Traveling With Kids

I just added some pins to Pinterest pertaining to traveling with kids. That got me to thinking about all of the fun and not-so-fun times I’ve had with a car full of kids. The experience definitely changes with the age of the kids and the time of year. For the most part, road trips were always lots of fun for my family. It helped to be prepared. As always, you learn as you go. As a veteran of the child enhanced road trip, let me offer some thoughts and some advice.

I started my traveling days when my boys were very small. Still in diapers, we set off to visit family regularly that were a good 7 hours away. I did this trip with my husband and many times by myself. It didn’t take long to figure out a routine and know exactly what to bring and what to expect from the kids. When kids are still in diapers you have to be very observant as to how they’re handling being stuck in a car seat for a lengthy amount of time. Obviously, you have to change diapers along the way. If it’s both parents in the car, that’s easily accomplished by the one not driving. If you’re doing a solo run, it’s up to you to know when to stop and take care of business. One thing you don’t want to do is skimp on the number of diapers you bring along. You honestly can never have too many. A change of clothes that’s easy to reach can be a life saver. And don’t forget the wipes. Not just for diaper changes, they will clean up all sorts of messes along the way. As the kids got a little older it was even more important to realize that when they had to go – they really had to go. Keep a mental note of rest stops so you know if you can pass the one coming up or if you need to make a stop, NOW. A passed rest area will lead to lots of whining and a quick mood change as you travel on. You could have saved yourself a lot of grief if only you had stopped.

So what do kids do for hours in a car? They eat, they talk, they sing, they eat, they watch videos, they play games, they eat, they draw, they sleep, they eat. If there’s more than one – they fight, they get cranky, they get impatient, oh and did I mention… they eat. How do you handle all of these activities? We used to put all sorts of snacks and drinks in a big picnic basket. The kids knew that those snacks were for them along the way. Every so often I’d offer them something and not so surprisingly, they’d take me up on it. I have no idea why, but the minute a child gets into a car for an extended trip they become hungry. Fifteen minutes down the road and they are asking for something to eat. The things we’d bring along were based on their age and what I figured they could eat in the car without making a huge mess. Anything that was sticky, drippy, slimy, or very crumbly was not in the basket.

The day will come when siblings decide that they don’t want to share these snacks with their brother or sister. I am a rigorous fan of zip lock bags. Great for snacks, craft supplies, first aid items – you name it, I put it in them. To alleviate food related arguments we moved on to individual snack bags. Labeled, of course, to avoid any confusion as to who belonged to what. Also eliminated arguing over how many of this or that somebody ate. If one kid wants to eat all of his crackers right off the bat, fine. The other child still has theirs. They are totally in charge of what is eaten and when. After a while the picnic basket held individual labeled bags. Oh and there were now two baskets – one for us up front and one for the kids in the back.

What kid of activities can you bring along? Any game that is magnetic works great. You don’t find yourself looking for missing pieces. Coloring books and paper to draw on are always winners. Put together a small plastic box of craft supplies and let the kids go crazy. A quick trip to any dollar store will offer you a wide selection of things to choose from. It doesn’t hurt to hold back on the things you’ve purchased. Surprise your kids along the way. They will be stoked to get these gifts as you go. If you are a techy family there’s lots of ways to enjoy movies, music, and video games. Your kids might have a tablet that can keep them occupied for hours. It’s your call as to what’s appropriate for your kids.

I think now is a good time to mention something that seems to coincide with activities. Car (motion) sickness. I know how awful that makes you feel. I for one cannot read while driving. We’ve had a few trips where car sickness was an issue. On one occasion we had to stop at the crest of a hill so we could accommodate a need to vomit. From that point on to eternity that hill is now known in my family as “Throw Up Hill”.

Here are a few car sickness tips:

  • Make sure your kids are well rested before traveling
  • Don’t feed them rich foods before leaving. Light meals are best.
  • Foods higher in carbs tend to be easier to digest.
  • Make sure the car seat is facing forward.
  • Make sure your child can look out the window. Being able to see movement in front of you helps.
  • Fresh air helps. Open a window. Move a vent to make air flow into that part of the car.
  • It’s o.k. to have a toy, but stop them from reading, coloring, or playing video games.
  • If you find your child is looking more out the side window ask them to look forward. The flashing movement as cars pass your car can make car sickness worse.
  • Try to drive smoothly – eliminating quick stops, jerky forward movement, and quick turns.
  • Try not to draw attention to how your child is physically feeling. Bringing attention to a queasy stomach only reminds them of how bad they feel.
  • Finally, if you can, make frequent stops. Sometimes just getting out of the car and walking around for a bit makes a big difference.

There are some kids who fall asleep five minutes after getting in the car. What a wonderful thing. They settle into their seat and before you know it it’s lights-out. Of course the flip side to that are the kids who will not go to sleep in the car. No matter how badly they need to sleep, they refuse or find it difficult to nap in the car. This is quite challenging for a parent. Depending on the age of the child you’ll want to find ways to make them extra comfortable. When they’re babies and still in a car seat it helps to find ways to prop up their little heads so they don’t flop around from side to side. A comforting blanket and stuffed animals makes them relax. Personally, I don’t know how older kids can stand being locked up in a car seat for hours on end. Their little arms and legs were meant to be moving about. For them, it’s important to help them feel comfortable in that one position. Don’t have them wear very restrictive clothing. The roomier the better. Depending on the time of year, shoes and socks are an option. (I can hear you all now – “…but that means every time we stop I have to put their shoes back on”. Yes… yes you do.) If they are old enough, keep their snacks within reach. Having water nearby is a must.

Once your kids get old enough to no longer require your attention as you travel they are probably old enough to complain about the trip. For some, it’s not cool going away with their parents. For some, they aren’t compelled to want to help you out with a little brother or sister who just dropped something on the floor. All I’m going to say about this scenario is that I assume you’ve done a great job raising them up to this point. I hope you have the skills to make them understand that they are an integral part of your family trip. Participate and enjoy it – don’t b*tch and complain and ruin it for everyone else.

As I stated in the beginning, I’ve logged quite a few hours in the car with kids. I always survived because I realized early on that I need to be prepared. I need to be flexible. I need to have patience. I need to understand what kids are and are not capable of. I developed a go-with-the-flow mentality. Things will only get to you if you allow them to. In the end, I look back at past trips with great joy. I look forward to future trips with anticipation. The vehicle is twice as full these days with grandkids. Oh the fun we’ll have!!!


By Gret Boyd


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