I love road trips. Our family took our first when I was about 2 years old, and I still remember the drive, where we went, who we saw, what I got in trouble for…but I mostly remember the utter thrill of being on the road. We took another road trip when I was 7, and then we took many plane trips to visit the East Coast folks, but nothing was as amazing as those long drives because when driving, you can actually SEE what you are passing. When you see an amazing attraction, you can stop and experience it. When a sign advertises “World’s best Popsicles” you can stop and get one. In all, I’ve gone from ocean to ocean by car or bicycle at least 13 times, and have driven at least halfway another 8-10 times. I’m losing count! I’m in love with road trips. So when I had children, I was determined to give them the same love of the road that I have. So far, my 6-year-old has been on 3 road trips of more than 1000 miles each, and the other two kids have each been on 2. We are now preparing to embark on another trip covering about 2000 miles and over 4-5 weeks, part of that time I will be alone with my 3 kids on the road, and I am having a blast preparing our car activities.
We have had our share of in-car trials, certainly, but we have found that at least 90% of the time, our kids are happy and excited on road trips. We still remember the Sprite’s screams as we drove four hours on a desolate road through central California, a rout chosen for it’s beauty and views. Not fun. But she was not yet 1 year old at the time, and she was not amused by the landscape. She wanted to get out and PLAY!
People think we are nuts because they think road trips mean fighting, whining, many “are we there yet?” questions, and whining and complaining when the family finally arrives at the destination. We have found that with a little planning, and an understanding of how your kids work, the trip is instead filled with smiles and laughter, and the kids actually look forward to getting into the car. Now, if your kids have been raised to consider themselves allowed to be bored and whine a lot in general, even at home, then they will be whiny and board in the car. There’s no help for that except some good parenting counseling and a change in parenting style. But if your kids are normally content and happy and get along, it is extremely possible for them to love road trips, and for the road trip to be very pleasant for all! So let me tell you what we do.
1. We bring audio books. We listen to audio books ALL THE TIME at home, and the kids have their favorite series and books they like to hear again and again. We have been given Hank The Cowdog on CD over the years, and I believe we now have 23 of them. This amounts to about 100 hours of their favorite audio book! The best thing about audio books is that the kids can look outside and talk to one another while listening, so they are able to really take in a lot while driving.
Favorite books on tape:
1. The Story of the World Volumes I, II, III, and IV
2. Hank the Cowdog (all books are awesome!)
3. The Little Prince
2. File folder games. These are free ALL OVER THE INTERNET!!! They are awesome. I have made many file folder games, and the best way to do it is this: Use Google and/or Pintrest and search “free file folder games.” If you are using Google, click on the images search so you can see what the games are. This seems to make it a lot easier. Now, you’ll find a lot of games you need to pay for, but there are just as many (maybe more) you DON’T need to pay for. This is one of my favorite sites for file folder games. http://www.filefolderfun.com/SearchAge.html
File folder games are great because they are educational, so if you are planning on home schooling on your trip, finding a game that does the job for you pretty much rocks!
3. Printable worksheets. Each of my kids has a notebook. In the notebook are sections separated by binder dividers I found at Walmart. My 6-year-old has a section for coloring pages, one for daily journal entries, a section of mazes, dot to dot, matching, logic games, math facts for speed drills, etc. (all laminated in this section so they are write and wipe), and a section for family games like the license plate game, the ABC game, I Spy lists, I Spy Bingo, etc. I laminated these family games and found binder dividers with open pockets so the game sheets are easy access (important for those speed car games!). These binders are the core of our entertainment for the kids. They can slide between the boosters and car seats for easy access. I found all sheets for the notebooks by searching Google and Pintrest, all for free. All laminating is done at Lakeshore.
Some great sites I found:
4. Flash card rings. For variation, I went to Lakeshore, Walmart, and Michaels and found all kinds of flash cards ranging from shape recognition for the Sprite to word recognition to math facts to puzzle cards – all sorts of cards that I gather all the time – as well as some flash cards I printed free from the internet, and I laminated the cards so they are write and wipe, and put them on a C-ring. I found an awesome, stiff, tote from Micheals, and all flash card rings go in the tote.
