Just saying those two words, road trip, can conjure up images of flat tires, screaming babies, and car sick kids. Add to that a constant stream of "Are we there yet?" and "I have to go to the bathroom" and most parents shudder at the thought of family vacation. Exactly when does the vacation part happen?
With the cost of airfare, road trips are often the only option for families trips. But they do not have to be dreaded events. Some of our precious times have been on the road. Here are some secrets to a happier road trip.
1--During road trips, you can never have too many snacks (or wipes) in the car. Our favorite snacks include licorice (chocolate tends to melt), granola bars, nuts, goldfish, grapes, and fruit snacks. If we are bringing a cooler, we also pack frozen gogurts and string cheese.
2--Get everyone on the same schedule. Nothing makes road trips more miserable than constantly stopping. Though some unscheduled stops will happen, try to keep them to a minimum. When you have to stop for gas or a meal, everyone should go to the bathroom and run around a little. Also, limit drinks in the car to prevent extra stops.
3--Use electronics wisely. One of our best memories is listening to a Harry Potter audiobook while driving cross country. It made miles of corn fields go much faster. Individual electronic time can also be a good thing especially if you have a wide age range. A portable dvd player for an afternoon movie can be a life saver with little ones. So can an hour of kid music. The multiple iPhone/iPad apps and the Nintendo DS provide endless game and educational options. But keep it in balance.
4--Pack high quality books, toys, and games. My absolute favorite is the Rand McNalley Road Trip series. Those books provide hours of endless entertainment (and are highly educational). We find a stuffed animal for smaller children, matchbox cars, and little ponies to fit easily into small backpacks and provide hours of fun. Many books recommend buying dollar store toys as surprises to open along the way. I have never found this to work with the exception of a puzzle for the motel or a matchbox car for my younger boys. Quality over quantity is the trick with car toys.
5--Play family games in the car. Nothing beats the license plate game. Every year it becomes a contest to see if you can see more than last year and finding the elusive states. Another great family car game is naming all the states, presidents, or countries. Got smarty-pants-kids, make them learn the presidents in order. Littler ones will love to guess an animal based on a few clues--it has no arms and legs and Mommy is afraid of it. Have a few minutes of silliness, sing a few camp songs. Can't do that on a plane.
So grab the kids and head out. Road trips can be a happy part of the vacation.