School’s out for the summer and American families all over the country are packing their bags and hitting the road. In my humble opinion, family road trips are a necessary part of growing up, and if you have children on vacation from school, chances are good that you have at least one road trip planned for the near future.
If the anxiety is already settling on you like an early-morning fog, don’t fret; not only can you survive your family’s road trip this summer, but with a little planning, you can make it a delightful and memorable experience for everyone. Here’s what you need for a fabulous family road trip.
Pack Plenty of Snacks
It’s amazing how food can soothe even the crankiest kids. The secret is to dole out food that feels like a special treat without feeding them junk. What constitutes a special treat will be different in every family, but hard-boiled eggs, granola bars, trail mix, fresh fruit, and yogurt are all good bets. Bringing along a cooler will allow you to restock at supermarkets along the way.
Plan a Few Surprises
If things start to break down in the back seat, reach into your bag of tricks and pull out games or toys chosen specifically for distracting your kids from the long and arduous journey. Suggestions include cards, coloring books, mad-libs, or a favorite CD they can sing along to.
Change up the Seating Arrangements
If your kids are old enough, allow them to take turns sitting up front. Adults often take for granted that the front seat is where you’ll find the best views, most comfortable seating, and access to the radio. A short stint in the front will easily work its magic on a grumpy child. As an added bonus, the front-seat passenger can keep the driver company while Mom or Dad takes a snooze in the backseat.
Make Time to Exercise
An important and often overlooked component to the family road trip, frequent stops that allow everyone to move their bodies are an absolute necessity. Keep a Frisbee or ball in the car for break time, stop at a playground, or play a game of tag. Everyone should get in on the action, even parents.
Become a Back Road Rambler
There’s nothing less exciting than driving 65 miles per hour for days on end – past billboards, rest areas, and truck stops. If you have time, travel the back roads for a portion of your trip. Take turns photographing what you come across. Our country is a beautiful and amazing place and the interstates just don’t do it justice.
Listen to Your Favorite Audio Books
Nothing makes the hours melt away on a long car ride like a good story, and audio books are available for just about any story you can think of. Pick something new or a family favorite and listen together on the car’s stereo. Fabulous audio books include Harry Potter, Anne of Avonlea, The Little House on the Prairie series, and the Narnia books.
Let the Kids Help with Navigation
In today’s technological world, your GPS can usually get you from point A to point B without much of a hassle, but it’s a lot more fun for kids to trace their route on a map. Using a street map as their guide, kids can pick out points of interest, rest areas, and parks to stop at for break time. Maps are also helpful when trying to avoid the dreaded, “are we there yet?” syndrome. If kids are following along on a map, they’ll have a better idea of when they’ll reach their destination.
Play Family Road Trip Games
Car games are a nice distraction for long stretches of highway. Here’s one of our favorites: Ask one person to secretly choose something outside of the car to count. It could be mailboxes, street signs, police cars – just about anything goes. Each time the chosen item is seen by the person, he counts it out loud. The rest of the family has to try and figure out what he is counting. Whoever guesses correctly gets a turn to count. The goal is to stump your family by counting something that nobody can figure out. Need a few more ideas? Family Travels on a Budget has some ideas for a family road trip scavenger hunt that will keep the kids busy the whole trip. Or play some of these road trip games from Family Vacation Critic.
Master the Fine Art of Parental Patience
The family road trip can be an exhilarating adventure, or it can be a tiresome struggle. Keep in mind that your kids are away from the routines and structures of home. They will act out at times. Despite the urge to reprimand, shout, or pull out your hair, remember that keeping yourself calm will have a soothing effect on your whole family.
Don’t be afraid to deviate from your schedule. The journey is more important than the destination and your family will remember spontaneous side-trips far longer than hours and hours in the backseat.
Are you ready to hit the road? What are your favorite tips for dealing with long hours in the car with kids?