Sanity Saver: Make road trips with kids easier
With the summer months not too far off in the distance, many families are starting to make travel plans. And for many of us, that means piling the family into the car and heading out on the Great Canadian Road Trip. Sounds great, right? That is, until you realize that you'll be in the car for hours on end .... with the KIDS. You know, those same kids who cry "I'm BORED!" several times in the run of an average day? Yeah. You're gonna need a survival plan.
I have the answer. It's a three-step plan -- don't worry, you'll thank me later.
Step 1: Calculate the length of your trip, in hours. Then, go to the dollar store or other discount store and collect some treats equal to the number of hours in your trip. (If the trip is very long, such as driving to DisneyWorld, you might want to do every 2 hours). Items you choose should be things that keep the child engaged in some way, and this will vary depending on the age and interests of the child, but here are a few ideas:
Colouring sheets -- there are lots of free ones available for download, from sites such as **
Travel games -- Toy companies make lots of travel versions of your kids' favourite games, such as Battleship, Connect 4, etc. This is great if you have more than 1 kid, but many of these games can also be played from the front seat as well, so you can play along with 1 child in the back.
Mad Libs -- You can either buy Mad Libs (stories filled with blanks, where the players fill in words such as "someone in the car," or "a noun," etc.) or go online and print some out. Kids love the silly stories that result for this game!
Small toys --- Dinky cars, small stuffies, dolls, etc. make great options and the dollars stores abound with choices for every child.
Snacks/treats --- Be careful with this one. Don't pump your kids full of sugar and then strap them into a car seat for hours on end. Similarly, don't give them a big bottle of juice right after a pit stop, or you'll be making another pee break before you had planned. On the other hand but saving a treat you don't normally give your kids for a special occasion like this, you'll make the trip that much more special. Consider a small baggie of a "forbidden" cereal, or trail mix with whole-grain cereal, pretzels and a few "treats" thrown in such as a handful of M&Ms.
Books -- Children of all ages can benefit from this. If your child is of the age to read chapter books, it's wise to make this treat one of their first prizes so they can stay engaged with it throughout the drive. Smaller children will love to get a picture book, activity book or sticker book.
Movies -- Dollar store and the bargain bin at Walmart are great places to find kids' movies on the cheap.
Window crayons -- This was a revelation! Crayola saves the day once again. Bring out these window crayons and let your kids create a masterpiece right on the window. These markers easily wipe right off and leave no residue on your window. SO AWESOME!
Step 2: Give your kids trip tickets -- one for each hour or time period you have allotted. These can be elaborately designed tickets you have made on your computer, or you can simply use slips of paper or premade tickets from the dollar store (such as you would use for a 50/50 draw, etc.) This is key. When each time period elapses, ask your child to "redeem" one of the trip tickets for a prize. By giving them something tangible to hand over, they can get an idea of how much closer they are getting to your destination based on how many tickets they have left in their hands. Still have a big pile? There's a way to go. Only one or two left? Almost there!
Step 3: This helped our daughter immensely. Print out a map of your route from Google Maps and each time you stop, whether it's for a bathroom break, a meal, or each time your child redeems a ticket, mark a dot on the route to show your progress. This is a great tool to help your child visualize the distance and how far you have gone (and have to go). We did this once for our daughter and she asks us to do it every time we go on a long trip now.
Why this works:
Time and distance are abstract concepts for kids. When you say it will take x number of hours to get somewhere, they really don't know what that means. By giving them the trip tickets and marketing the route on a map that you mark off at each interval, you give them tangible, visual clues about how much farther the destination is going to be. It helps them feel more in control and in the loop.