It’s that time of year again! Vacation Season is almost upon us. For some of you, that means being cooped up in a van with restless children the adventure of traveling with children.
We have never lived in the same town as our extended family, so road trips have always been part of our children’s lives. Now that we live in Florida, long road trips are definitely part of life.
So for today’s Misc. Monday, I’m sharing some tips for traveling with children. And I look forward to hearing your ideas in my comment section.
1. Pack snacks (and maybe even meals, if you want to save more money). Snacks at gas stations are expensive. I like to buy or make fun snacks and take with us. Packs of crackers, baggies of Goldfish or animal crackers, cereal bars, dried bananas or apricots, homemade granola bars, baggies of homemade snack mix. I have also taken big baggies of snacks and small Dixie cups or Tupperware cups. I can fill the cups with snacks and pass them back, then collect the cups to use for the next snack. This way, I’m not wasting as many small baggies.
If you already have snacks in the car and you run into a construction zone or slow-moving traffic because of an accident, you don’t have hungry, whiney children begging you to hurry up and get to a McDonald’s.
We also try to keep bottled water in the van when we travel. This way, when the children are dying of thirst –or acting as if they are– you have water for them. It can also come in handy for cleaning up messes.
The past few times we have traveled, we have eaten packs of nabs (for those not from ’round here, “nabs” are those packs of sandwich snack crackers, like cheese crackers with a peanut butter middle or wheat crackers with cream cheese ‘n chives in the middle) and dried fruit for lunch. This way, we can take a short potty/stretch/jump around break and then eat in the van. Saves time and money.
2. Plan stops for jumping and stretching and running and getting wiggles out. If you have small children, they will need this! (Understatement!) Some rest stops have grassy areas perfect for this. When we have traveled on rainy days, we have eaten our cheap lunch in the car, then we’ve gone into a restaurant with an indoor playplace and shared desserts and let the kids play for a little while before hopping back into the van.
Seven years ago, we drove from Virginia to Colorado with three children under the age of four (and I was pregnant!). We drove for twelve hours two days in a row. I packed a beach ball. When we stopped, we blew it up and the kids got to kick and chase it through fields or grassy areas (away from the highway, of course). When it was time to get back in the van, we deflated it. It took up almost no room!
It is best to stop every two to two-and-a-half hours to stretch your legs — even if you stop for just ten minutes.
3. Motivate children to get back into car-seats! When we traveled to Colorado, my absolute favorite idea came from a stranger on an email digest list. She suggested it, I did it, and it was a highlight of the trip! I wish I could remember her name to give her credit.
If you have preschoolers, you know how they feel about getting strapped back into car-seats after they have been traveling for three hours and have experienced twenty minutes of freedom. It’s often not a pretty sight!
I got my friends to give me the happy meal toys they no longer wanted cluttering up their home. Then I wrapped those small toys in cast-off, leftover wrapping paper. After each stop, the children got to unwrap a gift AFTER they were strapped back in. Kids love to unwrap presents. This is a huge motivator to get strapped back in those seats. And then they have a new-to-them toy to occupy them for the next part of the trip.
Bonus #4. If you have potty-training or recently potty-trained children, pack a potty and baby wipes and trash bags. I know somebody who used to have a potty in the back of her van at all times. Some public restrooms are disgusting, and our three-year-olds are MUCH closer to those nasty, sticky floors than we are. And we all know that children don’t always cooperate by needing to go when there is a restroom within a twenty-mile radius.
If you don’t have room for a whole training-potty, maybe you could pack a bucket and a tiny, child-sized potty seat. The bucket could be used for emergency potty trips, unexpected motion sickness or stomach viruses, or as a trash can in the van.
Bonus #5. Make traveling part of the fun of the trip. If you’re going to be spending five or ten or twelve hours in a car, don’t waste that time. Make it part of the vacation!
Play travel games, sing songs, look for letters on signs or license plates from different states. We have a DVD system in our van, but I don’t want my children to spend twelve straight hours watching Looney Toons. We listen to music and sing along. We try to point out when we cross a state line. Sometimes we play songs to welcome ourselves to a state — Willie Nelson’s “Georgia” when we cross the Georgia state line and -of course- John Denver’s “Country Roads” when we enthusiastically enter West Virginia.
I also love to read to the children while we drive. Really, this has always been part of traveling for our family. Before we had children, I’d read to my husband while he drove. One summer, we read two John Grisham novels on road trips. On our last trip, I read parts of a biography of Corrie Ten Boom. Last summer, I read some children’s books set in a fictional version of my hometown.
After we bought this long twelve-passenger van, the kids in the very back could not hear me unless I scream-read. That got old quickly! So we bought a microphone that plugs into our stereo system. Now I read into the microphone and the kids hear me over the speakers. Plus, I feel like a tour-guide. I often say things like, “If you look to your left, you’ll see swampy land in Georgia. And if you look to your right, you’ll see more Georgia swampland.” I can also whisper, “I love you” to the children all the way in the back, and they can hear me. Actually, that usually goes over better than my lame tour-guide routine.
How about you? What creative tips do you have for traveling with children?