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Road Trip Survival

(originally posted on my personal blog 11-13-2007)

We go on a lot of trips. My kids have been taking 4+ hour rides to Tahoe since they were each just over a month old. Even though they are used to riding in the car for hours at a time, and don’t complain much, I suffer from constant guilt that A) they must be bored, B) they must be tired of sitting, C) they are learning to hate car trips, and D) I should be engaging them more. To appease my own guilt, I have developed coping strategies that work well now that they are 8 and 5 years old (but wouldn’t have necessarily worked when they were younger).

Strategy 1: Each kid has a dedicated “Car Kit” (my kids actually call it their “Entertainment Kit”). Last year, before we left for Disneyland, my mother-in-law bought the kids a little plastic case that snaps shut - I think it is made by Crayola, but you could use a small Rubbermaid container with a lid or similar. She wrote their names on the cases with a Sharpie, then filled each with a blank drawing pad, an activity book with coloring and puzzles, a pack of washable markers, and a pack of crayons. In my son’s kit, she added a few Hot Wheels, and in my daughter’s kit, we put a deck of Old Maid cards.

Before settling in for a long haul, I will add a couple of snacks to the case to keep things interesting. The kit stays in the car all the time, which comes in particularly handy if we stop at a sit-down restaurant or have an unexpected appointment or delay somewhere; they just tote the kit right to the table, open it up, and are entertained.

Strategy 2: If time allows, I try to stop by the library the day we leave and pick up about 5 DVDs. (Check the DVDs first to make sure they are mostly scratch-free. Nothing is worse than cries of, “It’s skipping!” from the backseat. A lens cleaning kit in the glove compartment would be ideal for these emergencies, but I doubt I would ever remember to put such a thing in my car.) The best types of DVDs for my kids are those with multiple episodes of a particular TV show, since they are entertained by DVDs only for short stretches.

Strategy 3: I aim to make a few predictable stops along the way - even if my husband says, “That Starbucks cost us 6 minutes!” If you frequently travel to the same destination - say, Grandma’s house - let the kids look forward to pulling into a particular rest area or gas station, a known break point. We don’t eat a lot of fast food, so making a pit stop at McDonald’s on a Friday night on the way up to our cabin gives the children a serious thrill. As an added bonus, the usually useless Happy Meal toys keep them entertained for a good hour afterwards.

Strategy 4: Before we leave, I might make a soundtrack that all of us can enjoy. My kids love listening to music from their favorite movies and to annoying novelty songs like the theme from Ghostbusters and Fred Bear by Ted Nugent. When these songs are interspersed with music that I don’t hate, I can tolerate them.

Strategy 5: For the last hour or so of our latest trip, my husband broke out a game of 20 Questions. My five-year-old was a less-than-valuable player with responses like, “poop” and “race car,” but everyone was entertained. (Actually, the five-year-old probably had the most fun of all, giggling at his clever use of random words.) The Internet has no shortage of suggestions for car games, so if 20 Questions ever gets old, I intend to bring a copy of this list: 27 Free Games to Keep Your Kids Entertained on a Road Trip. (I got that link from Parent Hacks, which has millions more car trip ideas - just do a search for “car trips” on their site and voila.)