We are getting ready to go on a massive road trip, with 4 kids ages 11 and under. That means lots of creativity has to happen on MY part or things will get ugly fast! We have traveled cross country MANY times, and we are kind of old pros at this kids in the car stuff (since we can’t afford to fly with so many family members). With this new trip coming up, I decided it was time to revisit my Mary Poppins bag of tricks and I thought I would share what I have learned over the years, and some favorite sites with good ideas as well. I am going to try some new stuff this time, for the older kids, and I’ll review those after we get back from our 10 day tour of the historical sites up the East Coast! FUN!
Here are my Top Ten Tricks for staying sane in the car with kids
#1– START EARLY! We put our kids to sleep in their clothes the night before (comfy clothes for traveling, like exercise shorts and yoga pants) and then we all go to bed early and get up early. Like 3-5 am early. The kids don’t always go back to sleep in the car, but they do doze and its quiet so they are quiet. We usually don’t even need stuff to entertain them this early, they just chill and look out the window. Its so nice. Then we eat breakfast when the sun comes up and start doling out the “entertainment” after that. Trust me, it may seem hard to get up and start early, but its SO MUCH BETTER than screaming kids from 6:30 on at bedtime who are tired of being in the car and tired of traveling. We get where we are going early in the day and it makes it so much easier for everyone.
#2– Eliminate or seriously cut back on the sweets, I know its tempting to fill your snack bag with goodies like fruit snacks, juice boxes, granola bars and dry cereal, etc. But sugar=energy. All that excess energy when you are boxed up in the car is NO GOOD. I’m totally a sugar person and I love to treat my kids to something sweet, but when you are traveling in a car, its best to save the sweets for the end of the journey- or right before you stop for lunch and are going to have time to run around and use up all those calories. Think of substitutions, like actual fruit, baby carrots, raisins, deviled eggs (a fav for us), peanut butter/graham cracker sandwiches, etc. We also try to avoid peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and opt for things like chicken salad instead. It makes a huge difference in my kids behavior. Also, avoid sugary drinks and soda especially. Go straight for water- less mess to clean up when they (inevitably) spill, and less excess energy.
#3– Use a rubbermaid Tub with a lid to pack your snacks, and put them under the shortest persons feet. This is going to have to be modified when my baby (she’s 3) gets bigger, but for now we put it under her feet, since they don’t reach. Then its with each reach of me, but it is all contained in one spot. I and my oldest son are the only ones with access to the box so messes are much less frequent.
#4– Divvy up snacks into small take and toss Tupperware with lids. Give them a variety- like some yogurt covered raisins, some cheese-its, some dried apples- etc. Then thats all they get for an hour or more. Once its gone- thats it until snack time comes again. Some of my kids eat it all at once, and some conserve it for later– its fun to see what they do and how they influence each other on this. Just be firm. If you give one kid a little extra because they are STARVING, you will soon be dishing out snacks non-stop. More messes, more fuss- more drama. You get the point.
#5– Buy an electric frying pan. Most rest-stops have outlets you can use at the picnic shelters and you can really vary up what you eat this way. PB&J gets old, and we don’t want that sugar anyway, remember? So instead you can have quesadillas! Throw a bag of shredded cheese and some tortillas in the cooler for lunch and take the time to stop. Bonus? While you are cooking up the food, your kids can run around and get their energy out. When you get back in the car you may be an hour behind, but you will feel refreshed and revived without the hassle of fast-food (or the mess).
#6– Lightly colored metal cake pans- 9×14 size. You can pick these up at walmart or the dollar store for pretty cheap, and they are GREAT! You will see tons of tips online about using cookie sheets, but cake pans are even better! Dry Erase markers work great for drawing (they are harder to erase, but baby-wipes work great) Magnets are fun, and they can color in them or play with cars/polly pockets, etc. Snacks and other treats stay confined in them as well. Just make sure you have one for each kid. One example of a game we play with these is the kids pass it up to me and I write words on it, then they have to draw a picture that uses the words I wrote. For little kids these means practice sounding out words, and for bigger it means creativity and fun with more complicated words (use a dictionary)
#7–Tickets This is a new one for us, and I’m really excited to try it. We have done “points” before- but its harder to keep track of. So basically I am going to give my kids a ticket per hour, and they can earn more tickets for good behavior- then treats/tv time/DVD time/iphone games etc will cost tickets. Tickets will NOT be taken away for poor behavior but I will only give tickets each hour to the kids on the sweet side of the clips– what clips? Well I’m glad you asked, because that brings me to #8
#8 —Kid Clips – Also a new one for us, although we have tried variations. I think mine will probably just be clothespins with sharpie names, but you get the picture.
#9 –Have the kid who gets to sit in the front be your “special helper“. That means helping with younger siblings, dishing out food, finding lost pacifiers, etc, etc, etc. They will love the privilege of the front seat enough that they won’t mind this little bit of extra work. Just make sure you give all older children an opportunity to serve in this special helper position, or fights may break out. I am a bit biased to my oldest child sitting in this seat, as he is the *BEST* helper, but I have to be fair to his younger brother…sigh.
#10 Read Aloud. We love reading books that the whole family can enjoy aloud, like Harry Potter, Tom Sawyer, Etc. Its so fun to practice making different voices and entertaining the kids when they are little, but as they get bigger and learn to read they can share in the reading aloud! This passes the time very very quickly for everyone involved- even the driver! Audiobooks are great, but there is something magical about reading it together yourselves.
#11- Travel pillows– buy cheap pillows, cut them in half and cover it with cute fabric for each kid. Voila! Personalized travel pillows. These are quick to sew, but cut down on the size and amount of pillow fluff in your car (which you know can get crazy) and they are easier to stuff under a sleepy head while kids are napping in the car. Plus, doesn’t cute fabric make everything better? I’ll try to post pictures of mine after I finish them!
#12- ORGANIZE I am working on organizers to hang over the back of each seat in the car to keep the kids
junk stuff creative instruments in. Things like crayons and coloring books, markers, etc. These tumble all over the floor so quickly when they are in bags that can fall over, be kicked, etc. I swear I spent HOURS of our last trip crawling around on the floor looking for favorite polly pockets or lost marker lids. I’m not doing that this time. Hopefully having pockets right in front of them will keep the clutter off the floor. WE shall see…
#13- Get the kids in on the planning. If they picked out a new pack of crayons, or cute notebook- they will be more vested in and excited about using it for the trip. Also start some traditions as well! One example is, we always tie-dye shirts for the whole family to wear on the trip. It’s fun for the kids, and makes it easy to identify errant children wandering in a busy crown while sight-seeing. Its also fun for pictures!
WISH ME LUCK! Traveling by car may be a necessity for us, but that doesn’t mean it has to be grueling! We love road trips, and our kids enjoy them as well. Hopefully some of our tips will help you too!