Summer vacation means it’s road trip time for many of us. And anyone who has driven more than two hours with small children knows that it can be a pretty stressful time. Our summer travels are done, but one of my girlfriends emailed me this weekend to ask for any recommendations for an upcoming road trip with their kids (the same ages as ours). I told her we pack a small backpack for each of the kids with age-appropriate activities in it.
Here’s what worked for us this summer:
BABY: Driving long distances with a nursing baby is horrible, no two ways about it. When we moved out to CA from PA two years ago, S was 3 months old and screamed every waking minute in her carseat. Bethany hosted us after a 17 hour day, and she can attest that I was pretty close to total despair, even with only one day’s drive left ahead of me. The only advice I have is to bring a hand pump and pump a bottle which you can feed the baby while she’s still in the carseat. Then you can use stops to change her diaper and let her stretch and kick around a bit on a play quilt instead of having to sit and nurse the whole stop.
Recommended supplies: Hand pump (I have this one), play quilt or blanket, lots of changes of clothes
TODDLER: Actually, I think the 12-36 month stage might be the hardest. Mine nap less and are extremely fidgety. Being pretty opposed to much screen time for our kids, we’d managed many 12 hour drives without a portable DVD player. Then when we had a cross-country move, we broke down and bought one. Now when we go on a long car trip, we borrow new movies from friends (or check them out from the library), so there’s the novelty of watching a ton of movies AND not always watching the same things as we do at home. Our kids get carsick easily (I once called Anna from the road to ask what dosage of dramamine she recommended for our two year old who had just thrown up for the third day in a row, and she changed my world by telling me about chewable children’s dramamine!), so we have to do shorter videos and break them up with other activities. Stickers and mess-free markers can sometimes hold their interest, though often I have to be sitting next to the two year old, peeling the stickers for her. Lots of new snack food helps, too.
PRESCHOOLER: Even though this age doesn’t read, they can look at pictures. We try to bring really detailed paperback picture books for their backpacks, and we’ve found that reusable stickers can occupy a lot of time. DVDs and mess-free markers work, too. From about age three on, my kids love to listen to books on CD. Magnetic games are good for the car, as long as they have a decent carrying case so you’re not losing pieces. I always get a bunch of snacks that we don’t usually have (colored goldfish crackers, fruity cheerios, fruit snacks, teddy grahams) and divide them into three gallon sized ziplocks with our three big kids’ names on them. So when somebody gets antsy, I let them pick a snack out of their bag (so no fighting over who gets the last one–they all started the trip with the same stuff).
SCHOOL-AGE KID: We are just entering the wonderful world of having a child who can buckle and unbuckle himself, read to himself, and pretty much entertain himself as needed. He still loves to listen to CDs, watch DVDs, and help his little sisters with their stuff, but we definitely pack a couple fun chapter books for him and his own headphones to listen to a different story on my ipod than what the little girls are listening to over the speakers. I’ll also stick in a new spiral notebook (I stock up on these at back-to-school sales every August) and some colored pencils, and he usually fills the whole notebook with pictures by the end of the trip. Wiki Stix are great because they stick to each other but not to the carseat. Mazes and dot-to-dots and word searches (from the Target dollar bins) have been a hit, too.
Recommended supplies: The Chronicles of Narnia Complete 7 Volume CD Boxed Set (read by some of the greatest British actors of our day!), Wiki Stix, Camelbak Kid’s Water Bottle (our favorite on-the-go water bottle for all of our kids–not leaky, and they fit in standard cupholders)
What are your most successful road trip tips?
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