Yeah, yeah, the list has been done before, but I’ve got some new ideas, and can share what we do to stay sane.
And sure, having a DVD player is an easy solution, but it’s just not “The Cowboy Way.” You can stay sane with kids in the car AND have a good family experience while you do it.
Bring plenty of food. Snacks are a must. Seriously. Nothing will calm down the whining like a bag of pretzels, or some gummi bears, or something more healthy, if that’s how you roll. It’s also a really good idea to pack along some lunch fixings – sandwich material, or cheese and crackers are two of our favorites – and then stop and have lunch outside somewhere. Wander while eating, maybe throw a frisbee for a while, and just MOVE a bit.
Bring along some games. Monopoly is a poor choice. Obviously, you want something compact, few parts to lose… but there are some non-obvious choices: Trivial Pursuit is a fun choice, and we’ve had some luck with travel bingo. And then there are the games for which you don’t need any equipment: I Spy, the Alphabet Game, License Plates (good luck finding Hawaii and Alaska!) and Twenty Questions.
Audio books are not quite movies – they’re better! For one, the driver can participate, and even better, audio books tend to last a long, long time. We like to listen for an hour, get everyone’s attention, then take a break. After an hour or two, the kids are ready for another installment. For added fun, consider getting some “radio classics” shows – you can find both free at many public libraries.
Be sure the kids have money. When you’re stopping at a tourist attraction or a gas station, make sure the kids have some money for snacks or doodads. Kids love to have the freedom and responsibility to buy things on their own. Even better, give them the opportunity to earn or save that money before the trip, and then it’s truly THEIR money they’re spending.
Underpromise and overdeliver. There’s nothing wrong with promising a stop for lunch in two hours – and then arriving in an hour and fifteen. Or forgetting to mention a tourist attraction that’s coming up in a few miles, leaving it as a surprise for the last minute. Let’s face it – it doesn’t matter how much fun, or how many sights, or how many snacks you have planned; if you give the kids all of the details, they’ll complain about it. Throw them some surprises and see if that doesn’t lift the moods a little bit.
Make more stops. Nobody likes a whole bunch of six-hour stretches on the road with nothing to see but cows out the side window. There’s something to be said for “getting there” efficiently, but I think there’s more wisdom in enjoying the ride.