The Long and Whining Road ~ Car Travel With Kids
(July 9, 2002)
Like most parents buckling their
kids into the "family truckster" for a long excursion, I had high
hopes that this time the kids would not fight and would quietly
while away the hours with coloring, Play-Doh, games, and singing
while I drove. Well, 25 minutes into a 16-hour drive, I found that I
was a spilled box of crayons away from the insane asylum. Instead of
worrying about speed traps—I was in the parent
Unlike the game Survivor,
we can't vote our kids out…of the car. So, in order to survive the
long and whining road, we need to map out a battle plan.
Surprisingly, I find that letting the kids help out makes an
enormous difference. Let your child help plan the trip by showing
them on the map where you are going. Also, let them choose their own
entertainment items, such as pencils, paper, crayons, books, toys,
etc., to place in their bag or backpack. By having their say, kids
feel a sense of inclusion, which makes for a more positive attitude.
If your child is old enough, encourage him or her to keep a journal
about the trip and even add drawings too.
Activities aside, traveling with children
can be difficult, but advance planning on what to bring can take the
lumps out of travel. A few days before leaving on a car trip, begin
packing these essential items that will make the trip
- Snacks in insulated bags that they can open. (Tip: Put snacks
in Ziploc™ bags)
- Drinks in spill-proof containers.
- A motion sickness bag and remedies such as crackers or
- Inexpensive toys to give out as rewards for good behavior.
- Pre-moistened cloths (antibacterial towelettes) for when soap
and water are not easily available.
- Plastic bags to put garbage in. (Tip: Save the ones from your
- A first-aid kit with bandages, non-aspirin pain reliever,
antibiotic ointment, and medication needed for family members.
- Bottles, diapers, and wipes for small children.
- Pillows and throw blankets for extra comfort.
- An extra change of clothes.
- An overnight bag for the entire family (if you are staying in
hotels along the way to your destination). This way, you can avoid
schlepping all the gear in and out of the car.
- A disposable camera for older kids so they can record parts of
the vacation that they want to remember.
- A map and highlight pen to let the kids trace the route as you
- A Frisbee or ball to use at rest stops.
- Story and music tapes or CDs (preferably to use in their own
- Water bottles.
On long rides,
conversations have a chance to develop without distractions. Talk
about things you loved when you were their age. However, be careful
of the information you provide. I made the mistake of telling the
kids how Uncle Dennis and I used to play "Punch Buggy" (when you see
a Volkswagen Beetle, you punch the other person's arm) in the
backseat of our car. Well, with my kids, that turned into a re-match
of Tyson vs. Holyfield! Punch Buggy aside, there are some more
compelling and less physical games to play such as:
For a more complete list of games, visit the Party Game Central website.
- Counting cows, horses, etc.: Count the cows on your
side of the road. Winner has the highest number when you reach
- The Alphabet Game: Find a word on a sign that begins
with the letter "A" and work your way through the alphabet, and
- The License Plate Game: Prepare an alphabetical list of
the states so that the kids can check them off as they see
While playing games helps pass the time away,
one of the keys to a successful trip lies all in the timing. For
long rides, leaving early (say around 5:00 a.m.) assures that the
kids will still be sleepy. By the time they awaken, it's usually
rush hour, which is a good time to stop for a break or even
breakfast. Then you can get back on the highway once the worst of
the traffic is over.
Taking a breather from driving is
essential. Nothing improves car travel like getting out of the car.
Children should not be expected to sit in one position hour after
hour just because the adults want to get some place in the shortest
amount of time possible. Conditions permitting, children need to get
out of the car and run around, and a rest stop of only a few minutes
will help. Depending on the child's age, a break might be necessary
every one to two hours. If you can, plan the trip to take advantage
of historic sites or special attractions along the way, which can
make travel breaks more fun.
Okay, I will admit sometimes even the best-laid
out plans can go astray. And I admit that on some occasions,
Benadryl® and Dramamine® have played a factor on keeping the peace.
Nevertheless, there is one thing that I won't leave home without on
a long trip with the kids: the TV/VCR.
Last year, I
purchased a small nine-inch TV with a built-in VCR that plugged into
the lighter of our SUV. It was a sanity saver on that remote drive
across I-80 in Pennsylvania in which no amount of games or
conversation seemed to work. For around $175, you can buy one that
not only works in the car, but can also be used when you get to your
destination. Some minivans and SUVs come equipped with these great
gadgets, but they are very expensive.
Although TVs may pacify
your children while in the car, I stress that they are only good for
long-haul excursions. They shouldn't take the place of playing,
conversing, and exploring with your children—ultimately, that's what
family travel is all about.
Traveling With Kids at About.com
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