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Surviving long car rides with young children

Everyone piles into the car. Seat belts are fastened, car seats buckled in. The bags (all five of them) are nestled into the trunk. This isn’t for a three week getaway — we’re talking day trip with infants toddlers and preschoolers. Are you ready to go?

Toddler in Car

With the cost of vacationing skyrocketing, many families are turning to day trips and longer drives to get away without all the costs. But for parents of young children, that can be a tough trip, particularly if you haven’t bought into the television-everywhere trend.

If your car isn’t a rolling media center — and mine isn’t — then read on for tips on surviving long car rides with your young children.

Look for familiar things

When my husband and I decided to make the three hour drive to our niece’s first birthday party with our kids, it seemed like an easy plan. Drive the three hours up in the morning, attend the party and then drive the three hours home. But after an hour and a half in the car, we had one bored preschooler, a sleeping older infant, and a bored daddy. To entertain my son, the preschooler, I began pointing out familiar things like big rigs (Mac’s to him, thanks to the movie Cars), colors of cars, and vegetation. Soon, everyone was in on the action.

How can you harness this great distraction? Refresh your memory about the character names in favorite on-the-road movies so that you can say, “Hey, look at that old car! It looks like Doc!” with confidence (I might be against television in cars, but my son does get to see movies from time to time).

Using the ride as an educational experience is not only a great distraction, but a great way to reinforce concepts. Have children look for cars of a certain color or count the number of motorcycles they see. Older children can make a running list of state license plates they spy.

Drive during nap time

For the youngest members of the family, driving during the regularly scheduled nap time will allow them to arrive refreshed. And not to mention that it means a quiet ride for you. ‘Nuff said.

Don’t forget the snacks

Your kids are going to get hungry. Heck, you probably will too. So pack low-mess snacks and drinks to keep the hunger and thirst at bay.

Mess-free art gear

Art supplies have come a long way. Pick up some of those markers that only write on special paper, the special paper, and travel trays, so they have a hard surface to work on. Then dole out the supplies sparingly. One marker at a time will prevent 20 minutes of “Mommy, my markers are lost! Can you get it?”

When all else fails, sing

When the kids are car gamed out, and bored with all their car activities, quiet their concerns with some familiar refrains of The Wheels on the Bus or Old MacDonald. The key to a happy ride is distraction and opened ended songs like this are a great source of that.

Don’t forget to break

It might be a nice idea to drive straight through without any stops, but in practice that just doesn’t work. Your kids need to use the facilities, and you will probably want to stretch your legs as well. Plan a stop every one and a half to two hours for food, fuel, bathroom runs and stretching. The time added to the drive due to the stop will be well worth it.

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