Thursday, March 14, 2013

25 Tips and Tricks for Surviving Road Trips with Kids

As the veteran of various long road trips with my children, starting when my 5 1/2 year-old daughter was 18 months old (we also have a 3 1/2 year-old), I've managed to come up with a few tips, tricks and activities to help keep things running smoothly and my kids occupied on the road. I've compiled them here to share with you. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Leave as early as you can stand to in the morning. We pack the car the night before, go to sleep when the kids do, then get up super early, put the kids in the car in their pajamas and hit the road (I mean, 4am is a late start for us). We plan out our breakfast stop ahead of time and change the kids into their clothes at that stop. There are no miles as easy as those early morning miles with no traffic and sleeping kids.

2. Go to the dollar store before your trip and buy some little toys and things for their amusement, and wrap everything you're planning to give them. Since my oldest was little we've told her the Travel Fairy will have little gifts for her if she behaves, and now the kids look forward to the Travel Fairy almost as much as the trip itself. Let your children know that the gifts will only appear if they're behaving appropriately (You can skip that last part if you know you'll be using them as bribes to get them to be quiet for 5 minutes!). Remember to keep some things held back for each leg of the trip - I try to stash them in a box or bag that the kids don't know about and then pull out the day's gifts each morning. On a long travel day (8-10 hours) I might have four little gifts for each child.

3.Try to say 'yes' a little more than you normally might. On one of our last trips we drove past a small-town carnival that was just getting underway on a Friday evening. The kids saw it and started begging us to stop and while our first instinct was to say no (we still had a two-hour drive ahead of us) we gave in to their pleas and pulled over. With the strict understanding that they'd be getting tickets for two rides each, we spent 20 minutes at the carnival and it was one of the highlights of the whole trip for them, and those last two hours went much smoother than they otherwise might have. I'm glad we said yes that time, and I'm more mindful of that now than I was before.

4. Lots of little snacks individually packaged and if your kids are like mine, try to have the same snacks at the same time for each kid. If you're really feeling ambitious you could even wrap these in gift wrap!

5. Water bottles for each child - and it helps if their car seats have cup holders.

6. Music that is fun for both kids AND parents. Some of our family's favorites are Recess Monkey, Justin Roberts, Caspar Babypants, The Not-Its!, Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants. Putumayo World Playground and Latin Playground are great too!

7. A folding travel potty seat for toddlers who are just toilet trained can be a great thing - plus then they don't have to sit directly on the gross public toilets in rest stops or gas stations.

8. 1/4 size sheet pans for each child - these can be used as an eating tray, lapboard, and magnet board. Glue felt to the back side for use as a felt-board as well. You can usually find a lightweight pan at the dollar store for (you guessed it) a dollar!

9. A portable DVD player - we have one in our car but we only let the kids use it on long car rides (over 2 hours) which makes it more special.

10. iPhone, iPod touch or iPad loaded with entertaining apps. Some of the apps my kids especially enjoy are Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, Where's My Water?, Wheels on the Bus, and Where's Gumbo?.

11. A map to color in the route along the way. I've found this really helps kids to visualize that no, we're not there yet, and how long halfway there actually is. Older kids could follow the route on a real map, drawing or coloring the line from town to town. Here's a link to one I made for our last road trip.

12. Think about investing in a Leappad 2, Tag Reader, Tag Junior, or Vtech Innotab system so that pre-readers can read books to themselves in the back seat.

13. Lots of children's websites have printable activities - puzzles, coloring pages, games etc. Some of the sites I've used are Nick Jr., Sprout Online, PBS Kids, and Disney's Family Fun.

14. Light blankets, especially for kids in car seats with 5-point harnesses. Its better to dress them in cooler clothes with a blanket handy than to have to deal with the inevitable "I'm hot - get this sweater off me!" at some point in the trip.

15. Find fun spots for your rest breaks. Even smaller towns might have a children's museum or a really great playground. If you have a membership to your local zoo, aquarium or children's museum check your membership; you might be able to get reciprocal admission to a museum en route or at your destination. Some research ahead of time will make a great deal of difference. Here are links to the National zoo directory and children's museum directory. Some of my children's favorite roadtrip memories are stopping at playgrounds for breakfast and lunch on the trip.

16. Puzzle books - hidden picture puzzles, mazes, connect the dots books are all fun. With my pre-reader I've found that the funnest for her (and me) are ones that are only one type of puzzle so that she doesn't need me to read her new directions every 30 seconds.

17. Don't reveal the snacks and treats and printables ahead of time - make everything a surprise. Even if you don't wrap them as gifts, keep them 'under wraps' until they're revealed on the trip.

18. These foam cutout puzzles do double duty as easy puzzles for toddlers and stencils for preschoolers' drawing time.

19. Alphabet game - spot letters of the alphabet (in alphabetical order) on roadway signs, billboards and businesses. For younger kids give them a printout of the alphabet and let them mark letters when they see them - out of order allowed!

20. License plate hunt - spot license plates from as many states as you can.

21. For littler kids instead of the alphabet or license plate game, try a rainbow bingo game using car colors. Make it a little more difficult by asking them to find the car colors in rainbow order (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple).

22. Travel bingo - you can buy these sets, make your own or download the ones I've drawn for my kids. Make sure each kid has a different card filled with common sights along your route (farm animals, farm equipment, construction equipment, gas stations, fast food restaurant signs, etc).

23. Find-It bottles are always good for at least a few minutes of fun. First just let the kids explore them, then ask them to find specific items - you can even make it a race. If you put a lot of items into the bottle you might want to keep a list for yourself so you know what to ask them to find.

 24. Consider letting even young kids pack a backpack or bag with toys they've chosen themselves (if there's room). We usually have to supplement what they've picked, especially with the younger one, but it lets them feel more ownership about their own entertainment and sometimes they pick things that I never would have and then play with them the whole time.

25. Travel journals - I found notebooks at the dollar store and pasted a lot of the printables in them, along with a faceplate that had the kid's name and the trip information. It was nice to have things in one place, plus the kids had plenty of room for stickers or postcards or other things they picked up along the way.

This post was adapted from a post on my lifestyle, cooking and craft blog

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hello World!

I feel like I'm standing at the edge of the high dive with my toes hanging over, waiting for the right time to jump in to this blog. I suppose there's no time like the present, so here goes! I'll be sharing everything I come across that will help you travel with your kids, from tips and tricks to city guides to cheap airfares and last-minute travel deals. I'd also love to know what you'd like to hear about, so drop me a comment and let me know!