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“Are we there yet?” Ways to occupy your kids while you are traveling

“Are we there yet?”

 I can vividly remember speaking these very words as a child to my parents during a long trip in the car. It is almost surreal to hear my children saying the exact same words. Over and over. It just shows that’s some things in childhood will never change. It doesn’t matter if your kids have high tech toys, music or movie players, the impatience remains the same.

We went away with our family for the President’s Weekend holiday and I have to say, I have become quite practiced at the art of traveling with three children. I’ve come a long way from the days when I had diapers, bottles (and nursing!), and baby food to deal with – I would literally look like a garage sale as I packed everything into the car.

I used to start waking up at night in a cold sweat, my stomach in knots, about two weeks before we would be due to leave for a trip. I had a breakthrough moment last summer when I drove with my 3 kids (ages 3, 5, and 7 at the time), without my husband, to a destination 9 hours away. Now many of my friends are expert car travelers with their kids and think nothing of hopping in the car to drive to Boston (8 hours away) for a weekend at a moment’s notice. However, I had a weird phobia about it and as I prepared for our first car trip of a significant distance (i.e., over 3 hours), I had visions of pulling over because the kids were: a) crying like banshees, b) fighting like maniacs, or c) throwing up (well, that did happen, but I happened to have a Target bag that I passed back and my daughter is very self sufficient – it didn’t delay our trip at all – no pulling over needed). And what happened? The kids were great. Yes, there were the intermittent “When are we going to be there?”s, at which point I would just tell them not to ask again, which held them off approximately ten minutes. I realized if you have a little faith in your kids, they will surprise you.

Here are some things that help my kids stay busy while we are traveling, whether it’s an hour trip to relatives, or a marathon cross country plane trip:

Coloring: My kids all love coloring, and I used to go out and buy each child a new coloring or activity book (dot to dots for my younger daughter, mazes for my eldest, color by number for my son). Now I go online and print out pages for free. Try your kids’ favorite website – we like pbskids.org, noggin.com, crayola.com, and playhousedisney.com. I am always looking for more – let me know any of your favorites. I’ll give each child a little baggie of markers and crayons for their creations. Your kids can put a magazine on their lap to color on, or a great thing I found is this travel desk – it costs $12.99 but is great for travel or home, and it holds all of your kids’ stuff in one place.

Cards: Even the youngest child can play Go Fish or War. My sister taught my daughter, who was 6 at the time, how to play Gin Rummey while we were on vacation last year. Don’t bother buying a special kids’ card set if you don’t already have one – your playing cards work just fine.

Skip stopping for fast food and pack your own: Saves money and tastes better. Take a few extra minutes to pack your kids’ favorite sandwiches on wheat. Fresh fruit is always good – grapes, strawberries, apples, etc. They can pack their own “snack bags” with their favorites – raisins, cereal, goldfish, pretzels, nuts (I like to pack pistachios with the shells on as it also serves as an activity for the kids to take the shells off), chocolate chips or m&ms, etc. Don’t forget bottled water and wipes and extra plastic bags for clean up.

Old school games: Dust off “I Spy,” “I packed my grandmother’s trunk,” the license plate game, hangman (which is now called “build-a-man” per my kids’ school), tic tac toe, etc.

Grab your backpack: I have each of my kids’ be responsible for their own travel items in their backpacks – and they must carry it themselves. It helps to limit my daughter’s tendency to bring all 30 of her stuffed kitties with her and it puts the onus on them to make sure they have everything they want.

Of course, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I rely heavily on our portable DVD player and my kids’ video games. However, I have found that when given some of the choices above, they choose “build-a-man” with me over the Leapster Dora game any day.

What are some ways you occupy your kids while traveling?

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Rachael Ray