Tuesday, May 3, 2011

road trips with children

last summer's road trip to Baltimore

We are a family that loves to travel the open road!  After our last trip up to Canyon, TX, the question came up about what we do to keep the kids entertained in the car on long trips.  We have some real experience in this department.  We have driven all of the way up to Pennsylvania!  

Traveling with kids takes some forethought.  I never just hop into the car and hope for the best.  Even for shorter trips- like driving the 1 1/2 hours to the see the grandparents, I like to have some sort of plan.

All of the supplies that I gather before the trip for them are kept up front with me and I pass back one at a time.  This is key to success!

Here are my 10 tips to traveling with children:

1) The travel notebook
Before the trip I print out crossword puzzles, coloring sheets, number games, mazes, etc. and place them into a 3-ring binder.  I also put blank paper, graphing paper (because it's fun!), notebook paper and a zipper pouch.  Inside the zipper pouch are scissors, pencils, pencil sharpener,  and colored pencils (because crayons tend to melt).   
One other thing the kids love is when I make a travel bingo game.  I usually make about four different sheets.  On each sheet I'll do a 3x4 grid of clip art of road side things we may see.  Like a stop sign, a motorcycle, or an airplane.  If we are going to be in the city I may put a bus or a city train.  As we drive along and they find an object on their page they will cross that item out. 
The travel notebook is usually the first thing to get busted out on a trip.  

2)  Bag o' goodies
A month or so prior to the trip I start collecting little trinkets for the kids.  Maybe a new hot wheel for Buddy, or friendship bracelet making stuff for Moonpie.  My most favorite thing to stock the goodie bag with is Dover stickers.  I usually buy several of these sticker books to keep on hand.  These are also easy to find on the road.  Mainly because of my husband's obsession with the Cracker Barrel.  As the trip progresses I'll pass back a new item.  We can get about one hour out of each new thing.  I actually time this.  Even if they tire of the item, I won't pass back a new one until the hour is up.  Sometimes I swap with the kids and sometimes I let them keep the whole enchilada back there.  
None of the items in the bag usually cost over a dollar.  See that picture of Moonpie up there working in her notebook while wearing a shower cap?   That shower cap was from our hotel room!  I knew that she would love it, so I swiped it before she could see it and tucked into my bag.  The next leg of the trip I whipped it out and she was thrilled!  Until her head started getting sweaty.

3)  Window crayons
I felt like a real genius when I came up with this idea.  We used these on our recent trip to Palo Duro Canyon.  We got some real mileage out of these!  The kids loved them and played with them for hours off and on.  However, they were pretty messy.  My poor mister almost had an aneurism from all the window mess.  He is a fan of clean windows.  I was pretty impressed that he allowed the kids to gunk up the windows at all.  My recommendation with these is to keep wipes in the back seat and be ok with some mess.  Or I'd advise the window markers over the window crayons.  That's probably what I'll do next time.

4) Wikki Stix (with an "x" because they are so "x-treme")
This is one of those classic travel items for us.  My kids love them and get lots of play time out of them.  However, we have had them melt in the car- so some caution there.  Another cheaper, non-melty option is pipe cleaners.

5)  Book basket
We always keep a basket of book in between the kid's seats.  For a trip I like to surprise the kids with new books that I've squirreled away from the thrift store (our thrift store sells children's books for 35 cents a copy).  I'll also put one coloring book for each in there.

6) Snacks
I am the snack master.  We always have snacks in the car.  I usually pack carrot sticks, grapes, O's cereal, Annie's cheddar bunnies, Yummy Earth suckers and water.  These also periodically get passed back.  Sometimes when the trip feels really long, like driving across west Texas for example, we stop at the DQ for a mini blizzard.  That always lifts spirits and lets little legs get some energy out.

photo credit:  buddy

7) "Look out of the window!"
All of this planning doesn't result in problem free traveling.  I still find myself responding to "I'm bored" with "well, look out the window!".  Because that's what a road trip is about to me.  It's not all about arriving.  Some of it is about the getting there.  One thing (besides the road trip bingo) I have found to encourage the children to look out of the window is to give them a camera and let them take pictures of what they see.  Buddy's pictures are usually of trucks and giant tires, while Moonpie's are of trees and birds.  It's lovely to view the trip from their perspective.

