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How to Take Children on Long Trips
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
Preparation is as important as the trip itself. If you want the trip to go as easily as possible, spend some time beforehand to ensure the trip exceeds your expectations.
Schedule the Trip at Night
When initially planning the trip, you might want to schedule the main traveling time at night so that your child will sleep through the long traveling portion. If your child is easily awakened, however, be careful because you might have a child who is wide awake – and grumpy – at 3 am. Also make sure you can stay awake if you plan to drive. There’s no reason to trade quiet time for safety.
Make Sure You Have Your Documents
Nothing is worse than getting to the hotel and finding out you don’t have your reservation or arriving at the border and realizing that you can’t find one of the passports. Remember that you now need passports to enter Canada and Mexico. If traveling overseas by plane, make sure you’ve checked the visa requirements. If you're a single parent, it's always a good idea to have a copy of your custody papers in case a problem arises. It’s easy to overlook simple tasks, so be sure to put everything in an easily-accessible place before you go.
Thinking ahead to the problems that could arise helps you pack remedies in advance and avoid trouble later on. Here are some must-haves you might want to consider:
- Plastic bags for motion sickness emergencies
- Gum or juice for air pressure changes if traveling by air
- Wet wipes for unexpected messes
- Children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen in case of headaches or fever
- Band-Aids or a small first-aid kit
- Children’s Pepto Bismol or ginger ale for upset stomachs
- Hand sanitizer
- A backpack for each child with snacks, a small pillow, special toys, drawing/coloring material, and even a portable DVD player and some DVDs.
How to Prepare for Flying with Children
If you need more ideas on what to pack, there are plenty of good ideas online.
- What to Pack on your Next Road Trip
- Family Road Trip Packing List (pdf)
- Frommer's: 21 Packing Rules for Traveling with Kids
- Air Travel Packing List for Families with Young Kids
How to Play Road Trip Games
Keep Them Entertained
Pack plenty of items to keep your kids busy during the long traveling hours – space permitting. It’s a good idea to let your child have his or her own backpack because it’s easy to carry and easy to keep track of. Great items to include are a portable DVD player with movies, electronic games, a notepad and crayons for drawing, a small camera, and definitely some sugar-free snacks.
Choose an Activity Director
It’s a good idea to put someone in charge of activities. It gives everyone a chance to “be in charge” and puts the authority in one place at a time, which may halt arguments. If you’re traveling by car and you have two adults, it makes sense that the one who is not driving be in charge of entertainment and snacks. If you’re traveling with more than one child, let children take turns being in charge every 2 hours or so.
Dealing with Sibling Rivalry
Sibling rivalry is one of the most dreaded parts of traveling with children, but you can take steps to minimize the risk. Keeping children entertained and fed goes a long way to curbing the fights. If traveling in a car, try to space the children apart from each other. If you have a van, you might want to put one child in the second row and one in the third. If space is limited and you’re in a car or a plane, try to place a pillow or their entertainment backpack between them to help them have their own space. When fights do arise, keep calm. It’s easy to get angry when you’re tired or hungry, so stay rested and keep the snacks handy.
Keep Them Fed
Kids stay happier longer when they’re not hungry, and when traveling, it’s not always easy to find affordable, healthy food when you need it. Take some healthy snacks with you and keep them handy. Avoid sugar-filled food, or you might end up with kids bouncing up and down for hours at a time. Avoid big bags of snacks if you don’t want them spilled all over the back seat. Snack-sized portions are ideal. Prepare small resealable bags full of grapes, carrot sticks, or finger sandwiches.
Great Games for Traveling
- I Spy With My Little Eye: always a favorite!
- License Plate Game: make up words for the letters on license plates; see how many states you can find.
- Twenty Questions: one player thinks of something, the other players ask question to guess what it is. The first question is usually, "plant, mineral, or animal?".
- Punch-buggy or Slug-a-Bug: Players keep track of how many Volkswagen Beetles they find on the road. This game can be adapted to include other vehicles, as well.
- I'm Going on a Picnic Game: The first player says "I'm going on a picnic and I'm taking an..." and pick something that begins with the letter A. The next player repeats what the first player said, but adds something that begins with the letter B. Playersw alternate and go through the alphanet, always repeating the items that were already said and always adding the next letter.
- Shiritori: this is adapted from a Japanese game. Pick a topic such as "Rock Bands". The first player chooses the name of a band. The next player chooses another one that starts with the last letter of the name that the first player gave. The next player then chooses a name that begins with the last letter that the second player gave. The loser is the person who can't come up with a name that begins with the ending letter of the previous player.
- Category Exhaustion: this game is similar to Shiritori in that the object of the game is to not be the one to run out of answers. Someone picks a topic, such as "Ice Cream Flavors". Players alternate, coming up with titles that fit the topic, such as "Mint Chocolate Chip" or "Vanilla". The first person who can't come up with an answer loses. Other good topics include "World Capitals" or "State Capitals" or "States that begin with the letter 'A'".
- Name That Tune: Pick a topic, such as "TV Themes" and take turns humming the tunes. The other players have to guess the name of the tune. If you have an ipod or radio, the game can be adapted.
- Count the...: Pick a category or a thing, like "Cows" or "Red Signs". Shouting out when you see the object in question is all that's required. Whoever says it first gets the point. The person with the most points wins.
- Rock, Paper, Scissors - an old classic
- Spelling Bee: Players take turns spelling words. When you misspell a word, you are eliminated from the bee.
- Team Storytelling: One person begins a story, such as "One dark night in the middle of the city, a little old lady was walking to the store..." Then the next person takes over and carries the story a little further. Then the next person continues the story.
- Unfortunately - Fortunately: One player makes a statement that starts with "Fortunately", such as "Fortunately, I got a new kitten". The next player makes a statement beginning with "Unfortunately", such as "Unfortunately, it ran away". Then it's the next player's turn to start a statement with "Fortunately, he came back with a diamond necklace".
- Who Am I: Similar to the Twenty Questions game, a player picks someone everyone knows. Players ask questions to reveal the identity such as "Is it a male or female?", "What color is her hair?", etc.
- House on the Hill: Invent stories about people in the houses you are driving by. What's their occupation or their favorite food? What are their hobbies? Are they afraid of snakes? The more details, the better.
Make A Vacation Memory Book
Make the Memories Last
Memories fade with time, so make it a point to solidify the memories of your trip as soon as the trip ends. Have everyone make their own memory book once they get home. Note the funny things that happened, the people you spent time with, and include plenty of pictures. Before you start your trip, give children their own book to fill with their own observations during the trip. Once they get home, they can transfer them into their own memory book. You can even print your book at one of the many print-on-demand publishing platforms to make it more professional.