What I want to talk about here is road trips with kids, and how to make them survivable (and even enjoyable) by both kids and parents.
We spent quite a bit of time in the car this weekend getting to and from the party - Friday we drove to Ames (3.5 hours of drive time), Saturday from Ames to Cedar Rapids (should've been 1.5 hours, but was closer to 2 due to rain), Sunday back from CR to Ames, and then Monday back home to Minneapolis. We make the trip down to Ames a couple of times a year, and we've also done some drives recently up to Duluth (2.5 hours) and to Bemidji (4 hours). With all that driving under our belts, we feel like we're getting pretty good at kid-friendly (or friendlyish) road trips. So I figured I'd share what we've learned, and ask for your tips, too!
In our experience, there are a couple of key elements to a successful road trip with kids. If you give these some thought and get them figured out in advance of your trip, you should be able to keep the whining to a minimum. And really, what more can you ask for?
1. Plan your route
At 6.5 and almost 4, Maisie and Ella get really restless after sitting still for too long. They're good for an hour and a half in the car, maybe two hours max. But much longer than that, and they start to get antsy and whiny and crabby, which is no fun for anyone! So when we're planning a trip, we'll also look along the route and plan stops at places where the girls can run around and burn off some energy.
Many of the rest stops in Minnesota have little playgrounds, which are perfect for this - on our trips to Ames, we usually stop at the one right on the Minnesota-Iowa border. When we were traveling to & from Bemidji, we stopped at the mall in St. Cloud, which has a children's play area. In our experience, the break doesn't need to be very long - 10 or 15 minutes is often enough to get the job done.
2. Plan your departure
The right time to hit the road is going to vary from kid to kid and from trip to trip. How long is the drive? Will it overlap with meal times or naps? And of course, you have to consider weather conditions too, especially here in the upper Midwest!
When Maisie and Ella were still regular nappers, we'd try to start our trips right around naptime. After all, a sleeping child is generally a happy child who is not whining, and that makes for a great drive! Now that they're not napping consistently (Ella) or at all (Maisie), we have a little more flexibility with our departure times, so we'll consider weather conditions and when/where we want to make our stops. On Monday, for example, when we drove home from Ames, we left right after lunch. We'd rather not eat on the road, if we can avoid it. And that brings me to...
3. Plan your food
Boy, it's easy to eat a bunch of junk food on a road trip. Convenience stores and fast-food chains are everywhere, and it can be difficult to make better choices - especially if you have a little one who's begging for candy and chips and chicken nuggets. In our experience, that only leads to too much money spent (fast food can be surprisingly expensive, especially for what you get!) and upset tummies. No fun!
We like to pack a cooler with healthy, kid-friendly, car-friendly snacks. This means things that the girls will like to eat, that won't spill or crumble and make a huge mess! Some of our favorite snacks are:
- Cheese sticks
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Apple slices
- Carrot sticks
- Goldfish crackers (less car-friendly, but the kids love 'em)
We also make sure to bring full bottles of water, so it's easier to avoid sugary fruit juices and pops.
4. Plan their activities & entertainment
I know a lot of people rely on iPads and other electronics for kid entertainment during travel. We don't have much in the way of kid electronics (no iPad or other tablet), and Maisie and Ella are little enough that they sometimes have a hard time with using the electronics we do have (like portable DVD player) without a lot of parental help. So, those tend not to be a good fit for us for the car.
Instead, we've found a couple of other ways to keep the kids entertained and pass the time.
- Word games: I Spy is always fun! But unfortunately, there's not a ton of variety on the drive between Minneapolis and Ames, so we've come up with a few others. The girls like rhyming, so I'll give them a word and ask for rhymes. Maisie's also working on isolating beginning sounds of words, so I might give her a word and ask her to think of another that starts with the same sound. She and Ella can play this kind of game for a surprisingly long time - I get bored with it long before they do!
- Books on tape: This is something new we tried on this trip, and it was a hit! Our library has a great selection of children's audio books. They were especially good when we were in pouring rain with huge wind gusts. The audio book kept Maisie occupied so I could concentrate on driving. On the way home from Ames, listening to the story also let Ella relax enough to take a sorely needed nap. Naps for the win!!
- New coloring books & crayons: This one is probably age-dependent... but it works for now, and is a fairly inexpensive way to keep them happily occupied. Coloring books and crayons can be found for about a buck apiece at Michael's or similar stores. And everyone likes a new box of crayons, right?
- Drawing: Both Maisie and Ella really like to draw. A little notebook and a pen will keep them occupied for quite a while, but pens tend to get dropped. We got them travel Magna Doodles, which have been a great substitute for pen & paper - the attached pen means that it won't get dropped and lost!
|Getting there is half the fun, come share it with me!|