Summer is here, and with it comes family vacations. While modern airline travel accommodates all sorts of destinations and timelines, how about considering the more retro family road trip? Over the last two years, lots of families have opted for car travel over airline travel due to germs and pandemic uncertainty, but there are plenty of other advantages to car travel.
For one, traveling by car allows you to be on your own timeline, mitigating the negative effects of fussy toddlers or bathroom emergencies. Also, when traveling by car, there are no worries about leaving for the airport at a certain time, not to mention dealing with irritating airline delays and cancellations. Road trips also have the advantage of being less expensive than air travel. Lastly, they give families more flexibility and space when it comes to packing, which can be a big plus when you are still in the stroller and car seat days of parenting.
Of course, if you are venturing on the old-school family road trip, you'll want to do some preparation and planning in order to ensure a smooth road ahead. Review the following tips and suggestions for long car rides with kids in order to determine whether or not a family road trip is for you.
Prepare for success
Get your car serviced, cleaned and filled with gas ahead of time. Some families with young children choose to drive at night, or leave very early in the morning. You know your kids' sleeping preferences best, so do what works for you.
Knickknacks and novelty
Purchase or borrow some small, new items for your children to play with, and dole them out slowly over the course of the car trip. Toy animals, cars or trucks, WikkiStix, bristle blocks, Legos, playdoh, white boards and markers, window clings, coloring books, sticker books and silly putty are all low-mess, car-friendly playthings that can provide lots of quiet entertainment for younger children.
Bring books along
So long as your child isn't too prone to carsickness, bring along a big stack of books that your kids can easily access on their own. Graphic novels and picture books are favorites in our house. Grade schoolers might enjoy a children's atlas or a book of maps to keep track of the journey.
About that car sickness...
Prepare for tummy troubles. Since you are in the car, you have extra space for spare clothing, a canister of cleaning wipes, an old towel, and extra-sturdy plastic bags (I have it on very good authority that the plastic bags from Aldi are great for containing stomach upheavals). Fresh air, crackers, carbonated beverages and acupressure wristbands like Seabands are also helpful for combatting nausea.
Snacks, snacks and more snacks
Pack healthy snacks to keep everyone's mood even, but bring spare change along and allow kids to make rest stop vending machines an exciting treat-time free-for-all. Why not?
Lean into screens
I know there are families who do not use screens on road trips. If that sounds like you, skip this part. But, as for me and my house, screens are a tool that we absolutely utilize during travel. Before a big trip, I download new movies, games or apps, and I try to focus on some educational content like the PBSKids or Khan Academy Kids apps. Ultimately, I figure the heavy screen usage is just for a day or two during travel, and that once we arrive at our destination, the kids will be too busy to worry much about what's on the iPad for a few days.
Speaking of screens
If your kid is old enough to use them on their own, bring along children's headphones. Trust me.
Make stops fun
Keep your eyes peeled for rest stops with playgrounds, picnic tables or large grassy areas. Bring along lunch and enjoy a game of frisbee or tag before getting back in the car. If your family trip is a multiday car ride, pick a hotel that has a pool and treat your family to an hour or two of swimming.
Let your kids be bored
Resist the urge to be your children's personal cruise director. Boredom increases creativity and self-control, so let your kids stare out the window, daydream and clear their minds.
Take care of the grown-ups
If you are miserable, the trip will likely feel like a bust. Pack your own favorite snacks and caffeinated beverages. Queue up a good audiobook or podcast to listen to while your kids are using screens. Anticipate traffic and switch drivers if you can.
Be patient and remember that anything can happen. The key to calm, happy kids on a road trip is calm, happy parents. Do your best to take it all in stride, and enjoy your family road trip!
Pamela Savage is a freelance writer in Springfield. She and her family will be taking a 17-hour road trip this summer. Thoughts and prayers (and snacks) are appreciated.