I am a huge road trip girl. My whole life, I’ve loaded into a van (or station wagon) and driven at least 12 hours a few times a year. I’ve learned a lot along the way.
(p.s. They don’t always look this angelic.)
I think Road Trip Success comes from 2 things: Not Being a Wimp (yourself or as a parent) and PLANNING ahead.
1. Don’t be a wimp.
Seriously. And don’t let your kids be wimps either. I think the most important part of going on road trips is just deciding that it’s not that bad to sit still in a car for a day. My kids know that when they get in that car, we don’t stop for whining or fighting or boredom or hunger or (hardly ever) bathroom needs. They learn pretty quickly how to entertain themselves. ESPECIALLY if you aren’t pandering to them.
a. Along with not being a wimp: drive without your husband! Take a cell phone, tune up your car, know your route and JUST GO. What’s the worst that could happen? Honestly, I almost prefer solo trips because my kids realize that there is no adult that can help them and they bug me less. Also, I LOVE to listen to audio-books for hours on end.
b. Bathrooms: Force them to go the minute before you leave and at EVERY gas station/restaurant, etc. Even if they went when you got to McDonalds…make them go as you walk out of the door. Also, limit soda. I NEVER let my kids get refills. Warn that you will NOT be stopping and that they will have to go on the side of the road if they need to go before the next gas/food stop. And follow through. I’ve found that sticking in a movie can very effectively distract a 5 year old with a full bladder.
2. PLAN activities.
Don’t just rely on your movies. Because a) they’ll get boring and b) come on! It’s hours and hours! There’s so much reading, listening, talking and interacting that can be done. Make movies your treat.
For normal road trips (8-12 hours), I usually bring dvds, children’s audio books on CD, new library books that I don’t let them touch prior to the trip, 1-2 carefully chosen toys.
For our Texas Trip, I did a bit more. Ryan and I made a binder for each kid and filled it with games (logic puzzles, license plate games, mazes, coloring pages, etc) as well as a map and details of each leg of the trip. I also created a daily Journal Questionnaire that I asked (made) them fill out every day and hope to turn into a book. We added lined paper and an envelope with sharpened pencils, crayons, and pens. The older kids all stuck their homework in that binder and I loved having it all in one place.
a. IMPORTANT: space your activities! NEVER do 2 things at a time. For example, we’ll get in the car at 4:00 and I’ll tell the kids “We’ll turn on the first movie at 7:00, so sleep or read, but DO NOT make noise”. At 7:00 they’ll watch their movie and then when the movie has completely ended, I’ll feed them breakfast from our food stash. When that is totally done and cleaned up, I’ll have them change out of pajamas. By this time it’s, 9:00…we’re halfway there and they’ve only watched one movie. I’ll then put in a CD and tell them that in an hour, we’ll do the next movie. One activity at a time, very spaced out, makes each one new and interesting.
It’s not my very favorite thing to stare at the central Montana scenery for hours on end, and I’m thrilled when I jump out of the car, but, honestly, we’ve had so many great experiences due to the cheap method of car travel. Share your suggestions in the comments, please!