As I’ve discussed a lot lately, our extended family is split between 2 different areas of the country – Missouri and Ohio. So we have traveled with the kids since they were born. Sofi’s first car trip across was when she was 4 months old. Walter’s was at 3 weeks, and Elliott went to Denver with us (same distance, different direction) at 2 weeks old. They are seasoned travelers, even at their tender ages.
Along the way, we’ve honed some great travel skills – parents and kids alike. And we’ve done it all the old fashioned way – without laptops, audio books, game devices, or dvd players. In fact, our travels resemble our home life, to a great extent.
I always have so much fun telling people about the little tricks we’ve learned, so I’m going to share some with you today, my fabulous readers!
10 Tips for Traveling With Young Kids
10. Prepare ahead of time by talking about it, so they are excited and know what to expect. My kids are involved in every aspect of the travel that they can be. Sometimes specifics aren’t something they can decide (like, when Daddy can get time off work), but they can help choose clothing to pack, fold it and roll it to put it in the suitcase, and carrying things to the vehicle. And for the days and weeks before, and while packing and loading the vehicle, we talk, talk, talk, talk about getting in the van and how we are going to be going to (insert destination here); WHY we are going; what we are going to do there; how much FUN we are going to have there; how we will be DRIVING for a LONG time to get there, and ALL THE FUN THINGS WE WILL DO ON OUR DRIVE! So when we buckle in, the kids are ready. They know we aren’t stopping any time soon (ok, our kids have traveled with us long enough to know that we’ll have to stop at least once before we actually make it out of town, most times, but THEN it’s on)! They already know what toys they’ve chosen to bring, what sights they will be looking for along the way, what snacks they will be eating, and whether or not we’ll be stopping at a hotel for the night.
9. Dress comfortably – yourself and the kids. Clothing that is too tight, too loose, will lump up in the seat, or won’t let a child move freely while driving is maddening. After a few hours in the car, sitting with a knot in the middle a child’s back, a meltdown will be coming. Also, my kids have learned to ask first, but that they are allowed to take off their shoes to have more room to wiggle their toes.
8. Pack snacks. Keeping the kids’ blood sugar even makes a huge difference in the way they will manage the stress of a trip. Feeding snacks on a regular schedule really is so important. Many food items are friendly for car travel. Another tip that I discovered on our last trip was to let them choose their snacks when they got back in the car at each stop, instead of trying to feed them while we were stopped. This gave them more time to eat, and more time to run – win/win!
7. Have toys and drawing supplies within reach of the kids. These don’t need to be new, and they don’t need to be fancy. Just some simple notebooks, a small pencil box with crayons, pencils, maybe some pens or washable markers, if the child won’t be likely to draw all over the back seat, a few toys that they especially love and will keep them busy for hours. I actually forgot to pack any toys at all for the kids coming from MO to OH on one trip lately, so we stopped at Walmart and I bought them each an $8 doll that came with a hooded blanket and a potty. They played with those dolls the entire drive – happily. I put all of the toys in one of the kids’ backpacks, and used a suction cup hook to stick it to the back window where Sofi could reach it. She can pass the toys out in the back seat and put them back in the bag when people are done with them. When we stopped, I would scoop up any dropped toys and put them back in the backpack, ready for another round.
6. Set a timer for driving and breaks. It is common knowledge that people will need to stop often to stretch, pee, and other sundry things while driving. At the same time, this has to be balanced with actual forward momentum of the vehicle, in order to reach your destination. I use the magic kitchen timer theory for the road, with most excellent results. When we get in the car, I set the timer on my cell phone for 2 (or sometimes 2.5) hours. I tell the kids, who can’t yet tell time, that we will be finding a place to stop again when the timer goes off. This makes sense to them. The timer is set for lots of things at home. They don’t know what 2 hours is yet, but they can rest easy in KNOWING that the timer will go off eventually, and the van will stop. This gives them something to expect and count on, and makes the driving much easier for them. When the timer goes off, I find a suitable place to stop, and we get out of the van. I set the timer again, for 30 minutes (or whatever is appropriate for the stop), and when the timer goes off, we load back up, grab our snacks, and get back on the road! Again, the kids have an expectation and they don’t struggle, because they know that the timer will go off again, and we’ll do it all again.
5. Keep a routine. Just like at home, kids thrive on routine. If every trip follows a similar pattern, they learn what to expect, and are not as stressed about the difference in their daily routine. Routine can come in the form of steps followed packing and loading the vehicle, steps followed at stops, setting the timer, or whatever pattern works for your family.
4. Stop where the kids can run, and let them run whenever you stop. My kids’ favorite place to stop for a break is a good playground. We try to find them whenever we can. There is usually a bathroom at the playground, and we can make a quick stop for gas on our way back to the highway, if needed. The kids get a fast way to blow off some pent up energy, and they love the excitement of getting to discover a new set of equipment in a new place. If a playground isn’t handy, or the time of day isn’t compatible, there are many different options. Many businesses have a nice strip of green running alongside or behind them. A nice long strip of grass can be a great place for the kids to run – literally back and forth – and stretch their little bodies. If that isn’t available, one of our favorite tricks is to find a Walmart (they are nearly everywhere), go to the bike section and find a bike or tricycle, and pop the kids on. Let them ride the bike (calmly) through the store while we have a nice long walk. Sometimes there is something we need to buy at the store, but usually it is just a clean bathroom and a good stretch, just like stopping at the park.
3. Bring books to read or tell stories. A great outlet for the boring parts of the trip, or after dark, is stories. My kids love to hear me tell tales about when I was a little girl, or about where we are going, and most especially, when I was a little girl and I went where we are going. When those stories run out, a chapter book will do. I use the kindle app on my phone for this usually, and I can read even in the dark.
2. Teach them to look out the windows. This really is a practiced art form. Simply looking out the windows does not really register with kids. They really need to know what they are looking for. Point out things to your kids that you or they find interesting. Sofi is into firetrucks and other rescue vehicles, so we always watch for them. Walter loves farms with great barns, animals, and silos, so we always watch for them. Both kids love hay bales. Point out the rivers, the trees, the differences in the landscape from where you live and where you’ve been. Point out semis painted in your kids’ favorite colors. Point out trains. Point out interesting things that you’ve never noticed before, or landmarks that you watch for each time.
1. Practice at home so they aren’t used to being entertained. Kids who depend on you for entertainment at all times at home will also depend on you for entertainment at all times while driving. This can be annoying, frustrating for the kids, and downright dangerous if you are the only driver and you are also trying to entertain the children. And it isn’t fair to them, or to you, to expect them to suddenly be content driving in the car for hours without a constant stream of interaction from you, if they are used to always having that at home. So, my number one tip for car travel is to let your kids practice being bored at home and coming up with a solution. They don’t have to sit still to practice – having the skill of finding something to do with what you have and where you are is invaluable, and translates to other media very easily. A child who can stand in the middle of the back yard and figure out something to play, who can sit in a bedroom and figure out something to play, who can stand in the living room and find something to play, who can crawl under the dining room table and find something to play, will also be able to sit in a carseat and find something to play. This is the beauty of creativity and imagination. Just give your child plenty of time at home, without any input from you, to figure out how to entertain his or her self.
What other travel tips do you have?