I love vacations. The anticipation, the planning, the prep, and, of course, the fun fun FUN. However, without fail, one thing threatens to spoil it all. Road trip. Hours and hours spent in a semi-confined space with four increasingly restless children. And those four little words that every parent dreads: “Are we there yet?” In an effort to prevent complete and utter parental breakdown, we’ve come up with a few strategies for road trip survival.
Surprise! A little something new goes a long, long way. And when you have a long, long way to go, it can provide a much needed distraction for antsy offspring. It doesn’t have to be big, or elaborate, and I highly recommend limiting the number of pieces required. Legos = bad idea (trust me). On our most recent trip, we snuck a few small surprises into the car before we left. The kids were thrilled to find their new toys, and it was pretty darn peaceful for quite some time.
Road trip printables. These are, in my opinion, well worth the ink. Do a Google search before you leave. You’ll be amazed with the number of creative (and fun!) road trip games out there. The license plate game is a favorite in our family. Work together to find all 50 states. Or print a page for everyone and turn it into a contest. Road trip bingo is also a hit, and great for little ones who are too young to read license plates but are able to spot a cow from miles away.
Ask questions (but not that question). Number one question on every road trip? “Are we there yet?” Mix things up a bit. “Would you rather” is a great game for kids of all ages. Even better, make the choices relevant to your destination. Google can be helpful here too (camping, the beach, Disney – Google’s got them all). Trivia can also be fun, especially for older kids. Again, prep for your arrival with related questions.
Let them run. Every time you stop, no matter how eager you are to hit the road again, let your kids out of the car. And let them move. Rest areas usually have a stretch of space great for getting active, but even a gas station can work in a pinch. Send them running up and down the sidewalk in front of the store. See how many jumping jacks they can knock out in a minute. Challenge them to a contest that gets them moving (jumping on one foot is popular with our kids). Eliminating (or at least reducing) complaints about sore legs, bottoms and backs is well worth a little extra time spent off the road.
Make potty stops a family affair. We have a super strict “when one goes we all go” policy. While this doesn’t totally eliminate extra stops, it does help immensely with the every other exit sprint for the bathroom.
Eat. Hungry kids are cranky. Really cranky. Be sure to take time to stop and grab a bite. Not only does it fill those little bellies, but it gives them a chance to climb out of the car and stretch their legs a bit.
Bring cards (but don’t play them all at once). Coloring books, stickers, playing cards – hit the dollar store and stock up before leaving home. Keep them up front, away from the kiddos until things begin to go south. When a meltdown seems imminent, pull something out and pass it on back. This also works with small treats (fruit snacks, animal crackers, goldfish). And remember, if it took nine hours to get there it’ll take at least that long to get home. Be sure to save some surprises for the return trip.
Make the music work for everyone. There are certain kids’ songs I can tolerate. There are a few that I even enjoy. And then there are those that, in a matter of a few notes, will drive me completely insane. In an effort to keep the peace without losing our minds, we alternate between their music and ours. And we leave a few CDs at home (Fifty Bestest Kids Songs, anyone?).
Electronics are your very best friend. At home, we have rules regarding time spent in front of a screen. On the road, these rules do not apply. A well timed movie can literally prevent you from losing your mind. If your car is not equipped with a video player, borrow one from a friend. Or load a few movies onto your tablet before you go. You’ll be glad you did.
Encourage rest time. When your kids are tired, make them rest. Bribe them if you have to. On our recent drive home after a week of fun at Disney World, we promised our kiddos a video if they closed their eyes for just 30 minutes. Wouldn’t you know, all four of them fell sound asleep.
Don’t trust the GPS. “The Lady”, as my children call her, is great at getting you where you need to go. Her arrival estimates, however, aren’t quite as accurate. What she predicts will take only 6 hours can end up being a 9 hour drive, much to the chagrin of both parents and children alike. Try to resist frequent updates, and whatever you do, don’t tell the kids if you peek!
And, when all else fails, look to the light at the end of the tunnel. Whether a warm sunny beach or your very own bed, you’ll get there soon enough. And, when someone asks you “Are we there?” you’ll finally be able to answer “YES!”.