I have been taking road trips all my life. Back in the sixties and seventies that was really our only choice of travel, at least in my family. We had one car and every year we would take a couple of trips mostly to visit our extended family. My parents were prepared for any contingency when it came to us kids, and I mean any. My dad was not a big proponent of making stops, I mean like never. He would get truly miffed if we had to stop before we made it to our destination. His wishes did not always come true however, but he did his best.
Mom carried food in the ice chest, pillows for naps, and a large coffee can. Enough said. It was not always good times with three kids in the back seat but no worries since I was the human divider between my two brothers. I was the calm one, the peacemaker, the punching bag. It seems that the better you are the more punishment you take in the back seat of a car on a family trip. Maybe you can relate, maybe you were the chosen one as well.
Anyway, I suppose it was inbred in me to take trips of my own as an adult with children. I wanted to be ready for everything as well but with stops and no coffee can. I tend to be the Girl Scout in any situation anyway, you know, prepared for anything. My purse is a portable medicine cabinet already. So when my daughter was small we decided to head out on a road trip.
Food, food, food
As I pondered what to take on this road trip I was at a loss as to where we could stop and eat because this child had a very set diet. She did not like hamburgers, hotdogs, or French fries and she was past baby food. She was actually in a rut of sorts in that she really only wanted a few things. Chicken legs, canned green beans, whole black olives, corn on the cob, canned pickled beets, and strawberry fruit bars (the Dole kind with the whole strawberries). The chicken and corn on the cob was not so hard to find but the rest of her menu was questionable so we decided to carry a canned good section in the trunk. The strawberry bars were a buy as you go item also and these we would try to forego since she would break out in hives every time she ate them. Most of the time we gave in because it did not seem to go beyond hives to swelling, or inability to breathe.
If you are traveling with toddlers you may want to carry around some of their favorites as we did. It never hurts to be prepared. I have seldom heard of a child that doesn’t like fast food but I do know that as parents we can not rely on fast foods to feed our children through an entire road trip. Snacks in gas stations are very expensive; it is a great idea to bring along an ice chest with drinks and snacks for everyone in the car as well. Think about these kinds of things before heading out, you will not be sorry.
Are we there yet?
Another thing I did when I was traveling with my young children was to plan entertainment along the way for them. When my children were small they did not have access to video players in the car. But that did not stop us. We bought a device that plugged into the cigarette lighter which allowed us to plug in a small television that played video tapes or you could even plug in a game system and they could play games. That was a great day for my son! My daughter was a reader, even though it made her car sick after a while. We tried books on tape for both of them and that went over pretty good. For videos, books, and even books on tape we found that it was a great idea to “shop” at the public library. Before setting out on a trip take the kids for books, videos, and recorded books, they have a great selection and it will save you tons of money. Hand held games are great as well. Whatever keeps your kids entertained is a good idea to bring along especially for longer trips.
I love to look at the scenery and I encourage my children too as well but there are times you just need a little distraction for the kids. I also try to stop every few hours and if possible stop in places of interest to the children. Looking up places along the route you are taking to your destination is a great idea. Sometimes there are interesting places off of the beaten track that you would never know about. We have found some really neat farms that sell honey, or pecan farms, or the world’s largest whatever and they are generally a lot of fun to stop at. My kids also liked antique stores, not the fine china, dishes, etc. types but the ones that have old machinery, old cooking devices, and rocking chairs. More like an old country store environment.
We also like stopping at some of the old historical markers. Depending on what area of the country you are traveling in these can be real interesting. Not so much for toddlers but for the kids when they are able to read. For the toddlers we would even look for parks along the way, whether it was a roadside park or an off the road small town it was nice to find a park to let them swing, slide, and run out some of their pent up energy.
When my kids got a little older I would often, too often, hear the question “How long till we get there?” I decided to show them the map and tell them where we lived and show them where our destination was. I taught them how to use the mileage scale to see how many miles we had left to go. As they got a little older as we sometimes got stuck in big city traffic jams they would even offer alternative routes. It is a great time and a great way to teach basic map reading.
My kids love to play I Spy games as we travel along. We pick out something to look for like a red Volkswagen bug or a license plate from a certain state and see who can spot the most. Or you can do a scavenger hunt and list fifteen or twenty things to look for on your trip and whoever finds them all first wins. Things like barns, churches, certain types of signs, cows, horses, etc. This also encourages them to look at the scenery a little more which I love because then we can talk about what we see as we go along. I like to have discussions like, “I wonder what the people in this small town do for fun, or for work.” It gets the imaginations going about different ways of life.
The best idea on a long road trip is to try and engage the kids in what is going on around them if possible. I know that my son is a hard one when it comes to conversation; he is much more of a doer than a talker. It can be a wonderful time of bonding with the kids since you are all in such close proximity to each other. I think differently than my dear old dad when it comes to stops though; I always plan enough time in our schedule for plenty of time to stretch our legs and get a breather. It may make the trip take a little longer but if you have tension in the car the trip can go on forever anyway. Whatever works best for your family is the way to go. Some kids are content to look out the window, read, color, or play a game but others need to get out and burn off some energy. Make the most of your trip and make it a happy time, a memory building time for the family. These are the times your children can hold on to when they get older as precious memories.
Sara is an active nanny as well as an active freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor of http://www.nannypro.com/. Learn more about her http://www.nannypro.com/blog/sara-dawkins/ .
Your post brought back many memories of trips with my parents, and then trips with our kids! Great ideas!
A package of wet wipes can be very entertaining for small children. I let them wipe their windows and doors etc and it even worked on the airplane on a long international flight. I bet our row of seats were the cleanest ones after we left the airplane 😉
Jane Sadek said:
Your road trips sound very much like ours, except that my mom actually had some sort of portable white enamel thing, rather than the coffee can. Dad died recently and many of my favorite moments with him happened as we drove across our nation discussing everything from Napoleon in Russia to Boots Randolph and Nikola Tesla. In these extended conversations, he passed on to me his values, his humor, his belief system and his ethics. When I look into a car of travelers and see the kids watching the tube, texting and playing video games, I mourn the opportunity the parents are missing to give their children memories.
Enjoyed this! I was reminded of Jean Shepherd’s tales of family vacations, Jean is the guy behind the classic Christmas movie with BB guns, lamps that look like a woman’s leg, and turkey stealing dogs. Read everything of his if you can. The world will start making sense, somehow.