Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Real Tips for Road Trips with Kids (Part 2)

Don't forget to check out the first post in this series: Real Tips for Road Trips with Kids Part 1

       I love a road trip! I realized that with the thousands and thousands of miles that I've driven, I've learned a thing or two along the way. I'm constantly surprised when people say they hate traveling by car with their kids. There are so many wonderful things about a family road trip-I think you just have to know a few good tricks and tips. I started sharing mine in this post, and realized I had so many, it really deserved a second post. So without further ado: more real life tips for road trips with kids.

8. Individually bag clothes. One of the best tricks I know I learned from my mom, who used it long before Pinterest was around. She would bag our clothes in outfits: pants, shirt, underwear, socks, all in a gallon zippered bag. Genius! When my kids were little, that is how I packed everything for them. It keeps things much neater in the suitcase, allows multiple kids to share a single bag, keeps you from forgetting pieces (Oh no! I brought the hot pink plaid shorts, but forgot the only shirt that matches them!), makes dressing a toddler so much easier (no digging around in a giant duffel to find the other sock), helps you keep track of outfits (I know I brought eight outfits, so I need to bring eight home.), and gives you an easy place to put dirty things (or wet swimsuits!). Now that my kids are bigger, I don't pack all their clothes this way, just the ones I put in the "overnight bag".

9. Bring an "overnight bag". When we are traveling extensively, we know we will have at least two or three hotel stays before we reach our destination. It is SO much easier to pack one bag to take in for all four of us. We simply put enough clothes and our toiletries in (Don't forget the swimsuits!) for the two or three changes we will need to make. One set of pajamas and two changes of clothes per person is usually sufficient. We know if we need extras then all of the rest of our things are available right outside in the trunk. But only having to carry in one (or two, if there are a lot of us) bag every night (along with all the electronics that will need to be charged for the next day!) makes things so much easier.

10. Pack your atlas. Road trips are a golden opportunity to teach the kids a little geography. Everyone, even in this modern age, can benefit from learning to read a map, and you will be much better off if for some reason you find yourself without service for your much-referenced phone GPS. (Not that I would know anything about traveling through most of all Montana and much of South Dakota without mine! 😜) If you think getting lost sounds less-than-fun, add in a couple of crabby, tired, crying kids! Barring direction-related issues, there are still plenty of reasons to bring an old-fashioned paper atlas. Even fairly young kids can appreciate looking at the U.S. map and seeing all the states they've traveled through. Older kids can help to look up routes, and they will love seeing how far they've gone. We make a game out of figuring out our mileage just by measuring with our fingers and the mileage equivalent scale for each state. You can also look up capitals, and most atlases contain fun facts about each state. Buy a children's atlas for kids from 4-8 years old, but also have your actual road atlas handy for reference, too.

11. Use the clock to your advantage. Say, "In fifteen minutes we will all turn off our electronics and take a rest for twenty minutes." Or, tell your kids that they can have five minutes of electronic time for every minute that they read. For younger kids, use a rough schedule. Tell them they can listen to music until snack time, then they can have a new item from your surprise bag after. Or, that after lunch everyone will take a rest and have quiet time. When I traveled with my sister we had a rule that the kids could not use electronics until after lunch. Even with my two-year old that worked surprisingly well! If they asked we would just remind them that electronics were after lunch. The DVD player (She had one in her van, my kids loved it, since we've never owned a car with one.) didn't come on until after dinner because it is hard to do much when you are traveling after dark and everyone is tired, and crabby! By setting up a routine and giving them a set point to look forward to, it makes it a little easier on everyone.

12. Bring a trip bag. I mentioned this in #4, but I didn't really explain it. The trip bag is my kids' favorite part of a road trip. The photo at the top shows what I packed in our trip bag for our recent trip to Tennessee. It has the fun things, the new things, the stuff I pull out when I'm desperate for the whining/fighting/talking to stop. When my kids were little, it was a lot of Dollar Tree stuff: coloring books, magnetic letters, board books, stickers, basically anything I thought might entertain them for five minutes! Great ideas for toddlers/preschoolers can also include things like these "busy bag" items I made for my friend's son. I've used these things since then, and preschoolers love them!

    For older kids, I bring dry erase markers (They love to use these on the windows, especially for games like "slug bug"-we do tally marks instead of punches-or just generally drawing!), new reading books, puzzle books with new fun pens, CDs, cheap DVDs (We also have been known to rent a Redbox, since they can be returned to any kiosk we drag them across state lines!), and power packs for the Nintendo DS, or iPod. I usually buy a couple of cheap little toys, this time it was the crazy-popular "fidget spinners", but things like Squinkies or Littlest Pet Shop type things work well. You can also pack things that are less "structured"-bring pipe cleaners to twist into shapes, origami paper (look up tutorials on YouTube), and plain old paper (yes, kids still enjoy playing Hangman and Tic-Tac-Toe!), string (Teach them Jacob's ladder, or how to finger-knit), all kinds of things can be really entertaining when they are the only things available.

    The "trip bag" shouldn't be overflowing. I establish a time in the future when they will get something, (at 2:00 pm, at the next rest stop) and I do the choosing. I pack a beach tote size bag, and I do try to have an equal number of things for each child. If I'm not doing the driving, I will often pack a book or two to read out loud. I also put the "junk" snacks in there, and gum, which is usually forbidden at our house. Sometimes I also use the bag contents for "prizes"-whoever can name the most state capitals, recite a certain Scripture, or wins a game.

13. Pack a smart snack bag. Junk food aside, don't go overboard in the opposite direction, and only pack kale chips. Kids (and adults!) love to eat when they are bored, so don't let what you packed be a free-for-all, no matter how healthy it is! Plan a few snack times during the day, and limit the choices to two or three items at a time.Try to avoid messy foods, or things that need to be peeled, or cut, or need cutlery. I try to bring things that won't cause blood-sugar issues, usually that aren't totally sugary and have a little protein in them. I like to bring: jerky, nuts, applesauce pouches, snack crackers (like Goldfish), trail mix, corn nuts (my favorite!), and granola bars. Fresh fruit is dicey, in my opinion, as it is very delicate for the most part, and can be a little messy (apple cores, banana peels, orange skins), so we try to get our fruits and veggies in at mealtimes. Anything that isn't in single-serve pouches should be packed in a zip-top bag, so that it can be closed up once it has been opened. It's also wise to throw in a couple of napkins, and a few plastic grocery bags for collecting trash. I don't personally pack a cooler, our car is too small. Instead we bring water bottles, no one seems to mind drinking room temperature water. Juice and soda are disasters if they get spilled, so we try to limit those to meals.

14. Share stories and games. Don't think of it as being trapped in a car, think of it as having a captive audience! My kids love to hear stories from my childhood-and theirs. We talk about all the places we've visited, and where we are headed next. We discuss what we would do with a million dollars, or where we would eat if we were only allowed three restaurants for the rest of our lives. Print off a sheet of "this or that" questions from Pinterest: would you rather be able to fly like a bird or hop like a kangaroo? Would you want to be a famous actor or sports star? See a road trip as an opportunity to really get to know your kids! And share a little about yourself with them, too.

    I would love to hear if there is anything that works for your family when you take a road trip-short or long. Planning to travel by car with kids doesn't have to be daunting-with a little preparation, and a good attitude, you can go anywhere! No pun intended. 😉

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