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Road Tripping With The Kids

If you’ve got little ones, and a long drive ahead of you this holiday season, you can relate to the things going on in my head right about now (December 15).  We’re getting ready to make the Christmas day (right after we open presents in our own home) drive to visit my family, 8 hours away.

8 hours is not a bad drive if you are just a couple of adults, talking and snacking and listening to your ipod.  But if you’ve got two restless kids in the back, 8 hours can seem like an eternity.  Here are some tips I have learned from experience:

Phase 1: Happy and Healthy:

  • Pack healthy snacks and keep them at your feet-this includes pretzels, carrot sticks, grapes, nuts, raisins, cereal bars, yogurt tubes and water bottles.  Amazingly, food gives them something to do and is 10 times more exciting when they are in the backseat.  I guess when you are in captivity, every little surprise feels like a gift. 
  • Have emergency “treats” like fruit chews or a couple of small cookies in case there is a need to bribe them(the rules are a little looser while in confinement-remember, you probably want to do this again and you don’t want them to remember it as torture), but otherwise, at this stage in the drive, keep it healthy so they aren’t reeling on a sugar high 15 minutes into the drive.
  • Keep a garbage bag and a roll of paper towels handy so you aren’t picking up smushed-in crackers off the car floor at the end of the drive.  If you have somewhere to throw all those wrappers, you’ll be much happier.  Otherwise, it’s like going to bed without brushing your teeth-you know how you wake up feeling gross the next morning?
  • Bring books and activity/coloring books so the kids have something to do while sitting there. 
  • Bring audiobooks so they can sit back and listen to an age appropriate story, especially one that they might know.
  • As much as it may pain you, bring music that they enjoy and know so they can sing along in the car.

Phase Two: Getting Restless:

  • We don’t stop for lunch any more on the highway because the lines are too long during the holidays and the food is not to our liking.  Instead, we started packing  a cooler with lunch and stopping when we feel ready in any old town.  Wherever we stop, we can always find a school with a playground or a public park and we let the kids run around and play while having a picnic.  It kills two birds with one stone so by the time they get back in the car, they are ready to rest again. My son is like a little puppy and has to be let loose to run around every few hours so this works particularly well for him.
  • Time the bathroom breaks so you aren’t stopping when the rest of the highway is pulling over (like high noon) so you can make the rest stops brief.   We’ve also made note over the years of which rest rooms are the cleanest and we make a point of returning to those if we can.

Phase Three: Let Me Out!:

  • It’s fun to stop during the last leg of the trip in a small town that has a main street with shops if you want to make it a bathroom/coffee for mom/ice cream for kids break that again makes this whole long trip a little special.
  • I’m not going to encourage TV, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that at this point we usually break down and pull out my lap top and let the kids watch a DVD for the remaining hour or two.  By now it’s usually night for us and we want to get to my parents’ house as soon as we can so the TV keeps everyone busy so the driver can focus.  But we do try to wait until it turns dark as a rule so most of the trip is spent TV free.  Once you break out the videos, there’s no turning back. 

Happy driving and remember-wear your seatbelts and be safe and alert!  I have also found these fun websites with great advice and/or tools to help mom’s like me:

Mom’s Minivan

Safety Tips for driving with kids from the AAP

About.com’s Travel with Kids

Family on Board will help you find products to organize your backseat!

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