Travel Long Distances with Your Kids and Live to Tell the Tale
Let's Get Ready to Rumble!
Luck favors the prepared so often in life and traveling long distances with young children is no exception. You would do well to have a few tricks up your sleeve so the inevitable restlessness your youngsters experience along the journey does not ruin the trip. So step #1 (after deciding to embark on a long journey, after finalizing your means of travel) is planning how to shepherd your kids through a pleasant commute.
Recently I endured eighteen hours with my two children in my mini minivan driving home for a visit with their grandparents. I was intimidated by the commute to say the least because I understand how challenging it is for young children to sit contently for long periods of time as the miles pass by them. I pondered many possible solutions to this logistical issue and emerged from the experience with good lessons learned as well as some surprising victories.
Whether you travel by car or airplane, there are things you can do to prepare yourself for a pleasant journey with your young children. Don’t let apprehension of fussy children stop you from taking journeys together as a family.
Think Like a Kid!
We were all young once. I’m sure, if you take a moment, you can remember some great trips you took with your family and some less than fabulous trips. I wouldn’t be surprised if the less than fabulous trips were so because of some mishap(s) during the drive or flight to your destination. “Timmy got carsick before we even left the county.” “We couldn’t get baby Sarah to stop crying on the plane.” “If I heard, ‘Are we there yet?’ one more time…” These kinds of memories can make any adult weary of venturing off into the world to re-attempt a vacation or out of town event. But don’t let the potential for a disastrous car or plane trip with young kids stand in your way of being where you want to be away from home.
- Pack your vehicle leaving enough leg room and seat reclining space so the children can sit as comfortably as possible. If needed, try an overhead car top luggage carrier to avoid a jam packed car interior.
- Let each child choose one special friend to bring along, be it a doll, a teddy bear, an action figure, etc. that they are in charge of keeping safe during the trip. This will make them feel they have an important job and also provide them a familiar face if traveling becomes stressful.
- Bring along each child’s pillow and/or blanky so they feel right at home in their car seat. Note: don’t bring a freshly washed pillow/blanky; half the comfort is in the familiar smell.
- Pack some travel games tailored to your children’s ages.
- Draw up your own car Bingo boards.
- For older young children, try having them search the roads for all 50 state license plates.
- Print up a scavenger hunt (find a water tower, a farm, a motorcycle).
- Have each child tally the cows or horses or goats they see on their side of the car. If the car passes a graveyard they lose their total. Greatest score by the end of the trip wins!
- Pack plenty of kid friendly snacks and beverages. Try low sugar items to avoid hyperactive passengers. Use a cooler to bring ice water, cheese sticks, or to keep fruit snacks from melting.
- Give out a special treat at key points in the trip to reward good behavior. I like to award the best passenger the option to decide where we eat lunch when we stop. I even gift a piece of candy to those who reach our destination without any fighting or arguing.
- Need some quiet? Give older youngsters a piece of chewing gum and have a bubble blowing contest. Give little ones a lollipop or chewy granola bar.
- Leverage a portable DVD player, game station, with headphones when those last few miles are dragging on.
- If your kids don’t get carsick reading, pack their favorites and store them in the car where the child can access them unassisted.
- Load your car’s MP3 device (or make a mix CD) with kid songs for a family sing along.
- Use sippy cups, even for non-toddlers, to avoid inconvenient beverage spills.
Way to Go!
How do you prefer to travel long distances with your kids?
Use any of the car tips that apply, but also:
Remember a lollipop or beverage (bought after clearing airport security) to help them adjust to the cabin pressure changes upon take-off.
Consider flying when your young ones usually nap so they can sleep most of the flight.
Pack a kid friendly lunch in case your in-flight meals don’t appeal to your little ones.
Find a space near the gate where your kids can sit and play and/or walk freely so they can get plenty of time to do that before boarding. Save reading and portable video games for the flight.
Since you’re not behind the wheel, play games with your kids, in flight. Have a thumb war, or play Rock, Paper Scissors, play I Spy, color together, play Hangman, etc.
If you travel during the school year the flight is a great time for your kids to get their homework out of the way so they can play carefree at their destination.
However you decide to cope with long distance travel and young travelers, remember that the journey should be part of the fun.
We Need to Talk
One of the best ideas to pass the time is to catch up with your kids through conversation. It’s hard to find time to really talk when you’re in your day to day, get it all done routine. Seize this ideal time to delve into a real conversation where your attention is with your kids as you make the miles fly. Heck, play Questions and ask them every question you can think of:
What’s the best song you’ve heard this year?
Do you prefer brownies or cookies?
What’s your favorite ice cream flavor of all time?
Who’s the best cartoon character ?
Which would you rather play professionally, football or basketball?
If you were a musical instrument, what instrument would you be?
What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
What super power would you enjoy having?