“Are we there yet?” said the very sweet six year old voice from the back of the SUV. Unfortunately, the thirteen hour road trip had started just 35 minutes prior! I was very excited to take my two young nieces from the Dallas suburbs to quiet, idyllic rural Iowa. However, I was not prepared for such an extensive road trip, as evidenced by the ginormous Gatorades I allowed them to consume along the way (note to self: less drinking and less sugar!). I learned a lot from that summer and following summers when we continued the tradition and set off on cross-country adventures.
Many are about to embark on a Spring Break road trip and since I'm still no expert, I turned to Super Mom, Tracy Mobley, for some tips. Tracy has a been an elementary school teacher for 16 years, she’s raising 3 awesome kids and doing it all while working on her PhD.
Here are her 5 tips for road trip success while creating lifetime memories.
1) Create memories!
The teacher in Tracy comes out in all aspects of her life - a road trip is no exception. She buys her kids journals and disposable cameras at the start of the trip. She asks them to write, draw and scrapbook their experience. This is a great way to occupy “windshield time” while documenting the trip through their eyes. And, there are many educational benefits to having kids that journal, including improved: spelling, grammar, creativity, writing and reading skills. Click here for more on the benefits of journaling for kids and here to learn more about what preteens can learn from journaling.
2) Start packin’, everyone!
Tracy requires each of her three kids to pack a small bag that includes books, games and snacks. Make sure the games don't have many small pieces that will need to be wrangled throughout the trip. Snacks should be appropriate for the trip. For instance, if you’re traveling through the heat of New Mexico, you might want to avoid packing Snickers (trust me…not a good experience on many levels)!
In addition, Tracy packs a few extras she has found to be very helpful staples for a road trip with the kids.
**Wet wipes for clean hands or any “accidents”
**First aid kit that includes Band-Aids, children's Tylenol, Benadryl, Anitseptic Wipes, Sunscreen and Neosporin. Click here for additional information on a well-stocked first aid kit for kids.
**Small trash bags have been very helpful in several situations that include car sickness to just keeping the car tidy.
**A cooler stocked with water, juice, fresh fruit and sandwich fixings such as peanut butter and jelly.
3) Plan it out!
Choose the best times to travel based on your family’s “internal clock.” When taking very long drives, Tracy and her husband start out in the late evening hours so the kids will sleep through the night.
In addition, Tracy recommends planning for fun stops along the way and being open to new experiences. Tracy tells the story of an unexpected roadside stop to ride horses in the Smoky Mountains. She was scared that five-year-old Daniel would fall off his horse and thought he wouldn’t enjoy the experience. As she fondly tells the story, “after 30 minutes, Daniel was having the time of his life and it’s now one of his best memories.” Click here for a directory of fun roadside excursions throughout the USA like the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, TX (“eventually on everyone’s bucket list”). HMMM…maybe not that one, but there are plenty of others to choose from!
4) Keep them busy!
Obviously, we have the advantage of electronics to keep the kids (and parents) occupied across the miles! Remember to charge up those video games, computers and DVD players (and don’t leave the cords sitting on the kitchen counter!).
Having a few new toys and books that the kids have never seen before will hold their attention far longer than a toy that’s been played with dozens of times already. Tracy recommends that you hold the toy or activity until you sense they have a need for additional entertainment. Click here for travel activity ideas for all ages and interests!
A road trip is a great opportunity to take the time to learn about maps, geography and national parks. Tracy often has the kids follow along on a map, encouraging them to ask questions and interact with the areas they are traveling through. She advises that many national parks have “Junior Ranger” programs to teach kids about the park, the plants & animals in the park and foster a love for exploration. Click here to learn more!
Slug Bug was great with my nephews but once my nieces started playing, "the slug" portion of the game just would not work. Since there is nothing more annoying than a loud “Stop touching me!”, change the game to “Volkswagen” or “Love Bug” to keep the kids from needing that first aid kit. Of course, many great road trip games exist that can be played by a variety of age groups, such as the “spot the state” license plate game, state capital game, and click herefor a few other favorites.
Some of the funniest movie scenes are of road trip family sing-alongs (i.e. Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation). But, Tracy explains that it truly is fun! It’s great when the kids are young and learning basic children's songs (let’s do “row your boat” one more time!). When her kids hit the pre-teen years, it was a great opportunity for her and her husband to share their love of 80's and 90's music. Educating your children on music "before their time” is a fun way to spend a few miles.
5) Use the fam time!
Throughout the busy school week and soccer-packed weekends, it's rare to have your kids as a captive audience. A road trip is a great time to talk to your kids about important subjects, have a family meeting or discuss the future of the family.
Now, it’s your turn to tell us your road-trippin’ story! What ideas do you have for a successful road trip with kids? Any horror stories?