The vacation your family has been anxiously anticipating is almost here. The question is: are you prepared for the sibling squabbles, food and drink spills, umpteen rest stops and being asked a hundred times or more, “Are we there yet?” With a little pre-planning, you can drastically reduce the hassles and turn your time on the road into a fun, family experience for all.
1. Take mandatory restroom breaks. Immediately before heading out, have everyone go to the bathroom, whether they need to or not. Just before and while on the road, limit beverages, particularly caffeinated ones, to reduce the frequency of restroom stops. When you do have to stop for something, have everyone use the restroom again, and don’t accept anyone’s claim of, “I don’t need to go.”
2. Reduce stops. Strategize where you choose to stop so you can cover all the bases at once. Fuel up, grab food and beverages, use the restroom and go for a walk or play a game of tag so everyone can stretch and exercise.
3. Drive through the night. Kids typically sleep through the night on the road, so it’s a great way for kids to feel they’ve reached your destination in the blink-of-an-eye and to reduce your overall stress. Parents can switch off driving while the other one sleeps.
4. Bring snacks and drinks. Bring along a cooler and a variety of drinks and snacks to reduce pit stops. Breaking up the time with small snacks will also help keep kids pacified. When packing snacks, include some nutritious ones, like carrot sticks and apples. Also, keep in mind the messiness of particular types of snacks. To reduce messes, avoid foods that melt, smear and squish such as chocolate, cupcakes and yogurt.
5. Plan fun or scenic stops. Do some advance research to find a fun stop along the way, and build it into your vacation. Look for a state or national park, national monument, beach, kiddie fun-land, river walk or water park.
6. Plan for car entertainment. Before your trip, download movies, books and music or visit your library to pick out books, audio books and music CDs. But don’t let the kids have the items until you’re on the road, so they’ll have fresh entertainment. Also, take along some car games and print a list of games that don’t require pieces to play.
Some ideas to get you started include the license plate game. Have everyone write down the states of the license plates as they spot them. The person with the most states wins.
Also, try the “Would you rather?” game. Take turns asking everyone what would be their choice between two gross or unpleasant situations. For example, would you rather be trapped in a closet crawling with hundreds of centipedes or eat a worm?
7. Loosen screen time restrictions. While limiting kids’ daily screen time is a best practice, consider making an exception for your road trip. Depending on the length of your drive, it can be a challenge to keep kids amused for the duration, despite all the other entertainment you bring along. Break up screen time on the road by allowing kids 30-minute cycles of screen time broken up by other activities.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance parenting and lifestyle writer.