When my oldest was two years old, my husband and I planned a road trip to see family. I packed the car full of all measure of educational toys, books, crayons and paper, and other fun activities for the road. A friend had given me a portable DVD player, which I packed, but I scoffed at the idea of letting my child wile the hours away watching Elmo.
“I grew up reading and sitting quietly in a car!” I boldly proclaimed. “I didn’t need to be entertained by a mini-TV, and neither will my children!”
About five hours into our exciting family road trip, I was completely and totally exhausted. As our little angel kicked his legs and cried in frustration, my husband looked at me with raised eyebrows.
“You know,” he said. “You don’t have to be a matyr for motherhood. Technology is good.“
I sighed, popped Elmo into the DVD player, and watched in amazement as my son grew mesmerized by the sights and sounds, then fell asleep for the remainder of the trip.
We’ve since added two more children to our brood, which means that road trips are a necessity if we want to see our family who all live sixteen hours away. I’ve even made the long trek home on my own with the kids in tow, and I’ve picked up a few tricks and tips along the way.
1.) Plan ahead.
A few days before a road trip, I take the kids to the library and allow them each to pick out a few books for the road. I also get each of them a new notebook or coloring book for coloring/writing, and we pack up a variety of car safe games and crafts for the road.
You can keep their road trip activities organized by placing a Back Pocket on the seats in front of them. This one has several different size pockets allowing them to store their goodies within reach.
2.) Set a schedule.
While I’ve given up my staunch disapproval of road trip movie watching, I do still have rules for how much television can be consumed on the road. In general, the rule is we have to drive a minimum of two hours before they can watch a movie, and they are only allowed two movies/day.
I set a schedule to help the time pass. There is a set time for snacks, for music, for reading, for coloring, for movie watching, for game playing, for resting, and for stopping to eat. This keeps them from badgering me all day, and as we check off each activity, we know we’re one step closer to our destination.
3.) Snacks are your very best friend.
When I road trip alone with the kids, I must be extra organized. I’ve found it’s best to keep the snacks beside me in the front, because I have a couple of children who would eat themselves sick if they had full access to the food. I pack the snacks in small, snack size Ziplocs, and when it’s time for snack, I toss a bag of snacks over my shoulder, and they try to catch it. This makes them laugh, and it allows me to keep my eyes on the road.
(Tip: Hang a plastic bag on the back of each seat for trash. This will save you a load of work when you reach your destination.)
4.) Books on Tape are a brilliant way to engage their brains, keep them entertained, and buy you a few hours of silence.
I have a child who gets car sick, so reading in the car is difficult. Books on Tape have saved us by giving him the gift of story without spending too much time with his eyes glued to the DVD player.
5.) Don’t be a matyr for motherhood.
Road trips are a time to let some of your normal rules slide a bit. Long stretches on the road can be incredibly draining and boring, so spice it up by giving your children a snack that they normally would not be allowed to consume. Let them watch a little more TV than is generally allowed at home. Give them grace when they get tired and frustrated. And stop every once in awhile to let them run off some energy.
Make the journey an adventure, and the destination will be so much sweeter in the end.
Good luck and Happy Road Tripping!