We just made it home after a 1,700 mile road trip with our two boys, Owen 3 1/2 and Trey 9 months. You read that title right, we didn't have any electronic toys or DVD player and seriously, we didn't pull our hair out either! I'll let you in on a few of our secrets.1. Pack new little toys
No need to spend a lot of money. Stash away McDonald's toys before they are played with or trinkets from birthday parties and pull them out slowly throughout the trip. The key here is to pack only things your kids haven't seen yet.
For pre-schoolers, think about bringing: coloring book, stickers, Highlights magazine, toy cars. For babies, think about bringing: baby toothbrush, ball, water bottle, chew toys, books with plastic pages.
Bring only one new toy out at a time, don't offer them all at once. When you control the amount of time each toy is played with you can stretch it out a lot longer.
2. Set up a work station
Give them a place to work or eat. I bought Owen this lap board at Target before we left. It was $9 and has a place for storage and a magnetic drawing board on top. It was great for snacking, drawing roads for his toy cars, he even used it as a pretend drum set!
3. Pack smart snacks
One thing you don't want to feed your kid when they are going to be stuck in the car for a while is a lot of sugar. Pack snacks that are easy to eat, but not messy. Drink water, not juice. Some examples of smart snacks might be: apple slices (that you cut up ahead of time), trail mix, goldfish crackers, and dried apricots. Don't forget to throw in a few small trash bags, wipes and napkins before you leave to clean up spills. (I love this idea for collecting trash!)
4. Set up a reward system
I created a ticket system for rewarding good behavior. Here's how it worked: When Kyle and I saw Owen have good behavior (being patient while Trey cried, sharing toys, saying "excuse me" when he wanted to talk to us, having a good attitude) we would give him a "ticket." Five tickets earned a special surprise for him. I chose a surprise for him out of my bag (a new matchbox car, bubble gum, a go-fish card game etc.) Again, not letting him see all of the other surprises to keep the element of suspense alive.
It took a while to earn 5 tickets and we had a rule that he wasn't allowed to ask for a ticket. This was a fun way of turning our focus towards the good behavior. The tickets were just small, laminated pieces of paper that said:
1. "Way to go! Ticket numero uno!"
2. "Look at you! Ticket number two!"
3. "Wow-wee, ticket number three!"
4. "Only one more, ticket number four!"
5. Owen's the man! Ticket number five! (OK, so the last one doesn't rhyme too well... whatevs.)
I know I say it all the time and you're probably super sick of hearing me talk about how much I love my library (and have my 14-digit library card number memorized... a feat for me!!) but I have to say it one more time... I'm obsessed with my library! We go once a week. Before a big trip I stock up on books for Owen that have lots of interesting pictures and I make sure that they are hidden so that he sees them for the first time in the car. He'll flip through a book for a good 10 to 15 minutes! This time he "read" about electricity, race cars, trucks, trains, and space. The Eyewitness Books are our favorites and spur many interesting conversations.
Three hours of driving was our limit. Maybe yours is different, you'll just have to wait and see. Owen and Trey would hit a wall at three hours and we would need to take at least a 20 minute stop, get out, run around and play. We found that these breaks were so very important.
Try to keep your normal daily schedule like you would if you were home. (Meal times, nap time, snack time, bed time routine, etc.) A quick note here about lovies: I tried to keep the blankets and Trey's paci away from them until it was nap time, then we would try to soothe the boys with calmer music and quieter voices. Bringing out their blankets and Trey's paci then would usually do the trick to put them to sleep. Don't expect a normal nap in the car though!
7. Play games
Some of our favorite car games are:
- I spy (To make the game a little more generic, we also say "I spy a circle" and Owen has to find anything that's a circle.)
- Rhyming Game (I say a word and he has to say a word that rhymes with it and then we switch)
- Color mixing game ("What two colors make purple?" or "How do you make green?")
- Active listening game (we listen to music and try to tap to the drum beat or listen for the clapping or name the different instruments we hear)
So are you planning a road trip with the kids this summer? Don't be nervous, you can totally do it! It's really only as hard as you make it and I hope these few tips will help you out. Here are a couple of additional resources that might be helpful too: