Summer vacation, which is coming upon us rapidly, means a lot of great things: Parks, playgrounds, more family time. Grilling out, picnics, hiking, sports, firefly chasing and family vacations. Oh, wait, that last one. It can be great, but when it comes with a road trip on both ends, it can turn near-fatal in the first hour or two from the driveway. If you're going to be tackling a road trip with kids this summer, you might want to take a look at our tips and ideas to help you survive it... or preserve your sanity, at least.
Keep Your Expectations Realistic
I'm all for striving for the best - asking more of ourselves - but when we're talking in terms of how a road trip will play out, it's best to be very, grimly realistic. Don't expect to make great time if you're traveling with young children who will, inevitably, need another potty break five minutes after the last one. Expect that there will be some complaining, arguing, loud sighs of distress, spilled snacks, sticky fingers and general restlessness. And that's just your spouse...
Snacks Are Good, Drinks Are Bad
Hydration plus kids plus car equals potty breaks every fifteen minutes. Limit the fluid intake for each child. Yes, normally, we're all big fans of our kids drinking lots of fresh, pure water. But not when we're on a road trip. Instead, offer juicy, water-laden fruit such as apples and grapes, which are great portable snacks anyway. And have plenty of other snacks on hand, divided into individual serving sizes. Fresh vegetables, prepped ahead of time, can also help with hydration without inducing a direct potty emergency. Try cucumber slices, sweet pepper strips, baby carrots and snow peas. I'd avoid the cherry tomatoes unless your kids can be trusted not to shoot them like tiny exploding tomato grenades across the car's interior.
Bring Some Fresh Entertainment
Older kids can usually keep themselves pretty well entertained on a road trip with a few good books, their music, portable game players and the ability to gaze out the window until they fall asleep. For younger kids, however, sitting still and contained for more than an hour - hey, for more than 20 minutes - can be a really big stretch. Help relieve the boredom by bringing a supply of small toys. Don't, however, just hand your child a bag of toys and hope things work out; the toys will end up all over the floor board and you'll find yourself playing a game of "Fetch the Toy, Mom."
Unless you enjoy throwing half your body over the seat every three minutes, try this method instead: hand out one or two toys at a time. Set a time limit (ten, fifteen, twenty minutes; the older the kid, the longer the limit). When the time limit is reached, trade out for a new toy unless your child is still happily playing with the one he or she already has, in which case you shouldn't interfere with a good thing. Remember it's normal and nonharmful for kids to deal with a little boredom; while you can be a super Mom by bringing along the snacks and toys, you don't have to kill yourself playing fetch or trying to make every moment an entertaining one.
Plan Strategic Stops
Spend a little time before you leave home and look for good-sized towns, state parks, national monuments or rest areas. Plan to stop at one of those places at least every two hours, and give yourself and the kids a chance to take a bathroom break and then stretch your legs for 20 or 30 minutes. Yes, this will add time to the trip; that's why it's good to start with those realistic expectations. But everyone will do better with a little time out of the car. At every stop, take five minutes to gather up the dropped toys, clear out the trash and wipe down any spills. It's like hitting the reset button for the next two hours, and those 20 minutes of play might help your little ones decide that a nap isn't such a bad idea after all.
Image: Emran Kassim.