It's summer and odds are, you and your family will take some sort of road trip. OK, so maybe we're not all going to spend a week hiking in the Grand Canyon or playing on the beach in south Florida, but like it or not, there will be an occasion, maybe some time soon, where packing the kids in the car for an hour or two...or five is downright unavoidable. Living in a city like Houston that's so sprawling, even a simple trip to Maw Maw's house means an hour pent up in the old Mazda 5. Dare we decide to hop over to San Antonio to visit Shamu at Sea World, we're looking at 3 hours on the road, easy. So...how do you survive the trip, especially with small kids? Here are a few tricks we've picked up along the way:
Tip 1) Get a portable DVD player: Whatever objections you have about plopping your kid in front of the TV for hours at a time will disappear the minute you discover that you can drive for 3 hours without a peep from your child, except an occasional request for a snack or a pee break. We bought one prior to our trek from Boston to Houston in 2007 and it saved our sanity. I'm able to stuff a good dozen or more movies in a CD travel case and I've learned to always bring along the battery charger...that includes the car charger...so your player is fully juiced up for the trip. Last thing you want is for the thing to die in the middle of watching Cinderella!
Tip 2) WalMart and McDonalds are your friends: Add to that rest stops with playgrounds or any mall that's open. Why, you ask? On longer trips, there comes a point when everyone needs a break from the car. Most McDonalds restaurants have play areas and they're generally indoors, so there's fun to be had without worrying about bad weather conditions. Lots of malls have indoor play areas too. The best option on the road for those times when you are getting cabin fever...WalMart. Seriously. They're everywhere...oodles of them are open 24 hours...and they offer plenty of open floor space to get out and walk around. I never knew how entertaining WalMart could be until we spent nearly three days on the road driving to Houston with a 1 1/2 year old. After hours in the car, WalMart was like Disney World to her.
Tip 3) Plan your travel around nap times: This is especially true with very small kids who aren't entertained for very long or are normally very active. If you follow only one piece of advice, this is the one...unless you enjoy hearing your kid scream for the whole ride, then by all means, ignore what I said! On the road, it's hard to tell how long a napping kid will stay that way, but it should buy you an hour or two of peace. If not...be prepared to do a lot of tip #2.
Tip 4) Know when to stop: If you're on an extended road trip, there's obviously some point where you have to stop for the night...maybe even earlier. Pay attention to the signs...your kids will let you know, verbally or otherwise that they've had enough. Yeah, no one wants to stretch out travel time, but it's better to stop earlier than you planned and keep everyone happy then to push the limits and risk a car full of very crabby kids... and very crabby parents who are tired of hearing from the crabby kids. The best advice I can give you is to plan your trip by padding it with "stoppage time". That way, if you have to stop, you have the time built into your travel plans...and better yet, if you don't need to stop, you'll get to your destination that much sooner!
Tip 5) Pack up the fun: Translation...make sure you bring plenty of portable, fun toys...and an iPod if you have one! My favorite toys to bring on the road...board books, a Magna Doodle, a travel Aqua Doodle, toy cars and play figures (Polly Pocket, Little People). They are compact and don't have lots of small parts that can be lost in car seats. Make sure everything fits in a small bag, so you can bring it along with you wherever you are staying. Having a bored kid in a hotel room is just as tiresome as having a bored kid in the car! The iPod is a great gadget for both kids and parents, because, my friends, if you've ever been on the road for a long ride, you know most "terrestrial radio" sucks! If you don't have an iPod, let's hope you have satellite radio!
I hope my list helps some of you enjoy more tolerable car trips with your kids. Now...let us know, what are YOUR tips for making car travel more fun?