Whenever one of my friends returns from some time away, I ask: "Was it a vacation, or was it just a trip?"
When traveling with kids, true vacations are pretty hard to come by. With the packing, the car seats, the change in sleeping schedules, and all the inevitable whining that comes along, it would be way easier to stay home (especially when traveling by car.)
And yet traveling is important. When we travel, we open to a world that was previously unknown to us. We touch other cultures and other ways of life; we broaden our own perspectives and understand, finally, that our small problems are just that.
When we travel with kids, we open their eyes to all of this and more. Even when we take a simple trip to visit distant relatives, we show them a world of love that they may not had known existed.
Here are eighteen tips to help you enjoy road trip traveling with your kids.
Before the trip:
1. Use online trip planning websites to locate kid friendly parks, historic monuments, and other attractions in advance. Plan at least one child oriented activity each day, even on those driving days. Involving your kids in the planning of your vacation will help them to get excited about the trip, too.
2. When you are doing your research and booking your destination, consider an all inclusive resort. These types of arrangements (in which your lodging, dining, attractions, and activities are included) can really help you relax and enjoy your precious vacation time.
3. Have each child pack their own small backpack with the books, workbooks, and activities that they most want to bring.
4. Have a kid friendly travel map on hand, as well as a pair of binoculars.
5. Consider buying or borrowing a portable DVD player. We only get ours out on long trips, but it has been really helpful, especially if you are traveling very long distances.
6. Get each child a special book of games, puzzles, or simple coloring books, just for the drive, along with some washable markers.
7. Bring some music that everyone will enjoy singing along to. We love our CD of old campfire songs. You can even create your own CDs of family favorites.
8. Bring a Frisbee or a football for when you stop at a park. You want to help your kids burn some energy in a reasonable amount of time.
9. Pack healthy snacks, such as nuts, trail mix, apples, energy bars, and bottled water. A package of baby wipes often comes in handy for little messes in the car, too.
10. Pack a journal and a disposable camera for each child, so that they can document the trip in their own way. These items can be gift wrapped and given to the kids as you need a diversion from boredom or sibling arguments.
11. Make sure to talk about your vacation like it is the ultimate adventure. The enthusiasm that you bring to the prospect of piling into the car will help in untold ways.
In the Car:
12. If you can, do as much traveling as possible while your kids are sleeping. Of course, safety is paramount. If you find yourself getting at all sleepy, pull over and switch with your spouse or find a hotel.
13. If you do not like to drive at night, or you are driving through countryside that you would like your children to see in the daylight, make sure you leave plenty of travel time. Plan on a maximum of seven hours of driving per day. Get up early, drive a bit, and then check into your hotel in the mid afternoon and enjoy the swimming pool. Have a nice, relaxed dinner and leisurely check out some local sites in the evening.
14. While driving during the day, plan to stop at least every hour and a half. Stretch, take some bathroom breaks, and remember that getting there is half the adventure.
15. Finger knitting really helps my kids to pass the time. All you need is a ball of yarn. There is no mess and you can find simple instructions online by doing a Google search for "Finger Knitting." During our last car trip, we all arrived at our destination with lovely pink finger knitted scarves.
16. During a routine fuel stop, ask each child to choose five or six postcards, which they can send to their friends. Make sure to bring your address book and postage stamps so you can mail them on the way.
17. Allow one child to be the "navigator" each day. The navigator looks at the map and gives recommendations on where to stop for snacks, gas, and meals.
18. Try these simple Travel Games:
The Alphabet Game: Find all the letters of the alphabet, in order, on license plates, billboards, and road signs. Or find objects that begin with each letter.
I Spy: One person spies something in the landscape or in the car and gives clues. (One possible variation on this game is "20 Questions.")
License Plate "I Spy": See how many states you can spot.
License Plate Alphabet: Find all the letters of the alphabet, in order, on license plates.
Letter Bingo: Print out Bingo sheets with clip art or words depicting sites you will see on your trip.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect family vacation. Prepare as much as possible in advance, and then relax and go with the flow.