Traveling with kids.
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.
Be intentional when traveling with kids
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. ( I still think we do well to use non-electronic equipment for entertainment).
One key to happy travel times is for both parents to be involved in what’s happening in your vehicle. If one (or both) are intent on hiding behind earphones, cell phone, or a 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 done. 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 kids know their parents are in tune with them, they will usually settle down and entertain themselves.
If you entertain the kids early in the trip, you’ll find that you still have time for yourself while you’re traveling. Try it. You might be surprised how well it works.
Everything Tote: Keep a container under a seat with extra wipes, diapers, pull-ups, extra underwear for toddlers, Kotex, tampons, and 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 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 for 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. Music is a good 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.
How to span the time
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 leave no small pieces hiding 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. 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 is just right for keeping the snacks cool.)
- 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 I was packing up to travel back home by myself with my kids. The 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.
At the end of the ride
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. When children are tired, hungry, or sick, travel can be a drain with kids.
Planning ahead will help make the trip enjoyable until you get to your destination. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you in your quest for maintaining sanity traveling with kids. 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 when you’re traveling with kids, then pack your bags and hit the road, making memories as you go.
A note from me: This post was first published six years ago. There are more things at our fingertips when it comes to entertainment, but I dare say traveling with kids is still a challenge. I hope these ideas help!