Summer vacation is upon us and for many this means a family road trip. Any car trip can be daunting whether it be four hours or fourteen hours. But with a little planning and creative thinking, those hours in the car do not need to be so dreadful.
Entertaining the little ones is the biggest hurdle. No matter what their age, at some point they become restless. The key is finding ways to break it up and keeping them mentally active. The how will depend on their age.
For all ages the most obvious is the entertainment system. If your car is not outfitted with a system, then the investment in a portable DVD player is well worth it. Some systems are even compatible with video game systems. If you child is old enough to play Wii or any of the other versions this can be a plus on lengthy trips. Remember to pack a few of their favorite movies and surprise them with a few new ones. For younger children, a DVD of their favorite TV shows is also a great idea. Their attention span is shorter so the shorter segments might work better then one long movie. If limited TV viewing is a rule in your house, an exception is a good idea on long trips.
For toddlers and preschoolers, a travel tray for their car seat is very useful. One Step a Head sells them for $19.95. It could be the best twenty bucks you spend. A tray will provide them with a surface to color, play with little toys and eat their snacks and meals. Plus, you don’t have to worry about losing crayons all over the car when Dad takes a turn too fast.
Travel presents are also a great idea for little ones but will even work for grade school children. Travel presents are simply a collection of inexpensive little toys. When the kids start getting restless, you simply hand them a present. The excitement of unwrapping and getting a present will help starve off boredom. If you plan to buy some new movies or books for the trip go ahead and wrap them to make it more exciting.
Another idea several moms have shared is the portable potty. Traveling by car is synonymous with needing to go to the bathroom right after you pass the rest area. But for many parents’ the idea of taking their little one into a gas station bathroom can be frightening. No reason to worry if you carry a portable potty. All you have to do is line their potty trainer with a couple of plastic bags and place paper towels in the bottom of it. Once they are done, tie it close and toss in the garbage and nightmares are averted. It is not only cleaner but quicker then the alternative.
For grade school children car games for the whole family can be played to help entertain everyone including the driver. The most common is of course the license plate game. Make a list and a copy of it for there is the return trip. Then have the children take turns being the highlighter if you have more than one. Each time someone spots a new state’s license plate highlight it. Try to see if you can find all 50 states before you reach your destination. You can also make a pre-road trip game out of it to see who can list all fifty states.
Then there is car bingo. Several places sell a car bingo game but a homemade version can be more entertaining plus provides another pre-road trip activity for the family. You will need to make enough ‘boards’ for each person playing. Again, you will need two copies for the return ride. The fun comes in when you decide what to include in the squares. Some ideas are Rest Stop Ahead sign, Cop pulled over on the side of the road, three motorcycles together, a horse trailer and a cow. Then you can always add some unusual sights while on the road to make the game tougher like a pink car.
Along these lines, you can also play a family game of hangman, I SPY and many others. Giving the kids enough variety will help break up the trip and keep the ‘Are we there yet?’ to a minimum.