5. Supply pouches. All kids need their supplies easy to access and easy to organize, so I bought a BUNCH of $.88 clear binder pouches at Walmart. Each kid has 4 pouches, and all the pouches are attached to one another by C-rings. Pouch 1 contains washable markers. Pouch 2 contains twist-up crayons. Pouch 3 contains dry-erase markers. Pouch 4 contains lip balm, a tiny flashlight, a finger light (from Michaels $1 section), hand sanitizer, their personal game markers (more on that later) and all those other little things they might want during the car ride. The pouches are attached to their car seat or booster with a chain of C-rings. We have better luck with these than those plastic baby chains, as the baby chains tend to come apart and important things fall on the floor at critical moments.
6. Magnate boards with games. Each child has a baking sheet (sides are important so things don’t roll off!) and I printed off 12×12 game boards at Costco. This is how I made them. 1. I found a high-quality picture of the game board online and had it printed at Costco OR I took a picture of a game board we already have, cropped it into a square, and printed it as a 12×12 at Costco. 2. I created and printed any cards needed for the game, laminated them at Lakeshore. 3. I made personalized game markers. Each kid has their own. I bought little 1/2×1/2 wood cubes at some point in time, and put a little round magnate on the bottom. Then I printed a tiny picture of each kid’s face, laminated it, and glued it to the top of the cube. I made 2 for each kid in case one got lost. The game boards are held in place by magnetic strips I bought at Lakeshore, so nothing really slides around except for the cards, but the kids seem ok with this. I also printed, laminated, and magnetized a really cute road for the Mighty Lion, and we will bring his little Cars Drifters to play with on this road.
Magnate boards don’t have to be cookie sheets (they are cumbersome, but they also avoid most dropped toys). 12X12 dry-erase magnate boards would work as well.
7. Snacks: What we have discovered:
Kids are much happier when they snack on protein (cheese, lunch meat), fruit (berries, apples, bananas), and veggies (baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, edemame), and they drink water, and sugar is completely avoided. This is true at home, but even more true on the road. Sugar is your WORST enemy on the road. But you are on vacation, you want to give them treats, so what do you do? Our road trips go in this pattern: drive – get out and eat – play – drive. Kids may get back into the car hungry after playing, but if you want to give a treat, the time to do it is just after they get out of the car and before they play. Allow AT LEAST an hour of play if you are going to give treats. So when you pass that “World’s Best Popsicles” sign, you CAN pull over to indulge, just know that if you get into the car after consuming that amazing Popsicle, you’ll regret it.
So healthy snacks/no sugar/minimal carbs means a trip to the grocery store, but the investment in healthy foods pays off BIG TIME!!! I can’t stress this more. We use this same principle when going to theme parks and hikes. Kids and sugar and planned occasions don’t mix.
8. When all else fails:
a. We do have an entertainment system in our van, but we barely use it. On road trips, the kids are allowed to watch 1 movie each day, and if there is any sort of argument about the movie, we say “Well, it sounds like you need a day to decide together what you want to watch, so no pressure, we’ll just put it off until tomorrow.” Problem solved. They will figure out what to watch together, and they’ll let you know when they’ve figured it out. Works every time, like a charm.
b. We have an IPad because my very kind MIL bought me one for work. I guard my IPad from my children because I want them to exhaust all other methods of learning and exploration before they embark on the brain-cell-killing, imagination-destroying, social-life-squashing journey into video games. However, I do have games for them on the IPad. All, without exception, are educational/religious games. I’ve even found a Greek learning game. Nice! This is our first trip since we’ve had it, and I’ll allow them to use it from time to time. I think I’ll allow each to play 30 minutes of games each day and see how it goes. I can always withdraw that privilege if I need to.
9. Are we there yet? I found these great printables and am using the road trip countdown cards to write the name of towns we will pass that day. I laminated the cards, and will string a ribbon across the top of the van to clothespin them to. When we pass a town on a card, we can remove the card from the ribbon. They’ll always have a reference point, then. On our last trip, we introduced the kids to the road atlas, and whenever they asked “Are we there yet?” we looked at the map. They LOVED it! When you see this question as a blessing and a learning opportunity rather than a whiny bother, the incidence of the question decreases! Instead, the kids begin to look outside the car for road signs, and they learn how to use a map.
10. Get out of the car. That’s right. You have to plan to get out of the car BEFORE you need to. Know how long your kids can sit and play, and plan your trip accordingly. Don’t stress your kids out by asking them to drive 8 hours straight when they are 3 years old. Maybe they can do it, maybe they can’t. You just need to allow their abilities to factor into your planning. If you do this, they’ll LOVE road trips!
My kids beg us to take them!