In theory. Because while while road trips might be the carefree calling card of summer, the reality is that being packed in a car with people who have a penchant for repeating “Are we there yet?” every five minutes, while fighting over whose foot is touching whose, can quickly lead to a very special kind of road rage.
The challenge of course, lies in keeping kids engaged, excited and comfortable the whole time – even on the long, potentially boring stretches of road. I’ve found this becomes a lot less difficult when you work with your family’s natural rhythm. That could mean dressing everyone in pajamas for the ride, making frequent stops to stretch and run around along the way, or not even heading out until late in the afternoon so that arrival time equals bedtime.
Here are the 3 most simple, yet most important tips you’ll need this summer, culled from my own childhood road trips, plus sanity savers mastered while traveling with my own family:
Go Retro: Think back to the days when you were little and there was no internet or portable DVD players for the car. Your parents still took you places and I’ll be you still remember the not-to-be-missed views. Recreate a roadtrip your parents or grandparents took when they were younger, or take advantage of the uninterrupted time on the road to tell stories of your own making. It’s a great time to let loose and have a family sing-along or generally just listen to each other without the usual daily distractions getting in the way.
Get Crafty: Unless you have a minivan (we don’t), back seat space is often at a premium. To cut down on clutter, pack a compact “Road Trip Craft Kit” (a soft-sided lunch bag works well) for each child and fill it up with age-appropriate items like crayons or markers, googly eyes, pads of blank paper, pipe cleaners, pom poms, glue sticks, safety scissors and stickers. If you have room, throw in a small game or two. Consider bringing small lap desks along as well. The flat surface will give kids a big enough space to work and play, and won’t take up any more room than their little laps. Older kids might like drawing on pre-printed maps so they can trace the family’s progress with a highlighter and play navigator at the same time. Consider marking any “points of interest” that will come up on your route or create a customized trove of trivia on your destination pre-trip. Check out city/town/resort websites for resources to help in compiling fun facts.
Pack a Picnic: Kids love picnics. There’s just something exciting about fuss-free finger foods like individually wrapped cheeses, peeled hard-boiled eggs, cut up fruit and veggies, and homemade cookies that only make an appearance on special occasions. Stocking a cooler well means there’s no real need to stop at fast-food restaurants along the way, and frequent grazing can help keep kids’ tummies calm – especially those who have a tendency to get car sick (mine do.) Even those with iron stomachs can feel yucky sometimes, so be sure to organize an extra changes of clothes or two in gallon-size plastic bags within easy reach of the parent riding shotgun – along with empty plastic bags to catch anything that needs catching. Throw a few packs of baby wipes all the way at the bottom of your cooler, and a queasy kid has an instant refresher for their flushed faces and hands. Coolers are a LIFESAVER.
Bonus tip: If you have a really little one who brings a sippy cup everywhere, get rid of gunk and germs quick by bringing denture cleaner with you. Pop one or two fizzy tablets in a clean bowl/sink of water and soak the cup for ten minutes. Rinse well with mild soap and water afterward.
Tune In: Sure, the point of taking a trip together is to keep kids’ screen time at a minimum, but when you’ve exhausted all your other options and there are still miles and miles to go, familiar TV shows or movies can be a welcome creature comfort and a great way to wind down. Educational apps can make for relevant learning opportunities on the road too (Stack the States, Geography Drive USA and State Plate Bingo are some of our faves), so consider loading up the family tablet or pre-trip and surprising your kids along the way. Don’t forget all the necessary chargers you’ll need, plus a pair of headphones for each child (mine prefer the padded earmuff style) to cut down on competing noise and pretty much ensure you won’t strap any whiners to the roof rack. Promise.
There are so many places within driving distance to explore – national parks, museums, city centers, farms. What’s on your road trip list?
Photo credits: Pilar Clark