Often, parents of toddlers and elementary age kids dread the car ride. Here are nine simple tips to make car travel fun for the whole family.
Bring only water and not too much of it -- you don't want juice or milk spills in the car. Remember, the more they drink, the more they have to go to the bathroom. And speaking of that, see No. 2.
For toddlers out of pull-ups, you may want to have a small travel potty for when you can't reach a rest stop. For older children, empty Snapple-size bottles are a savior for boys.
Make sure to pack DVD players and iPads that are well charged. Be loaded up on movies (and apps) the kids have never seen before. Go to the library, and rent as many movies as you can. When it's new to kids, it keeps them interested more than the same old movies they have seen. Certain toddlers, however, go against that grain and may need their absolute favorite movie playing over and over.
If you plan on stopping at a hotel before you reach your final destination, pack just enough clothes and toiletries for the whole family in just one "community" bag so you only have to carry one bag in for the night. Save the rest of the big luggage or individual suitcases for when you arrive at your final destination and are settling in for an extended stay.
Snacks are good, but too many can be bad. Endless munching can lead to tummy trouble, more bathroom stops, crumbs in the car and less real food at a mealtime stop. Pack a healthy sandwich and fruit for your rest area stops (if you aren't going to buy anything). Lollipops are known to be lifesavers for some parents since they last long and often keep the kids quiet while they are at it.
Designate 30-minute blocks of time for certain things: 30 minutes quiet time, 30 minutes playing guessing games (20 questions or license plate games are fun for all) or 30 minutes of loud music and singing along. Breaking it into blocks not only alleviates boredom, it helps the time go by faster for the kids.
No one wants to be in tight jeans or a jumper that pulls at the crotch the whole trip. The best clothes for sitting extended periods of time are sweat pants and T-shirts. Always have socks in case feet get cold, even in the summer, and throw blankets for naps or if it's too chilly. Small pillows can be great head support for anyone who naps. If you're driving for very long periods (think four hours or more), you may want those child window shades too, in case the sun is in someone's face the whole way.
Pack little "surprise" bags. A quick trip to the dollar store covers it. Put treats in a party goody bag and hand it out when the complaints start rolling in. Some suggestions: A puzzle, a magnet game, an action figure, a sticker book, small toys, even candy.
Research your route before leaving home, and if you find interesting places that are only 15 or 20 minutes off your route, it can be worthwhile to stop as it makes for a more exciting trip. Being prepared to pull off at an exit based on a billboard can be adventurous and super fun. Stay open-minded and don't watch the clock too much.
By being well prepared, traveling with the kids can have more perks than it does annoyances. Once you start regular road trips, everyone will get into the swing of it and actually look forward to the time in the car: for bonding, for family fun and for creating wonderful memories even before you reach your destination.
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