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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Great Family Road Trip: 5 Tips for Travelling with Young Kids

This summer we went on the Great Family Road Trip. We actually toned down our initial plan, which was to drive from Phoenix to Chicago with a three-, four-, and seven-year-old. We decided that it would be best for everybody's sanity to postpone the 27 hour (each way) car trip for a couple more years. Instead, we drove from Phoenix to San Diego. We had never been to San Diego, and it is one of the few trips that we have ever taken where visiting family was not the main event. Some friends flew into San Diego to meet up with us, so the destination included beaches, temperatures under 110 degrees, and quality time with good friends.

While spending more than thirty minutes in the car with your kids can seem daunting, and while it is easy these days to pop movie after movie into the DVD player to keep the kids occupied, that's not how we roll (plus we don't have a DVD player in our vehicle, so it really wasn't an option). Instead, we found ways to fill the hours in the car with quality time, family bonding and memory-making.
Car naps are wonderful, even with sand in your hair!

1) Road trip music is a must. When I was in college, making a cassette tape with some favorites was the way to go. The iPod doesn't have quite the same old school mojo, but it does make it so easy to create a playlist specifically for your trip. Here are our standards for every road trip that we take:


On the Road Again, Willie Nelson - This is the first song that we play after every stop
Holiday Road, Lindsey Buckingham - Our tribute to the Griswold's trip in the Family Truckster
Eastbound and Down, Jerry Reed - Technically it only works for one direction of the trip, but we play it anyway.
Drive My Car, The Beatles - Self Explanatory
Route 66, Nat King Cole - Classic
I've Been Everywhere, Johnny Cash - You can attempt to memorize all of the places he's been.

The first time in the ocean
We also add songs that pertain to the destination, so this trip's playlist included Surfin' USA, Surfin' Safari, and many other Beach Boys classics. The road trip playlist is a great way to expose your kids to various musicians and to create traditions that give grownups a much needed break from kid music. We had so much fun belting out these songs together and making up car seat dances. Good times. (Subsequently, if the kids get a chance to listen to their music, my wife and I will turn the music only to the back speakers. It is amazing how we can have a conversation while Pandora's Disney station plays in the back of the car.)

Little E was not a fan of the waves. The girls were.
Big A working hard on the USS Midway
2) Look for activities that your kids can enjoy by themselves or with each other. Little E, our three-year-old, loves playing trains. In the car we used a cookie sheet with sides and he was able to play with a little wind up train from the dollar store. That was good for almost an hour of entertainment each way. All three also love playing Guess Who (although the rules seem to be in a constant state of flux), and it is pretty self-contained, making it a great car game. Lacing cards also went over well with the seven-and-under set.

3) Make memories together and get to know each other better. We bought a book of Mad Libs and wrote several stories together. If you get creative, this even works for younger kids. (Instead of asking Little E for parts of speech, we would say, "name something on your body" or "what is something you can do." "Belly" and "go potty" were his go-to answers). The oldest got to reinforce her parts of speech. And of course we all laughed when we read about Potty Ice Cream. We also had a book of conversation starter questions. We would have the kids pick a number, and we would go around the car giving each person a turn to answer the question. Some of them were harder for the kids to understand, so we would either adapt the question or move to a different question. My wife had a Mary Poppins' bag of activities ready to go for this trip, but these activities where we engaged with our kids, created something together and laughed together were the simplest and the most fun.

The kids' commissioning after the scavenger hunt on the Midway
4) Never underestimate the power of snacks. Our kids eat more in a two hour period than many small towns consume in a week. We packed up what should have been sufficient food for a trip up Mount Everest, and our kids attempted to clean us out before we left our street. But many small snacks along the way helped keep them occupied. We would give them time frames ("You can have this fruit bar now, and then you need to wait 20 minutes until your next snack."). Trader Joe's has fantastic healthy snacks for kids. Target also surprised us with a broad range of natural and organic packaged foods. The key is novelty! By the way, small paper cups or other containers are a must for things like cherry pits to prevent the kids from putting them in the cup holders or door wells.

5) Kick car-sickness to the curb. One of our kids is notorious for getting motion sick. I think she inherited it from me. We spent part of several trips cleaning vomit off the car seat and digging through luggage for a change of clothes... Not our favorite memories. Then we discovered the wonderful world of peppermint essential oil. Peppermint helps with nausea. So a little dab of peppermint oil behind the ears and on the back of the neck (parents should apply to the kids and should avoid the eyes. Trust me on this one), and a peppermint to suck on, and we had no vomit on this trip. It was amazing! She did complain a couple of times about feeling car sick, but we dabbed on some more peppermint essential oil, gave her a mint, and she made it through.

While I initially had some stress about this road trip, we all ended up having a great time. The kids enjoyed a change of scenery, we all enjoyed the cooler weather, and my wife and I enjoyed not having to clean up puke in the car.

But the destination was not what was important. The time we spent together was. We created some tremendous memories. And the fact that I never once had to yell "If you kids don't stop fighting I'll pull this car over, so help me God" made this a win in my book.

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