One thing that's certain about road trips with children: They're an adventure. Just ask Colleen Lanin, editor and founder of the family travel web site Travel Mamas and author of The Travel Mamas' Guide. During one family car trip to Disneyland, her daughter (now age 8) suddenly awoke from a nap and sat straight up in her car seat. "She said, ‘Mommy, I don't feel good,' in a panicky way," Lanin recalls. "I emptied tissues out of a tissue box and shoved them under her face just in time."
Not every car trip with kids is destined to be dramatic, but there will always be challenging moments. To save your sanity on the next long car trip, follow this timeline.
Before You Go
Plan your route. Map your destination and figure out some good places to stop. For example, if you know your kids need to eat lunch at 11 a.m., look for a town along your route that has kid-friendly restaurants and a park where they can burn off energy.
Write up a packing list to make sure you bring everything you might need. Take lots of books, toys, and games as well as an extra box of diapers, food and drinks, a first-aid kit, pillows, blankets, and garbage bags.
Count the Hours
For long car rides, it pays to have an hour-by-hour plan to keep your children entertained.
Hour One. Start the trip with a fun activity. If you're traveling with older kids, play a book on CD. Let younger kids watch a movie, or read them a new story.
Hour Two. Break out the first round of snacks. Lanin suggests bringing several healthy choices, including whole-wheat crackers, fruit, and cheese sticks.
Hour Three. Take a break. Three hours straight in the car is the limit for most young children. Stop for lunch and a bathroom break. Ideally, also find a park where you can let the kids "get their wiggles out."
Hour Four. Have one parent get in back with the kids. The adult can break up sibling squabbles and supervise a craft or game.
Hour Five. Pop in a CD of silly sing-along songs or play a game of "I Spy." The older kids might roll their eyes, but it will make a good distraction. You may want to even bring some travel goodies you kept as a secret and surprise them with some new books, travel toys or games, Crayola travel boxes/binders and even travel bingo cards which the kids may enjoy. Anything new will keep them distracted for a period of time. Take a trip to Target/Walmart or your local toy store to pick up some travel surprises, especially if you are going to have a 5-6 hour road trip. Around now, you may need to take another pit stop to let your kids stretch their legs after they are done playing with their new items.
Hour Six. When the kids get stir-crazy, break out the surprise treats. "I like to bring a few forbidden snacks with me," Lanin says. Bite-sized candy is a good option, and you can use it as prizes for games like "Who can stay quiet the longest?"
Hour Seven. Admit when it's time to give up for the day. You'll know your kids have reached their limit by the yelling, crying, and sibling infighting that erupts from the backseat, Lanin says. Find a family-friendly hotel and call it a night.
Get more ideas to keep your family happy and healthy at the Raising Fit Kids Center.
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