Long Trips with Kids
In case you missed it, I recently moved to Virginia from New Hampshire. This required a 10+ hour car ride with a 3.5 and a half year old, 22 month old, and 3 month old. I was anticipating it to be really terrible because of their ages, but somehow it went really smoothly. So, I wanted to share with you some tips and tricks that REALLY helped with this trip. So, get your pens and paper ready and open up that Amazon cart, because I've got lots of stuff coming atcha!
Before the trip
Before the trip can obviously understand a lot more than my other two. So, I prepared her weeks in advance for this trip. I told her we would be stopping halfway through in New Jersey and gave her expectations. The biggest thing I told her was to let me know what she needed on the trip. She is POTTY TRAINED so I made sure to let her know to tell me whenever she needed to go to the bathroom. We also have a little potty in our car in case she ever needs to go to the bathroom when we are in the car and can't find a place to stop. I literally have this in the car every time we go anywhere just in case. I also make sure she goes to the bathroom before we ever leave the house.
Another thing I did was buy toys and drawing things for them that we saved for our trip. We had crayons, coloring pages, and these amazing water coloring books for toddlers. This way they had things to use on the trip that they were excited about and were not bored with.
Along with that, I bought these little tables for the kids to use in their carseats. I thought it was a good investment since we'll be taking trips like this a few times a year. These made eating and doing activities so much easier because they could lay it all out on the table in front of them instead of getting frustrated. They even have little pockets on the side for crayons and other stuff. There are lots of different types of these out there so check them out!
I also made sure to pack lots of different types of snacks. Even more specifically, snacks that take them a long time to eat. Raisins, yogurt covered raisins, gold fish, etc. We also put them in little snack catchers so it would take them a while to eat whatever we put in the snack catcher . There was less mess and they had to take each piece out individually.
Lastly, I made sure to pack the car the night before so there was less stress in the morning. I still had to pack a few things in the morning, but it was nice to have the car mostly packed and all I had to do was place the few extra things I had on top. I made sure the snacks and toys, coloring pages, etc., were easily accessible for us to give them OR for them to reach themselves.
During the trip
This thing was an absolute live saver! We have a large van and my son LOVES to throw toys, food, etc, on the floor. So, we bought a pincher grabber to be able to hand stuff back and forth and sometimes pick up stuff my son threw on the floor. I have decided to keep it in my van forever.
Like I said before, my older daughter is potty trained. So, I made sure that I didn't give her a ton of liquid before we left or at the beginning of the trip. I really waited until she asked which wasn't until about 1.5 hours into the trip. We tried to stop every 2-3 hours, so it wasn't a bad time to let her have a drink. The pincher grabber helped us hand the drinks and snacks back and forth without having to throw it to her or stop.
We tried to plan out the trip so we stopped every 2-3 hours and we only traveled 5 hours each day. So, it took us two days to travel. We also tried to stop at places where it was easy for the kids to get out of the car and potentially run around. We stopped at a Walmart, Target, Boston Market (my guilty pleasure), and a couple of little gas stations when I just needed to quickly feed the baby. It's good to remember there is no need to put any pressure on yourself to get there by a certain time. Enjoy the trip and help your kids enjoy the trip as well. This is especially helpful for me, since I will likely take this trip a few times a year.
My van has a DVD player too. One may think I just played movies the entire trip, but I waited until the second half of the trip, because if I just started playing a DVD at the beginning they would be bored with it and then I used my most valuable tool right at the beginning of the trip. So, I waited to give them ANYTHING (food, toys, coloring books) until they started acting like they needed something. We started with coloring books, then toys, then music, then snacks, then we stopped if they were getting too crazy. Honestly, we only really stopped because the baby needed to eat not because the older too were struggling in the car. They definitely traveled better the first day and got a little sick of the car the second day, but we just played lots of fun kid music for them to dance and sing to and it really helped get them through the long time in the car.
Here's a little piece of advice, you may not want to play annoying kids songs for a long trip, but isn't it better than your kids screaming and crying in the car? I would say yes. I even sang along and did some dancing with them in the car so they had interaction too. Long car rides are all about distracting them from being in the car.
When we stopped
I would try to allow them to run around and get out as much energy as possible. This not only helped them when they got back in the car, but it also helped them go to the bathroom if they didn't need to go right away. If you have a strong willed child you probably know the "I don't need to go" problem all too well.
As soon as we got back in the car I would get more snacks ready so they were ready to go when they asked and we didn't have to rummage around the car while it was moving. I tried to keep everything within arms length. It's important to note that I didn't do this trip alone! My mom was my right hand man.
We waited until after we stopped to play a movie. This way getting them back into the car wasn't a total nightmare because they were looking forward to watching the movie! We waited a few minutes to start it so they had snacks and whatever else they wanted before the movie started. Not only is distraction important, but it's good to put things off as long as you can. All of those few minutes here and few minutes there add up during a long trip like this.
All in all they did SO WELL and we really didn't have to try too hard. The art of distraction is a skill you really need to learn when you're a parent of young kids. And sometimes you just have to take a break and find a place to stop when you and the kids just can't take it anymore. There's no shame in that.
Good luck to all of you parents doing long trips with young kids!