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The Family Road Trip – 11 Ways to Save Your Sanity, See More Sites and Have More Fun
I have three children who I love with all my heart, and I can tell you that – sometimes – the idea of packing them into the car and driving through the hot countryside where they will argue, invade each other’s space and ask to stop and peeing 14 times a day strikes fear into my heart. Fear, I tell you.
And yet, especially in this economy, there are days when it just doesn’t make sense to fly. There are times we have to get into the car to go somewhere.
Here are some tips (mostly learned the hard way) on how to have more fun on a family road trip.
1. Before you go, visit the library, buy a guidebook or visit your favorite travel websites to find children’s parks, attractions, pools and water slides. Try to work in at least one activity that will be fun for your child each day (even on drive days.)
2. Let your children participate in the planning process. Ask them what they would like to see and do along the way. Ask them to ask their friends about good places to stop or eat along the way. Let them take turns being the “captain” and making decisions about where to stop and eat lunch or what rest stop to choose.
3. Let your kids pack their own “bags” with small activities, mazes, books and treats along the way. A child-friendly map is helpful. So are binoculars. Also, colored pencils or markers and games, puzzles, coloring books and plain paper. It’s also fun to include a disposable camera for each child and a blank journal for them to record the trip with their own eyes.
On the day of the trip, surprise them with a few new things for their “go-bags”…things that correspond to their individual tastes and ages. Maze books, a kit to try making balloon animals, fun facts about the places they will visit, etc.
4. Watch and learn new crafts that kids can do in small spaces: Finger knitting is perfect for younger kids (do an internet search for instructions). Older children can crochet or knit.
5. Find a new book of creative car travel games. Here are a few, but you can find many more books at the library or at your local bookstore:
The Alphabet Game: Try to find each of the letters of the alphabet, in order, on license plates, road signs, billboards and more. Two alternatives: find objects that start with each letter or try to find all the letters, in order, on the license plates of other cars.
20 Questions: One person finds something in the landscape or in the car and gives everyone 20 questions to deduce what the object is.
“I Spy” limbo: Make a diagram of all the states. Delete each one as you see a license plate from that state.
Letter Bingo: Print out Bingo sheets with words (or pictures) of things you will see on the trip.
6. There is no shame in using a portable DVD player and some movies. Rent new movies on the go at DVD rental kiosks.
7. Download some new apps to tide you over. We spent many miles playing Wurdle, Fruit Ninja, and – more recently – Angry Birds. Tiny Wings is a good game that is, well, less angry.
8. Bring some great sing-along songs. We love belting out old folk songs, like “Oh My Darling, Clementine” and “Tumbling Along with the Tumbling Tumbleweeds” – but we’re kind of squeamish. Find a CD or put together a playlist that everyone will enjoy singing along to.
9. Bring small balls, a football, or a Frisbee so you have an easy, ready-to-play game when you stop at a rest stop or park. Or use the timer on your watch or cell phone to time your kids running laps around the playground. Anything you can do to make it fun to get out, stretch and burn some energy.
10. Set realistic expectations. Unless you plan to drive a lot at night or while the kids are sleeping, a maximum of seven hours of driving is all that will be enjoyable for a child.
11. Perform road trip rituals. Mostly, I’d say it’s important to have some easily accessible healthy snacks that won’t spike your kids’ blood sugar. But we have certain food traditions that have become synonymous with road trips. We always get Easy Cheese and Triscuits, for example, and, while my husband is driving, I write little abbreviated messages on them with squirty cheese and the kids try to decode them. We also love to have pretzels and the kids try to eat only the inside to leave a pretzel heart. See what fun rituals you can come up with that will help get your kids excited for the family road trip.
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