Summer is here, and I’m sure many of you will be traveling with your kiddos. Vacations can provide great times of refreshment with the family...but if you are in the season of raising babies and toddlers, it can mean you are 1.) just cleaning high chairs in another state and 2.) trying to figure out how to provide a semblance of a nap schedule while getting your money’s worth. Sometimes we need a vacation after our vacations! In any case, they must still provide plenty of enjoyment, because many of us are continuing to venture out with our young in tow. We drive to most of our locations, and here’s what I’ve learned on the way. (PS--If you’re flying, ask someone else for tips--I’m not your girl!)
1. Create “Road Rules.” Just as Betsy suggests making “Store Rules” in Entrusted, you can create rules for the trip. Kids thrive when they know expectations. The ages of your children will dictate this of course. Examples include: 1.) No whining. Use your words kindly to tell us what you need. 2.) Choose a positive attitude.
2. Go to the library right before the trip. (Okay, hold the eye roll! I know you don’t have time for this, but it has been soooo worth it for me! Consider going a week beforehand and hiding the books.) Check out an even number of exciting books, and place them in a bin in the car. I slide the books next to them in their car seats, and they (even my 2-year-old) know how to take one, and slide it next to the others when they are finished. When we stop, I refresh their stack. (Important Tip: Don’t let these books leave the vehicle!!! You won’t want to pay library fines through the roof after your excursion. It is inevitable that one or more will slide under the seats, or in some impenetrable crevice, but it will still be easier to rescue than if it stays behind in your hotel room.)
3. Bring a lap desk, child tray (I asked for this one for Christmas for my son), or a cookie sheet for your child to do activities on. Magnetic toys, paper and crayons, and activity books work great on these. Melissa and Doug make activity pads that utilize a water-filled pen to uncover images, letters, and numbers. They are inexpensive and completely car-worthy!
4. Bring play steering wheels. Let your kids hold them and pretend to steer along with you. My friend Holly does this, and her kids love it. It is a great opportunity to teach kids about left and right too!
5. Allow your kids to listen to the audio of a video, without seeing a screen. I want my kids looking out the window at creation and using their imagination with their time. This tip helps them do both. Your brain has to work harder to process audio cues than visual ones, so car time can be great learning time too! My kids know that the answer to, “Can we watch a movie?” will usually be no, and they are perfectly content to listen to a video.
6. Some germaphobes may balk at this next tip, but it has rescued me more times than I can count. I frequently travel with a travel potty. Don’t worry--I bring sanitizer and cleaning wipes! With young kids, you can end up using half the travel time making stops… and the urgency is so unpredictable! Being able to pull over discreetly has been such a blessing.
7. When I was in late elementary school, my parents surprised my brother and me one winter weekend and took us to a hotel with a pool. We didn’t know where we were going, but every 5 mile markers my mom would give us a Jelly Belly. The trip was a little over an hour, so the total sugar content was relatively low, but clearly had an impact if I’m sharing it 20 years later! Consider doing this the last hour of long trips. Perhaps it will make them bounce off the walls even more, but they’re going to get out soon, right? You could also adjust this to a healthier treat such as raisins. Only the most sugar-deprived children will fall for that if they’ve been trapped in a car for a day though ;).
8. Buy or check out a new worship cd. Spend time worshipping as a family. This can be calming for everyone...and if not, at least it will drown out the sound of the whining!
9. Make or buy a set of family conversation cards. Melissa and Doug make these also (including a special spiritual set). These may be tricky for young kids, but you have plenty of time to model great question-answering for them.
10. If you have access to a TV, by all means, give in at some point. Just try to wait to press play so your kids aren’t expecting it for the whole trip.
11. Pack snacks in individual containers you can easily pass back to each kid. This doesn’t work for babies of course. If you need to stop and feed a baby, try to do it near an open area where the older kids can run around.
12. Pick a family verse to memorize as you travel. Create motions. Recite it each time you get back on the road after a stop.
13. Play I-Spy or do a color search. List off blessings you each are thankful for. Many travel road games exist, but they can be tricky for younger kids.
14. Each time you stop, take one or two minutes to put books, toys, and snacks where they belong. When you reach your destination, you’ll be grateful!
15. Lastly, plan for the trip to take more time than you think...and then add more time…. Recently I read this equation: Happiness = Expectation - Result. How true this is! I am much happier as a mother when my expectations are realistic. Try to enjoy the journey!