Traveling together as a family is a great way to make memories. It can also be a time when it’s hard to get along. Being cramped in the same vehicle for hours on end and having hungry or tired children is not a fun way to spend a day, that’s for sure.
I was blessed to have a husband with me most of the times I traveled with our six. For single parents, I know the responsibility is double. While I’ve written this with a two-parent family in mind, you certainly can tweak it to suit your situation and your needs. Even though your situation might be different than mine was, know that I applaud you for doing your best with what you have.
When we traveled as a family, we had a few tricks in our bags that helped the miles pass without a lot of turmoil in our van. We didn’t have a TV or computers with DVDs, so we found other ways to keep our kiddos entertained. [And I still think we do well to use other means for entertainment than electronic equipment.]
I think one key to happy travel times is having both parents involved during interactions in your vehicle. If one (or both) are intent on hiding behind their earphones, cell phone, or reading project, the kids will be more restless. If you’re playing a game with them, telling jokes and riddles, reading to them, or singing with them, the miles will fly by much faster.
Often, the parents (and especially dad, if he’s the driver) want to hunker down and get the trip behind them. Dad wants it quiet so he can concentrate on driving, Mom wants to chill or read, and the kids are left to fend for themselves. Amazingly, once the kids know their parents are in tune with them, they will settle down and entertain themselves.
I think if you entertain the kids early on, you’ll find that you still have time for yourself while you’re traveling. Try it. You might be surprised how well it works.
If you asked me for ideas of what to do when you’re traveling with kids, I’d offer a few, and here are some of them.
Everything Tote: Keep a container under a seat with extra wipes, diapers, pull-ups, extra underwear for toddlers, Kotex, tampons, and etc. – anything anybody might need when they least expect it but not be able to retrieve from a duffle bag.
Weather Wear: When our kids were small, I stuffed a jacket/windbreaker behind each car seat. If we stopped somewhere and it was rainy or chilly, I knew where to find the jacket for each child. Older kids can have their own backpack with their items in their bags. It’s not a good idea to pack windbreakers in duffle bags/suitcases just because the sun is shining when you leave.
Books. Bring out books you haven’t read in a while and take some new books along. Read to your kids while you travel. Have your school age kids choose their own books for entertainment. The I Spy books can keep a child entertained for hours; don’t be surprised if your kids argue over who gets to look at it first.
Music. There are so many selections of recordings, and the cost is minimal. It’s a great way for the family to sing along together; it’s also a great way for kids to learn new songs. There were times when the noise was so great in our van and the baby needed to take a nap. We’d stick in a CD and tell the kids they all had to be quiet until a certain number of songs had been completed. This also works when there is fussing. Having everyone get quiet for 10-15 minutes can keep a major battle at bay. It calms both the passengers and the driver. Plus, knowing that the “quiet time” has a set ending will help the kids cooperate, and they can still enjoy the music while being still.
Stories. We lived on story CDs. Our favorites were the Odyssey stories from Focus on the Family. Most of the episodes were enjoyed by the entire family. Another story set we enjoyed was Down Gilead Lane, produced by Your Story Hour. As parents, you can also take this time to tell your stories. Tell your kids about the time you lied to a teacher or got stopped by a policeman. Tell them about the time you got lost or how scared you were during a thunder and lightning storm. This is your opportunity to tell your kids what is important to you – just by telling stories.
Toys. Individual bags or backpacks with specific toys or books for each child are a must for older kids. Sticker books can be fun and there are no small pieces to hide on the floor. Matchbox cars and small flashlights were a hit for our gang. I only pulled the flashlights out when it was dark outside and the kids were really restless.
Snacks. Use snacks that aren’t mushy. You can fix zip lock bags with crackers, pretzels, or grapes and hand them out part way through the trip. Animal crackers and celery or carrot sticks can also help munch the time away. If tummies are growling but you’re still an hour or two from a supper stop, these snack bags will do the trick. (A small cooler tucked between the seats was just right for keeping the snacks cool.)
Games: Most children can help play games, and older ones or adults can help the younger ones. Here are some of the games we played:
- The Alphabet game (competition among family members where each person finds letters of the alphabet in order. This is easier in a town or city, but much more difficult in rural areas. My husband grew up playing this game with the added difficulty of letters found needing to be the first letter of a word. You could only use an H, for example, if it was in the first letter of a word.
- Twenty Questions. Our kids especially enjoyed this enroute to Grandma’s house because we played it about her house and the people in it. One person is IT. He says, “I am thinking of something in Grandma’s house/yard.” Players ask questions that can only be answered with yes or no. I.E. “Is it outside?”; “Is it upstairs?”; “Is it in the living room?” – until the answer is found.
- Bible Numbers. This is a great game to keep kids entertained while traveling or in a restaurant waiting for their food. For each number, players list as many items as they can remember.
For example, the “number 1” would be things such as: one baby in a manger; one baby in a basket; one star led the way to the wise men; one lad and one lunch was used by Jesus to feed 5,000 people.
2 fish in the little lad’s lunch; two criminals crucified next to Jesus; Jacob had 2 wives; Lazarus had 2 sisters.
3 gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh; Jesus had 3 special friends: Peter, James, and John; Peter denied Jesus three times.
Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. A potter’s field was bought for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 27). Wages were 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11)
You get the idea. Parents can give hints and help younger children think of answers. This game can occupy at least an hour of your time, especially when both parents participate.
- License Plate. Keep a record of license plates you see. Children can compete with each other to see which one sees plates from the most states.
- Traffic Signs and Others. Keep a record of traffic signs, bridges, etc. that you see as you travel. You can design the activity according to the geographies in which you will be driving.
Paper Chains. One day when I was getting ready to travel back home by myself with my kids, my kids were unhappy about the loooooong (all of four-hour) drive we had ahead of us. My sisters helped us make paper chains. We had one long chain around the ceiling of the van. Every 15 minutes, one link was taken down. Granted, we had to pick them off the floor when we got home, but the time passed quickly, and by the time the last chain came off, we were turning in the driveway.
Bubbles. When all else fails, bring out the bubbles. Our vehicles were always used with many miles on them when purchased, so we weren’t worried about damaging upholstery. Hold the bubble wand in front of the heat or air vent and let the bubbles float to the back of your vehicle. Small children love to try to burst the bubbles. It’s pretty inexpensive entertainment, and your kids will think you are the greatest.
Specialize. One of our foster children was happy as long as he had a Matchbox car or truck to hold. Other kids enjoyed a small lunch box with crayons or notepads on which to doodle. One child enjoyed dressing her dolls as we traveled. She had a plastic lunch box with all her doll clothes stuffed inside. Choose specific items that each child will find special or unique; then bring them out when everything else has failed. I used to look for things I could purchase that cost a little and entertained a lot. I’d hide them and then surprise our kids with something new and unique when the time was right.
Traveling can be fun and memorable. I recognize that children need to be able to entertain themselves without having adults do it for them all the time. We can help them learn to use their minds just by the games we play with them and the things we do with them as we travel.
At the same time, there are times when travel can be difficult. If children are tired, hungry, or sick, it can be a drain on everyone until you get to the next destination.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you in your quest for maintaining sanity as you travel. They might also make it easier (and safer) for the driver because there just might be less distractions from those back seats because the kids are quieter and happier.
Each family is different. Figure out what works for you, then pack your bags and hit the road, making memories as you go.