Long Car Rides with Kids
A long car ride can be a death sentence for a lot a parents. We've been there before, we know how hard it can be. We've learned a few things over our many many car rides that have helped make them a bit easier on us and the kids.
Make long car rides easer.
Some kids have to learn to handle long car rides and this might take time and repetition. The more you take your kids on long car rides the more normal it seems to them. We've been taking our kids on long drives since the time they were born and they are really great at handling them! Don't get me wrong, there are still so many times our kids (and their parents) lose it and we have to find a park and let the kids run wild for a bit. The more we do it though, the better it is.
Keep your sense of humor. Channel your favorite river and go with the flow. Flexibility is key when traveling with kids (yes, we'll say this in every Camping With Kids post!). Having a ridged schedule of how far you need to drive in a certain amount of time will not be your friend. Allow for flexibility in your schedule.
The drive is part of the trip! You're on the road? Vacation has started! This mentality will help keep frustrations at bay and remind you to have fun, even while driving.
Bring a lot of snacks! This is for both you and your kids. We have learned all too well that if someone is grumpy they are probably hungry. Snacking lightly can also help prevent motion sickness. We usually pack two different baskets (what we use to hold our food) of food. Keep one with ready-made snacks that are accessible from the front seat. Keep the other in the back with all the other food needed for meal times. If we bring something like a big bag of chips, we separate it into little snack size bags for each child. That way we're not constantly reaching around to give them more or to help pass the bag from kid to kid. (Need snack ideas? we've got you covered!) Don't forget the water! When our family is well hydrated we pee a lot (seriously, Laura and Sage have the tiniest bladders) but we are also a lot happier. We're going to need to take frequent breaks to let the kids get out of the car anyway so why not? We bring separate water bottles for everyone. You can see who is drinking how much and there is no fighting over the water bottle (or kid goobers in your own water).
A toy bucket. There are a lot of different ways you could do this. We put a narrow basket between the car seats full of toys and books. We especially love to bring lots of books. They are a nice quiet activity and, if you want, you can read them aloud to the kids. Our favorite books are look and find type books because they keep the kids entertained for longer. Things like buckets, shovels, and dump trucks are great to have when around camp. We have taken a few trips that are 7+ days with lots of car time. In this case, we have gone to the dollar store and spent $10 on new toys. You don't have to worry about them getting lost, dirty, or destroyed. We've also had success with electronic toys with buttons, like this cell phone from leapfrog, this toy dog you can program with your child's name and favorites, and this fake remote control.
Activity Binder. This is something you can make yourself very cheap or you can buy some already made.
You need a three ring binder, ziplock bags, and sheet protectors (chances are you have these around your house). Print off some free coloring pages, and slip them into the protectors. The kiddos can color on them with dry erase markers (we recommend making sure they are washable) and reuse them the entire trip. You can also just three hole punch the coloring pages and bring along crayons. There are crayons made into triangle shapes that keep them from rolling around which can be really helpful. Keep the dry erase markers/crayons in one of the ziplocks. I also put matching games and flash cards in a ziplock. Just puncture the bag through two of the rings in the binder so they don't get lost. The kids can use the binder as a hard surface to color on or play their games. It may not be the prettiest thing but it works well!
Playlist of good music. Tantrums can be tamed and boredom can be prevented with good music for both you and the kiddos. We have toddler radio station on Pandora that is amazing! Our kids call them "the little songs". The kids have been out of their minds, we've turned it on, and had peace for another hour or so. Find some kid music you can tolerate, and it can make a big difference. Even when they're babies, it's worked.
Movies. We bring along an iPad or two loaded with the kids favorite movies although we keep screen time to a minimum. Our philosophy is that we're getting out to be together and experience earths wonders so the less screen time the better! With that said, It's great to have for the extra-long stretch on the way home when both mom and dad are exhausted and the kids have reached their limit of car time.
Frequent Breaks. We have found that our kids do a lot better when we let them out of the car every couple of hours, even if it's only for five minutes. Breaks are also a good time to take a few seconds to pick up garbage and get the toys back where they belong. Shopping bags work great as garbage bags (bring a few more along for the unexpected).
Whatever they need to fall asleep. It's hard enough as it is to fall asleep but if your kids don't have a pillow or their favorite blanket, you might as well give them a caffeine pill.