Whoever said “Getting there is half the fun” apparently never spent an extended period of time with several small children in a vehicle. If there was an Olympic event to test the strength of your nerves and the depths of your patience, it would be called road tripping with kids. Athletes, depending on their skill and natural ability, could sign up for the 70 mile, the 200 mile or the elite 2000 mile marathon.
If we could give one piece of advice about traveling with children, it would be to make the trip centered around the children. There’s no point in trying to make plans about you and slotting the kids into the mix somewhere. It simply doesn’t work. Here’s what does work:
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A 70 mile trip is likely going to be a day trip, possibly an adventure into another city, with the whole family returning home at night. The little ones will be in the car with you about 1 or 2 hours. Not too scary, right? That opinion might change if everybody is cranky. It doesn’t take long for a few minutes of ear shredding screaming or repeated “She’s touching me!” to erode the good mood of even the most cheerful parent.
With a little pre-planning, you can do this! You can arrive at your destination relatively stress free and with most of your sanity intact. A large part of the secret to road trip success is packing a big bag of cool items to dole out along the route as the need arises. Give the bag a name. How about the magic bag, treasure chest or princess’s purse?
Fill the bag with age appropriate snacks, if possible not too sugary (to keep things mellow), not too messy, require few or no utensils, and try to get new and interesting snacks the kidlets have never seen before. Throw in some inexpensive toys, games and easy craft items that again are completely new to the kids. Kids get bored easily and love to explore something new.
- Take frequent breaks. Plan extra time into your schedule for bathroom breaks, diaper changes, baby nursing or for when somebody inevitably needs to get out and run around in a field catching bugs for a little while.
- Plan for the unexpected. Carry a first aid kit, everybody’s health card, kids’ pain relief and nausea remedies, barf bags (hey, it happens!), change of clothes, sunscreen, insect repellent, wet wipes, paper towels or tissues.
- Be comfortable. Dress yourself and the kiddos in comfy clothes. Bring pillows, blankies, favorite stuffed animals, soothers or any other items that might encourage tranquility, or better yet a nap. Hint: get in the car just before nap time and your precious cargo just might sleep the entire way!
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The next level up, the 200 mile, will be an overnight trip. You and your clan will be too far away to return home in a day, so you will be sleeping at Grandma’s house or a hotel room perhaps a 5 hour drive from your home. All the above rules apply (but you’ll need a bigger magic bag) with the addition of a few more.
- Expect to bring a lot of stuff! If you regularly visit Grandma, the best idea is to have the essentials in baby/child equipment already at her house. If Grandma has a crib, play pen, high chair, or stroller there, it saves you from saying a lot of bad words as you try to cram that stuff into the trunk of your car. You might consider keeping an umbrella stroller in your car at all times, and an inflatable wading pool takes up little space and can sometimes double for a crib or playpen.
- Make sleep a priority. Little kids tend to like their own beds, so it might not be easy to get your little ones to go to sleep in a strange place. Try to make things as normal as you can – usual bed time, familiar pajamas, favorite bears and blankies, night light from home, and bring an extra supply of patience for yourself. Likely, it will take a few tries to settle them down for the night and don’t be surprised if they are awake and ready for action earlier than usual.
- Bring familiar foods. Grandma might make an awesome roast beef dinner, and you’ll want the kids to try some, but if your little guy is stuck in a phase of eating only certain canned alphabet noodles, you darn well better have some with you!
Possibly most importantly of all, don’t leave home without your sense of humor. Remember, today’s mini crises are great material for tomorrow’s wedding speeches! Prepare for the journey the best you can, but be ready for some bumps along the way. Don’t stress too much – we were all kids once after all. Keep it light and remember this quote – “Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.”