Thursday, February 23, 2012

Car Travel with Kids

I just got out of the car where I had been locked in with my three kids for over four hours. That makes me an expert. Or not. But at least we can all agree that I have experience. Plus, I have the exceptional luck of having children who do not sleep in the car. That's right, all those jokes about putting the baby in the car in the middle of the night to make them sleep, well, the opposite is true in our family. No one knows where this comes from. There is clear photographic proof that my sister and I slept everywhere we went. We slept in cars, planes, on couches during dinner parties, everywhere. I once even slept on a very cold plane covered in a newspaper (my dad told me it had a high insulation value). My mother in law doesn't remember my husand having these issues, so I'm assuming that children who don't sleep anywhere other than a crib after they are a few months old (that's right, not even while being held!) are a special gift given to us from above, maybe a parenting test, if you will.

This photo was clearly not taken at the end of said four hour drive. At that point I was too wiped out. This was taken before a short 15 minute car ride where I only had to answer about 2,000 questions. One of which had to do with why curbs are painted different colors. And so, with that, I found myself saying, when they spotted a UPS truck, "In reference to our previous conversation, the UPS truck is an example of a car or truck that can park in the yellow, commercial loading zone". My sister had joined us in the car at that point, and could barely contain her laughter at my apparently unrelated observation.

With that as a preface, I give you my top five tips for traveling by car with children:

1. Let go of your everyday rules. Usually we do not eat fast food. When traveling by car, we do (see #3 below). I fill their backpacks with activities, but other than the Magna Doodle (which you can see above), they don't get used very much since it's hard to write or draw in the car. I do let them watch downloaded episodes of Dora the Explorer on the iPad,  which is a treat for them, but it can usually buy me a few hours with my son, and maybe one half hour with my daughter (she just not into TV).

2. Keep to some semblance of your "normal" schedule. If you normally eat at 7am, 12pm, and 5pm (like we do), keep to that. If your kids go to sleep at certain times, try to get to your destination with enough time for them to settle in before bed. The alternative is if you are blessed by children who do sleep in cars, you can plan your trips for nap or night time. I'm incredibly envious of you.

3. Get out the wiggles. Take breaks (every hour or two as needed) so the kids can get out and stretch their legs. I have never been so happy to see a McDonald's as when we are traveling and I see one with a giant PlayPlace attached. We pull up, let the big kids go directly into the play structure, and I put the baby on the floor on a blanket to stretch out. We do order food, but that is secondary to being active. We also like to stop at carousels, small trains, parks, anywhere where they are out of the car and using their little bodies. This helps us all to feel better.

4. Embrace snacks. Each of the bigger two have a backpack for activities, which has an insulated compartment for food and a holder on the side for a sippy of water. I love these:

This is my son's, since he is in a construction truck phase. My daughter has the polka dot one. I usually give an assortment of snacks, not "real" food: raisins, string cheese, nuts, fruit bar, pretzels, applesauce pouch... The more "fun" the food is, the better they do. Plus things that take a long time to eat, like raisins or nuts are good for keeping their fingers busy.

5. Do what you must. Yup, that pretty much sums it up. In general I am not a proponent of bribery, since it's just the other side of the threat coin. "If you clean up you can have a treat" is the same as "If you don't clean up you can't have a treat". In the case of car travel, bribery may come in handy. Or maybe it's just a special "treat" like a lifesaver to keep them sucking and quiet so they don't wake up the baby (again!). If car travel is not something your family excels at (and I'm grossly understating that in regard to my family), then just do your best to get through it. Almost any tactic is fine as long as you all end up in one piece at the other end.

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Linda @ it all started with paint said...

I don't miss those days ... not one bit!



Michelle {Daydream Believers} said...

Great tips! I'm happy to hear that my kids aren't the only ones who will only sleep in the beds. :) I'm your newest blog follower.

Christine said...

My kids... never sleep in the car either!! Great tips! We are planning our summer vacation and soooo scared to travel too far. Your tips will help :)

I really hope you'll be sharing this over at The DIY Dreamer:

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