Tips for a smoother, happier, and not-so-insane highway adventure.
The average parent has, at one time or another, fantasized about taking their children on a road trip. Thoughts fill our heads of cheerful kids laughing and pointing out the window at magnificent sights, great music in the background of the happy montage scene; blue skies above, and beautiful sunsets ahead.
When stark reality hits, it is shocking: one kid is trying to hit the one who has threatened to wet himself, one kid is throwing up, there is an endless cycle of news and infomercials on the radio, muggy gray skies dampen the mood, and traffic is sucking all joy out of sights and sunsets. Road trips are great for family bonding and shared experiences, but how does a family bridge the chasm between expectations and reality? These ten tips go a long way to help ensure an enjoyable and memorable, if not perfect, family road trip.
- A full meal before the trip helps ward off carsickness. A full stomach of delicious carbs — pancakes, bagels, sandwiches on French rolls — does wonders to keep those nauseous feelings at bay.
- Car snacks. No matter how much you feed your children before you leave, they will be hungry as soon as you have driven about five miles from home. Something about a road trip stimulates the appetite for junk food. Suddenly, favorite apples are unappealing (pun intended) and crackers, cookies, and fruit snacks sound better. Also, saving some fun snacks until the trip is well underway is a great way to reward good behavior while staving off boredom and crankiness.
- Snack money. Sadly, no matter how much of your kid’s favorite snacks you bring, there will be something magical they want at the bathroom stop. In the spirit of fun and adventure, vote yes to planning for the purchase of some quality gas station goodies. It is also fun to give each kid a budget to spend on snacks and souvenirs, promoting self-reliance and personal responsibility.
- A watch. Part of the fun of a true road trip, as opposed to a drive focused only on the end destination, is the chance to wander and explore. For kids able to handle it, letting them be on their own for a bit and meet back at an appointed time can be a thrilling experience. At a safe place, have a quiet cup of coffee or a stretch break under a tree, while your children enjoy some independent playing or browsing.
- Dress in layers. If it is hot at home, grab a sweatshirt that each kid can have handy for car stops. If it is cold at home, make sure everyone has a t-shirt on under their warm clothes. Chances are, when you stop, the weather will be totally different from what it was when you left. The ability to adapt with clothing makes exploring more feasible and appealing.
- Music that is a crowd pleaser. Music is an integral part of time in the car for passengers of all ages. For the young ones, singing along can pass hours of time; for teenagers, music can be a very effective mood-modulator. A sure way to win bonus points: allow your teen to DJ. The careful planning comes in when there is an age spread, or competing want-to-be DJs. Having a set playlist comprised of old family favorites (everyone in the car will still sing along to the Muppets Greatest Hits) mixed with new appropriate songs for a set length of time will help squelch, squabbling and complaining. For the older ones, a planned schedule for taking turns as DJ is essential. Leave some time for parents’ choice too. Usually this leads to universal nap time, and a nice break for the driver.
- Something new for little ones five and under. The new item does not have to be fancy or expensive, but the newness will build in extra time of exploration and play — a new book (one with flaps or things to touch is best), lap game, or stuffed toy.
- Some “inflight” entertainment. Every drive over six hours really does benefit from a movie, whether watched on a vehicle’s integrated entertainment system or a portable device. Limit to no more than one movie per six hours in order to promote family interaction. Another engaging way to entertain while still connecting is to make use of an audible book.
- A Traveljohn. This could be lifesaving, especially for girls. If you have boys, a bottle can work well. The Traveljohn is available at Amazon, Walgreens, Walmart, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. With this, an emergency is manageable without a whole new change of clothes.
- A plan for when it all falls apart, otherwise known as the “I-just-want-to-run-away-from-the-car-and-leave-them-all-locked-inside-while-I-have-a-milkshake-alone” plan. This is your contingency. Is there a motel along the route where you can stop if you really need to? Is there a park in a city where you can take a full hour break? Is there a leg of the journey you can shorten or skip? Doing a little advanced planning for travel delirium can make all the difference. And though we get tempted to push through, the cost of one’s sanity is just too high a price to pay.
By Kelly Hertzig