Every time I hop in the car for a road trip with my kids I am so happy they have aged. Let me tell you, this is the one time in life I breathe a sigh of relief for the gift of time. I do not miss the breast pump hooked up in the car, the stop for diaper explosions, the crying, the whispered quiet of nap-time, and hoping that the honking semi didn’t wake them up, the sitting in the backseat crunched next to the carseat afraid to move my hand in fear of ensuing screams. I am so happy they are old enough to be semi-reasonable, semi-patient, and semi-companionable.
That being said, I still like to plan for a bit of entertainment on the road. So, here goes, in no particular order, my road trip survival guide:
- Theme Song: Pick a road anthem for the drive! Something from the 90’s or earlier usually works best. Our last song was “Any Man of Mine” by Shania Twain, the girls didn’t know it before the ride, but now can sing it out like a pro. Make it fun, upbeat, and make sure you really get into it. Every time the ride is getting tense, or crabby, or just boring, play it again.
- Coloring stuff: No one is too old to color, that includes the adult passengers. We have upgraded from Minnie Mouse coloring books to more intricate designed books, but the process is still the same. Road trips are usually the time I decide to buy new colored pencils/pens/markers, so that it seems more exciting when I pull them out.
- Movie Time: I download some new movies or shows on Netflix for the ride, I make sure there isn’t too many, or that’s all they would do.
- Car Games: In my family we hit that lull at about 6 hours, where we don’t really want to do anything, but we also aren’t tired. This is the designated car game time. Our 3 favorite are the alphabet game(where you start finding letters of the alphabet from A-Z somewhere along the drive, license plates, mail boxes, road signs, trucks, etc), A scavenger hunt (I am rarely prepared for this and usually write it down in the car, but you could print out a list of things to find along the road while you are at home, or find a free printable online), and the license plate game (print out a map of the US, or simply write down states as you see them, whoever has the most by the time you arrive is the winner).
- Sticker or Magnet Books: Usborne and Melissa and Doug both make these great lines of sticker books, and I try to stock up on 1-2 per kid before we leave. These are so great, and mess free (unless you have super young kiddos), they have themes for every interest group as well. I highly recommend these. We have also done foldable magnet scenes, and static cling scenes. I find them at kids boutiques, and UW Bookstore, but I am sure they have something similar at Target or Walmart.
- Trip Journals: I provide a journal for the journey. Sometimes I will do some starter pages, such as: Places I stopped on the road? Fun things I saw, Fun things I did, New foods I tried, Something I learned, Funny things we said…
- Read An “Epic” Book Aloud: We are a book obsessed family, and so I try to find a new series to start when we go on trips. Some great ideas would be: Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Land of Stories, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Boxcar Children, Little House on The Prairie, Little Women, Series of Unfortunate Events, Magic Treehouse, Junie B. Jones, Ramona, Fairyland Series.
- Stop for Landmarks: Depending on how long our journey is, we like to stop and find weird or interesting landmarks along the way. Doing a little research before you go, and searching out some silly stops is always worth your time. Even just finding the best truck stop or rest stop can make for a memorable moment.
- Goodie Bag Surprises: These can be as difficult or simple as you’d like them to be. You could do one big one at the middle of the trip, or a small simple one every hundred miles. Things I like to put in this bag: healthy snacks (granola bar, fruit snacks, cheese stick, carrot sticks, etc), multi-colored pen (you know those huge ones), wood/metal brain teaser puzzles, glow in the dark necklace(great if your journey continues into night time), small activity kits, nail stickers, Stationary, with pre-stamped envelopes for sending snail mail back to their friends while we are gone, sunglasses, and other things that they might need or enjoy while we are on vacation.
- Emergency Road Kit: Crappy things sometimes happen when we are on the road. Someone falls during a rest break scrapes their knee, we don’t remember to check the gas gauge and get stranded(this happened to me…story for another time), flat tire, sudden onset of the flu, upset stomach…you get the idea. So I stock the car with our emergency kit, besides the obvious first aid/car-jack/blanket, I also stash a few favorite stuffed animals from home, kleenex, a favorite book, hidden box of crackers and granola bars, large waterbottle filled with water, backup batteries for phones, and sparklers. That way if we do get stranded, or sick, or hurt, I have some things that comfort, care, and feed on hand.
What do you do to make road trips not just bearable, but almost enjoyable?
Our last road trip—look at those happy girls!
Laminate a map, and mark your route with permanent marker, then give one to each kid with a dry-erase marker so they can track their journey.
Stop at each big city along the way and take a polaroid under the city sign, then map it out when you get home so the kids can see how far you really went. (This would be very cool if you road-tripped a lot, and then attached the pictures to a large map somewhere in your home)
Do a doppleganger search from the car. See if you can find someone that looks like each of you.
Make your own portable lego or magnet kits for the drive using a metal lunch box.