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Friday, July 11, 2014

Road Trip Survival with Multiple Children

Taken on a seven hour road trip this May - we're all smiling!
So far this year, we have made three road trip of 7 + hours...one way.  That's a lot of car time for active children, ages 10 and under.  It's a lot of togetherness, sitting still and waiting.  I must say that it has gotten easier as they get older and can understand this necessary part of arriving at our destination, but it is still a daunting challenge to face.  Here are some tricks that work for us:

  • Frame the Road trip.  I start talking about our "Big Adventure" and the "Long Journey" in a positive light, weeks before we depart. A good attitude (mine included) is essential.  I let them know I need their help to make the trip a pleasant one.
  • Each child packs their own bag of activities.  My children are age six, eight and ten, but we've been doing this for several years.  Every little one has their own treasures and they like to choose what gets to go with them on their adventure.  Nevertheless, I have one who would pack the whole room!  So each child has a tote bag and can only bring what fits in the tote, including their lovey/stuffed animal.
  • Provide some surprises.  I have my own tote of treasures which I can pass out at opportune times.  These include snacks/treats, crafts, books, arts supplies and sometimes a movie.
  • Make use of media.  When I was a little girl, a movie in the car was impossible, but today it's almost standard.  We have an in-vehicle DVD system that easily turns the back seat into a theatre.  In addition, tablet devices like our Kindle Fire, iPad or even a laptop allow for individual viewing.  If you choose these, be sure to have charging devices on hand.  We borrow so that each child has their own Nintendo DS for trips and can share games.  It helps that I don't normally allow screens in the car, so this creates a bit of novelty for our long trips.
  • Snack with discernment.  I learned the hard way that all snacks are not equal.  Crackers and cookies crumble and leave us with a mess to endure the rest of the trip.  As a general rule, we don't eat in our vehicle, but for long road trips I will offer Tic-Tacs (my children like orange), Twizzlers or M & M's.  These are don't easily melt and are a special treat that each child can then treasure in the famous tote!  We like to keep water bottles available, but limit the sipping.
  • Be willing to make pit stops.  Road warriors don't get any trophies and can make the trip miserable for the travelers.  When someone needs to go, just take a break.  Have everyone take a break.  Encourage all the riders to exit the vehicle and walk around for a bit.  Notice the strange items available at the gas station or break for a quick meal.  I like to find a restaurant with a playground or a gas station with some grassy space for running.  Use the stop as a time to get some movement and exercise - this helps for the driver, too!
  • Declare some quiet time.  It's easy to get overstimulated, I sure do.  I like to declare quiet time and turn off (or down) the music, require no talking and just let the silence allow some restful space in my brain.  It may only last ten minutes (can I get twenty?), but it helps reset the tone, calm all riders and break up the cacophony of noise.  
  • Stage the arrival.  I never let them know that we are getting closer until we are within a half hour of arrival.  When the inevitable question comes, "How much longer?"  I always answer, "We still have a long way to go," or "Still hours away."  Then suddenly the answer shifts to, "It's time to get excited, we will be there soon."  My riders then get engaged in noticing that we have made progress and the last half hour quickly zooms to arrival.  
Long car rides are not my favorite thing.  Sometimes, I think I get more fussy than the children!  But when family lives far and summer provides vacation times, they are a necessary part of our lives.  After many years, these are little things that make things go more smoothly for us.  What tricks work for you?  Do you have any road trips this summer?  What makes a long trip for you?