looking at one object for a long time (like reading or playing with a portable video game). Fidgeting—turning around, shifting from side to side—also worsens dizziness.
If your kids say they’re feeling dizzy, and it’s not possible to pull over and rest, open the car windows and let in the fresh air, and give them ginger candy (this helps prevent nausea).
5. Dress the kids comfortably.
Keep them in layers of loose clothing. This will guarantee good circulation, and they can take off or add layers to adjust to the temperature in the car. Ideally, they should just wear socks when they’re on the road, so bring shoes that they can quickly slip on and off for pit stops.
6. Play car games.
Who can find spot a red car first? What animals start with the first letter of the license plate of the car beside yours? These games can keep young kids busy, and are a great way to teach them about letters, sounds, colors and numbers.
7. Be armed with trivia.
Talk about the place you’re going to, and the towns you pass by. Older kids can research on it before the trip (“Hey, did you know that Abraham Lincoln was born there?”). Younger kids may not be interested in historical facts, but you can point out interesting things about the scenery. “That’s one of the tallest mountains in the country!” or “Every winter, birds travel thousands of miles just to stay here, where it’s warm.”