A few years ago, it was a cold January Friday and my husband was out of work. We’d just heard from his headhunter (recruiter) who’d said that, due to a big convention the following week, he shouldn’t expect to hear back on any potential jobs for at least 10 days.
It was 4:00pm and we were down. I looked at him and said, “Boy, by the time you get a job, we won’t be able to take time off for the trip to Arizona for spring break!” It was as though a light bulb went off in both of our heads. Six hours later we were on the road for our first roadtrip ever.
When people heard what we did, they were surprised, not so much that we went last minute, but that we DROVE! Minnesota to Arizona isn’t a typical road tripping distance to be sure, but everyone got along great. Here are tips to surviving and enjoying 50+ hours in the car.
- Make sure everyone packs his own “car bag.” This is a small backpack or tote that will fit below their feet or next to them in the car. The key is that the kid packs it himself so if something is missing, no one else is to blame. This bag STAYS IN THE CAR! It doesn’t go into hotel rooms, it doesn’t get out at rest stops, it doesn’t go into grandma’s house. And, it is repacked at the end of each day.
- Each person gets the same seat for an entire day. This avoids arguments at each stop and keeps people’s stuff from getting completely strewn about the car. Now that we’ve traveled over half the country in the car, our kids have determined their fav spots and rarely switch it up.
- Clean the car at the end of the day. This means everything is put back in the proper kids bag,garbage is thrown out, water bottles are taken in for the night to be refilled. There is a huge mental difference in the morning when you get into a car that is clean and doesn’t smell like yesterday’s lunch.
- Get out of the car whenever possible to eat. We do not do fast food regularly at home and we almost never do it on the road. We’ve found that any time saving is offset by spills that need to be cleaned up, stomachs that are upset from eating unhealthy food, and people that get cranky from too much time in the car. Local diners are usually very comparable in price, especially when we all drink much needed water instead of soda.
- Allow kids some money to buy their own treats occasionally at a gas station. Face it, being in the car can get boring, and as you travel across the country you’ll come across some local treats not found at home. It’s fun for kids to have some buying power and try a new treat or two. And if you’re eating healthier during your meal stops, these treats will have less negative impact. Instead of paying for their choices, consider giving them a per day spending allowance. It’s fun to watch them think through how they’ll spend their $2/day treat budget.
- Limit screen time. Although it’s really easy to just pop in a dvd, it’s a lot more effective to save it for times when you (the parents) need some quiet time. If movies play constantly, the kids get bored and the noise escalates. Our first trip to Arizona was over 30 hrs each direction and we watched one movie each way. But when it was on, the kids were silent.
- Buy a few cooperative games, electronic or not. When our kids were into Nintendo DS, they each had one they were allowed to play for an hour at a time. Again, this made it special and fun. Before we left, I went to a game re-seller and purchased a few games for them to play that required cooperation or had to be played together. Lego DS games are great for this. Then, don’t hand out the game (and only give out one at a time) until you have to. Hint: this shouldn’t be before the second day of the trip or you’re in big trouble! If you can, use one for the trip to your destination and break out a different one for the way home and you’ll be in good shape.
- Pack a few things for the “mom box” to bring out as surprises along the way. This might be a new pack of word games, a new music cd to sing along with or even a favorite (non messy) treat. Just don’t overuse the surprises or they’ll lose their effectiveness.
- Bring notebooks or journals for the kids to draw or write in. When they were little, we’d ask the kids to draw a picture of something we’d seen along the way. Occasionally we’d make them write out a little journal entry. Although they’d usually grumble, they get a huge kick out of looking back on those entries now that they are teens.
- Books on tape are a great way to keep everyone quiet and to tackle books kids wouldn’t be likely to read on their own. We’ve listened to the entire Narnia series (we got it from the library), Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It was nice to be able to stop the tape and talk about what we were listening to and it allowed readers and non-readers to participate. As a matter of fact, the kids begged for us to buy Huck Finn for our trip home after falling in love with Tom Sawyer.
- Let kid take turns choosing places to stop. This could be the next restaurant, the next hotel or the next roadside attraction. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be a long stop, but giving kids choices and power in the decision making process makes the prospect of sitting still a bit more bearable.
What other ideas do you have for keeping your family happy during long car trips? I’d love to read about them below!