In the past year, my little family has crossed the country 6 times, we have been in 27 states, and spent countless hours in the car together. Strapping two young children into cars eats for days at a time can seem like a dauntless task. We have learned some tricks though, and our kids are still excited about our summer plans to visit more family throughout the country.
In preparation for a trip, I like to start packing one week in advance. This way, I am more likely to remember everything we would need in a weeks time. If I can’t actually put it in the suitcase, I write the item on a list to include before we leave.
Due to our frequent traveling, I have become efficient in packing the bags. You really don’t need nearly as much as you think you might. Pack minimal toys—Grandma’s house is sure to have some. Meals can be purchased on the way. Diapers for the time your away can be purchased when you arrive. With these items, only take what you need while in the car! Do bring important comfort items though—a special stuffed animal or blanket can prove it’s worth in gold.
In preparation to entertain the kids, I visit the DollarTree. I like to check out the party section that has gift bag toys. If you are truly motivated, wrap the little toys individually to hand out every 20-30 minutes or so while on the road. A dear friend did that for us on one trip. The boys loved it. Frequently unwrapping a new toy was a great incentive to be nice. The giggles and exclamations of surprise kept us all in great spirits as the hours progressed.
I also have a small box of small toys that are exclusively for road trips. Included are finger puppets, binoculars, sign/state bingo games, books, and small action figures. We also have a collection of audio books (from the DollarTree as well). Occasionally, we watch a movie on our laptop’s DVD player. We have found that movies more often actually aggravates the traveling turmoil. One caution though. . . when packing toys, do not bring noise-making toys for the sake of everyone’s well-being! I also do not readily hand out crayons, markers, or pencils because of their tendency to get on everything but paper.
I usually pack a soccer ball or frisbee for the rest stops. We like to stop at the welcome centers at state lines for brochures and maps. Giving the kids (and adults) a chance to stretch and run, helps everyone stay positive. . .and increases the odds that the kids may drift off to sleep.
Snacks are essential as hungry kids are not happy kids! Initially, my kids like chips and sweets, but we have found this to not be in anyone’s best interest. Now we bring apples, bread, pretzels, dried fruit and nut mixes, and a bag of sugarless candy. (Sugarless candy doesn’t make your mouth fuzzy like sugar candies do.)
Travel time is also important. Leaving early in the morning (around 4-5 am) has worked well for us. The boys sometimes fall back to sleep, but usually have that quiet glazed look for an hour or so. Then they often take a nap later that morning as the miles drag on (and on and on). We have also left, with success, late at night or just after the morning rush hour. (Of course, there are lots of times that we haven’t followed this tip. . . but this entry is about successful tips!)
When entering a new city, stop by the local visitors center. They often have coupons for local attractions, more maps, and kid friendly tips and sights.
Of course there are lots of other ideas. Do you have any? Please leave a comment!