Travel with kids can be harrowing for the unprepared. If your parents took you on long trips, you may remember your little brother singing out variations on “Are we there yet?” while your parents tried to keep you quiet. As snacks ran low, new car games were invented: “How many bites can you get out of a raisin?” became a fierce, and fortunately time-consuming, competition with your siblings. Road maps from other states were handed round, and your mission was to scour the map looking for towns with names that matched towns you were driving through. In a last desperate attempt at peace, not sparing their sanity, your parents may have even given-in to the endless classic “I spy with my little eye.” Now it’s your turn. Let’s look at some ways to make your car trip smoother with your kids.
Whenever possible, allow extra time for the drive. Breaking it up over a couple days, or just allowing for longer rest stops can keep energetic kids from getting too wild in the car. Try to incorporate a few stops along the way. Look for zoos, interactive historical sites, and national parks along your route that offer a chance for the kids to run around. Allow at least half an hour for each stop.
Solve the Potty Problem
Although you made sure everyone went before they left the house, kids just can’t ever seem to hold it until the next rest stop. On long trips it's worse. What do you do when there’s no bathroom nearby? Sometimes it’s not even possible to pull over and find a tree. Disposable jugs or jars (with lids that seal on tightly) could relieve the issue. There are companies making a variety of travel toilets for impromptu pit-stops. Don’t forget to have extra wipes handy.
Pack the Snacks
Try to avoid high-sugar snacks for long trips. The extra energy is not needed. Even teens do better with lower sugar levels on longer car rides. Higher protein options will keep them satisfied so you can drive through normal mealtimes and make better choices about when and where to stop along the way. It’s also important to choose foods that won’t make a mess or stain the upholstery in your car. These snack foods are great for car trips:
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- String cheese
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Beef jerky
- Peanuts or tree nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Granola bars
- Goldfish crackers
- Dried Fruit (craisins, apricots, banana chips)
- Fresh fruit (apples, grapes, tangerines)
- Juice boxes and bottled water
Try to steer clear of messy foods like yogurt that may drip and harden into a hidden source of bad smells. Remember, you’ll have a return trip too.
Tap into the Tech
Every parent knows the benefits of portable DVD players and mobile internet access. Worried about the effects of using this technology too much? To reduce screen time and prevent over-stimulation, include audio-books along with videos. Your batteries will last a little longer if you take "intermissions" to talk about what happened in the story. What was their favorite part? Was there a lesson they learned? Did any of the characters remind them of people they know? Bonus tip: For children of different ages who may not agree on what to watch, headphones are a lifesaver.
Play the Classics
Children won't already be bored with I spy, tic-tac-toe, hangman, cards, and 20 questions because the games are still new to them; however, here are some other great classic games your kids may not know yet:
- Cows on My Side. Collect points for each cow you call. Optional rules include stealing points by calling “cows on your side,” before the other person can call them.
- Restaurant Hunting. Each passenger picks a restaurant and scores points for each sign or advertisement they see for that restaurant.
- License Bingo. For shorter games, create literal bingo cards with your kids marking off states as they see license plates from those states. Cumulative games collecting all 50 states will last (years) until the elusive Alaska and Hawaiian plates can be found.
- Billboard Alphabet. Without using license plates, each child, or the whole group working cooperatively, looks for the alphabet. The trick is to find the letters in order.
- Color Count. It’s a race to see who can find the most cars in their color first. With older children add a handicap of needing specific types of cars in their chosen color.
- Name that Tune. The easiest variation of this game is to choose a category, like nursery rhymes, theme songs, or Christmas carols. One person starts humming and the first one to call out the correct answer goes next.
These games allow your kids to play together even though they're stuck in car seats. Can you think of more games from your own childhood travels?
You’ll find that with a little advance planning and some creative thinking it’s possible to get through a long car trip smoothly. If your car is too small for a comfortable trip with all your kids, look into finding a St. George Hyundai dealership for one that matches your growing family. Make sure your car is serviced before the trip. Keep lots of options handy to switch things out when frustrations or boredom begins to threaten. Allow plenty of time for stops. Above all else, remember that you set the tone. If you act like it’s a fun adventure, chances are that your kids will think it’s a fun adventure too, and they'll be less likely to become cranky.