Monday, July 30, 2012

The A-List: Traveling with Kids

We are on the road these days, off on our adventure/vacation to the lands where the dinosaurs stomped, so I am a bit off my schedule. Also, I am trying to do this on a smart phone.  Sorry!

Traveling with children in a car can be a huge and horrific hassle, ending with everyone in tears, and parents resorting to strong drinks at the hotel bar.  We all have the best of intentions, at least until we pull out of the driveway.  We have grand plans of playing 'car games' as a family, of singing along with the radio, of stopping at 'out of the way' places just to see the world's largest ball of string.  That stuff usually goes out the window after the first hour.  Even if everyone is excited about that cross-country trip to Disney, there are still going to be difficulties. Whining occurs frequently, as do complaints and general fretting.  Should any sort of delay occur, such as a completely random traffic jam on a two lane road, it can become quite loud in the confines of the car.  

It's inevitable, really.  Kids thrive on consistency and routine, and most travel doesn't involve any of that.  Instead, there's a lot of sitting in the back of a car, strapped in for what can seem like centuries to a kid used to being able to run all day.  When I was a kid, my brother and I spent entire road trips fighting over the territory that was the backseat, tired and whiny about being confined for so long.  I  determined that my son would have a better time while he was strapped in his car seat.  These are my time-tested tips for surviving car trips with children.

This is what most of the roads in Texas are like.

1.  Let them "help".   Give a child a chance to "help", and they are just plain excited.  We let our son 'pack' what he wanted to bring with him on our trip. We gave him a backpack to fill.  We asked if he wanted to bring a pillow.  We ended up having to narrow down what Zane picked out, since the Imaginext Batcave doesn't fit in a backpack, but he got to 'help'.  We also let him pick out the shirts he wanted to bring, and he watched as we packed them in the suitcase.  The point is to let a child feel as though they are part of the action. The more in control a child feels, even if it is just for the little things, the happier they are.  

2.  Bring electronics.  On long car trips, the portable DVD player is your friend.  So is the Game Boy, or the PSP, or the V-Reader.  Some 'experts' decry electronic devices as bad for children.  These people have obviously never been on a long car trip with children.  Driving requires concentration, something impossible to achieve with a whining child in the back seat.  Our first big car trip was five hours of driving; Zane watched an animated movie the entire way, at least until he fell asleep.  This trip, we have an old tablet PC that we've loaded with games that Zane can pick and play as he chooses.  We also brought a V-Reader.   Older kids can use headphones, but I don't recommend those for younger kids, because they have a tendency to turn up the volume way beyond what is recommended for little ears.  Don't forget to bring batteries and the chargers for these electronics, and make sure that you have an adapter so that you can charge them while you are driving. 

3.  Bring extra. No really, bring extra. As much as I would like to say that electronic toys solve all of our travel issues, they do not.  My son is okay playing video games for about thirty minutes at a time.  Then he wants to do something else.  So I brought plenty of other things for him to do.  I brought books.  I brought Lego mini-figures for him to put together. I brought Superman and Batman action figures.  I even brought Brain Quest, and a dry erase board that he can use to practice his letters and numbers, even though he mostly likes to write on his arms.  As soon as Zane became bored with one thing, I threw the next activity into his lap.  Reading a book to him was a little difficult, since he was in the back seat, but we managed.

I  got these at Target in the dollar bins at the front of the store!

4.  Snacks and water.   Kids have their snack preferences, and bringing those snacks along on a long car trip can go a long way toward smoothing over the stress of travel.  I filled up a bag with Zane's favorites, and filled a small cooler with water and juice boxes.  When Zane got a little peckish, I reached behind the seat and grabbed his favorite snack and his favorite drink, and he was content to munch while he checked out the cows and the corn fields. I only brought snacks that did not require extensive cleanup.  Also, if you invest in one of those water bottles that filters the water as you drink it, that will take care of any complaints about the taste of water in other parts of the world.

We did not bring entire boxes of snacks, but you get the idea.

5.  Play breaks.
   I know that most parents try to avoid eating a lot of fast foods with their kids.  Most of the food at these places is not very healthy, and we are all doing what we can to get our children to have better eating habits than we did.  On the road, however, my husband and I are not looking for healthy.  Most of those fast food places have places to play.  When we are on the road, we stop at those places so that Zane can let off some steam.  He runs and climbs and slides and works off as much pent-up energy as he can while we eat.  We get his meal to go, because he can eat in the car after he's played himself silly.   

Feel free to add your own tips in the comments, since I am by no means an expert!


  1. We printed off some travel bingo sheets a few times for the 6 hour cape cod treck. Kinds of cars, kinds of signs, or just general road side sights. Sure, it might've only been fun for an hour, but it was something that got them talking and looking outside.

    The feeding kids in the car and using stops for running is such a great pearl that you mentioned. My stepmother enlightened me after I complained about how long it took for the kids to finish eating at a stop!

  2. We found that regular stops at rest areas, especially ones with playgrounds are great for letting kids run off energy. Even if there isn't a playground, there's usually grass for them to run around on. Also, don't be in a hurry. Stopping is inevitable--enjoy the trip.

  3. These are great suggestions! After reading this, I realized how important electronics are for a successful trip. Now whenever I travel with my little girl, whether it’s for a Dish business trip or just for some family fun, I’ll make sure to bring our portable DVD player with plenty of movies to ward off the squirminess! On our last road trip, I used my Blockbuster@Home service through my Dish account to get the movies delivered straight to my home beforehand. Since I can keep them as long as I want, I didn’t have to stress about late fees while we were on vacation. It helped so much to keep her smiling on those long stretches of road. Thanks for the life-saving tip!

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