When I was a kid, we took a lot of vacations.
On one particularly epic road trip, we drove to Texas for my dad to interview for a job, from Texas along the gulf coast to Florida for a week at DisneyWorld, then back home to Missouri. It was something like six full days in the car. (Yes, I said car. We had a sedan, not a minivan or station wagon.) And did I mention that my sister and I were six and eight years old at the time?
When Caleb was a baby, we traveled a lot and it was easy, but once he was mobile and we’d added a second baby to the family, traveling felt kind of impossible. I marveled that my parents didn’t kill me or my sister on all those long road trips. But lately, with our recent move to Nashville, we’ve been taking lots of trips, and it’s been surprisingly manageable. It’s even been kind of fun.
Please note: part of the reason all of this works is the age of our kiddos. For us, the magic age of successful trips was about 4 or 5. The kids were (finally) potty-trained, and a whole lot better at understanding how long they would be in the car and why. If you have little-bitty kids, road trips might just be plain hard. Hang in there.
But even with bigger kids, a long day in the car can be a little daunting. Like my parents back in the day, we don’t have a minivan. We have a 13-year-old compact car and 17-year-old truck. (Nissan and Toyota, in case you were wondering. They’re been amazing vehicles for us). We’ve done road trips in both, and neither has a DVD player. So a movie marathon to kill the day is out. But it’s not been as big of a deal as I thought might be.
Here are a few ways that we make it through the day (and still all like each other at bedtime):
Let your kids be bored
This one requires the most advance planning, but it is so worth it. If your kids are used to you coming up with things for them to do every twenty minutes throughout the day, they will expect the same thing when you’re in the car. And unless you pack a whole suitcase full of things for them to do, you will run out of ideas way before your first pit stop.
But resourcefulness comes from boredom. Let your kids come up with their own games on a regular basis at home, and they’ll be equipped to do the same thing on the road. On our last trip out to Nashville, the boys spent about 45 minutes making tents with their coats draped over the backs of our seats. Go figure.
No limits on snacks
This is what makes trips fun. We bring snacks along to curb impulse buys at convenience stores, and try to keep the snacks on the healthier side (jerky, trail mix, crackers, fruit), but for the most part, if my kids ask for something to eat when we’re on a trip, the answer is yes.
This means they are eating almost all day long, and don’t eat great at meals, but for a little peace when we’re all cooped up in the same space all day, it’s a worthwhile exchange.
Audiobooks and audiodramas
This is one of my absolute favorite ways to pass the time during long stretches in the car. A good book or story makes the trip fly by. Listening to something together as a family is something even the driver can be involved in, and as opposed to a movie, kids have to be really quiet to catch what’s going on in an audiobook.
Some of our favorites are:
- Little House on the Prairie
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- Adventures in Odyssey (I LOVED this one as a kid)
- A Bear Called Paddington
- Charlotte’s Web
For me, a good car activity doesn’t require my help, takes up very little space, and doesn’t make a mess. Some of our favorite things to bring along are:
- Math wrap ups
- Activity books
- Pipe cleaners
- Paper and stickers
So, that’s what we do on road trips. What do you do to keep your kids occupied for those long stretchs in the car?