8) Audio books
We love audio books!  I usually check a few out from the library or download some episodes of Adventures in Odyssey.

9)  Movies
We are pretty strict when it comes to movies in the car- just like at home.  On long travel days (8-10 hour legs), we usually get up early- around 5am- and hit the road.  We don't allow movies until after lunch time.  Then we usually only do one a day.  Sometimes two if the kids are having a hard time finding a rhythm.  

10) Silly travel games
We like to play silly games on the road that we have made up.  The kids created a verbal version of "Guess Who" ("I'm thinking of someone with a mustache, who wears blue overalls and red hat").  Or the game of sketchy situational responses called "appropriate or inappropriate" (ex-"Buddy- appropriate or inappropriate- wearing shoes on your head and underwear for a shirt).  And there's always "what animal is this?" ("it has long legs, a long neck and a sharp beak).

There you go!  10 things that work well for our family.  As they continue to grow I know I'll need to change up my arsenal.  My hope is that no matter the age, we can enjoy the car time as a family.  And that when my children look back on their childhood road trips they will remember mama making hats out of pipe cleaners just as fondly as seeing waterfalls and canyons.


What about you?  Any travel tips you can recommend?


Steph said...

you're a genius!

now...I find it's helpful to be in such a colossal rush getting ready for a trip with lots of scrambling and shouting and searching for things that once you're finally in the car, you are all so relieved that you've made it no one wants to do anything but sit quietly and enjoy hours of peace.
give that a try why don't ya! :)

i'm just kidding. our trips are nothing like that whatsoever. :/

Amy said...

You ARE a genius. Thank you for this.


Our trip to WA (and back) last year was fun on the way. On The Way. The way back, it was movies, movies, and lots of crying. But I never did anything as creative as this. I'm definitely going to try travel bingo. What an idea! My boys would love that.

Mandy said...

Awesome! This will come in super handy for the road trips we have planned this summer.

My 3 year old loves her Leap Frog Tag Pen and books. She got it from the grandparents for her birthday and it is fantastic. We put all the books and the pen in a canvas bag, aka. her "book bag".

Thanks for all the creative ideas. Your recipes are filling up my Pinterest page. :)

Jana said...

We are big "look out the window" people. This would be because my children can not read or anything like that because they will puke. They may have gotten that from their moher.

So we are big music people. Everyone picks something to listen to and we take turns.

We sing it loud and proud the whole way!!

p.s. Love her shower cap.

Rachel said...

These are some great ideas! Thank you for sharing. I'm really bad about planning for car time on our trips, I get so busy getting everything else ready. I am going to make this a priority because I think it will have a big pay-off.

Aleesa said...

Great ideas, we love audio books and travel notebooks too. Sometimes in the dollar spot you can find mini puzzles which are great in the car. Playdough and pipe cleaners are another favorite with Matt ( or at least they use to be).

JOHANNA said...

Jack is a fan of singing, so we do a lot of singing and chair dancing :). I love road trips!!

Nicola (Which Name?) said...


Jaime @ Like a Bubbling Brook said...

Fantastic list! For the most part, my little men travel well, but I do have to plan a few things for the ride. You've given me a few extra ideas!

Amanda said...

I meant to do a post like this last summer, but never got around to it. Great job! :)

We used a lot of the same tricks, except instead of binders (which would probably keep papers tidier) I used clipboards -- with three kids squished in the back, they fit better than anything folded out. I found them months later under the front seats, bunched up and dirty. :/

We enjoyed a lot of staring out the window, too. :) Favorite game: Finding state license plates. Their goal was to spot all 50 before we got home, and I think they did!

Mandy said...

Those are great ideas. I can imagine Tony's face if I gave the kids window crayons! HA!

rose said...

We always bring board games and a stack of books and coloring books. I make sure I bring plenty of snacks and drinks with us as well. I also will always make sure that I have my iPad everywhere we go. I work for DISH Network and have their TV Everywhere app with them. The kids can play games on the iPad and watch TV live. They can access all our subscription channels and DVR recordings. They love it!