Are we there yet? How much longer? Mom, I’m bored. Ah the sounds of my kids when they’re stuck in the car.
Pack your bags and your patience, because getting stuck on a long drive with your kids can be a total nightmare—if you’re not prepared. I like to have a few “car-only” surprises up my sleeve that my kids always look forward to when we go on road trips. A few trinkets from The Dollar Store, a few verbal games my kids love, and some cherished iPad time (yeah, only in the car…) make those trips feel a lot shorter for the backseat crew, and for me, too.
So pack your bags and your patience, plus these tips for traveling with young kids (and keeping everyone sane) on long drives.
My first tip for traveling with kids? Don’t. OK, I’m only kidding.
1. Plan Ahead
Try and adjust your travel, if you can, to a schedule that is conducive to your child. If they nap at 11 am, try to book a flight for 9 or 9:30 so that they will get on the plane, settle down and then fall asleep. If they have trouble with long car rides try driving in the evening when they can relax and snooze.
2. Believe The Hype
Children get excited if you are excited so start talking about the trip before you go. For toddlers it could be a few days before, for older children maybe a week ahead. Talk to them about how long it will take to get there, the excitement of the car or the airplane, and what you will do when you arrive.
3. Leave Early
Unfortunately what they say is true, it takes longer to do things with kids, so embrace this and leave the stress behind. Arrive at the airport early,get through security and then walk around the terminal with your kids. Most terminals have play areas and by getting to the airport early your child can get some of their excitement and energy out before getting on the plane. An added perk to getting to the airport early is having enough time to grab another cup of coffee.
4. Pack a Grab Bag
Whether you are in the car or on an airplane a great tool I use is a grab bag. This is a small zippered bag I keep on the top of my carry on, or in the front seat next to me. The age of your child will dictate what goes in this grab bag, but it is essentially items you might need quickly, when you don’t have time to root around in your main bag. At the moment I keep a pacifier, a small bottle of water, wetones, a toy car and a book.
5. Pack Surprises
When I was young my mother would wrap up “travel surprises” for me to open at different times during the trip. They were everything from a plastic animal figures to pipe cleaners to a new book. Unwrapping presents makes them seem more special and keeps the children’s interest longer than just handing them over. Space out when you give the “surprises” that way they will last the whole trip.
6. Pack Snacks
There is nothing worse than a cranky, hungry child in the middle of a layover or traffic jam. To avoid the crash of low blood sugar I always pack “fun” snacks that will last in my carryon or in the car. I try to pack things that are not the normal snacks I give my kids, things that seem like a treat. An added bonus is those Gummi Bears work wonders on my mood as well.
7. Word Games
Stuck in the car for a long drive or on an airplane can be a great opportunity to play some “learning” based games with your child. Depending on their age you can tailor the games. One of my personal favorites is the animal game. It goes like this: take turns saying an animal that starts with the last letter of the animal said before. So, if I say cat than the next person has to name an animal that starts with T. This is a really fun game for kids from about 5 on up.
8. Plan a Seated Scavenger Hunt
Use either a magazine your brought with you or the inflight magazine and on each page pick out one item your child has to point out, or for older children give them the magazine and ask them to locate words or pictures throughout. This also gives you a few minutes to look at Jennifer Aniston’s new house, or the latest style of espadrille.
9. Get Enough Sleep
We all get antsy before leaving on a trip but it doesn’t help if you are tired and irritable because it will only translate to having less patience with your child. So try and relax and get some sleep the night before.
10. Take a Deep Breath
Traveling can be stressful and with children it’s multiplied so try and go with the flow. Kids are going to kick the seat in front of them, try and explain to them that kind of behavior is unacceptable and give them an alternative activity. Children will cry, especially if they are tired or nervous, try to calm them as best you can—the calmer you are the more they will pick up on your feeling. Just take a breath and try to remember that you will soon reach your destination and it will all be worth it, hopefully.