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Are you planning a vacation with your kids and worried about the road trip part? As a veteran of many, many 500+ mile trips with kids, I can assure you, it’s not only a survivable undertaking but thrive-able one.
But before we begin, let’s establish a few things. First, if you’re traveling long-distance with very small children (0-4 years), I cannot lie to you. It will be unpleasant. Your best strategy is to travel at night while they sleep. If that’s not an option and you must travel during the day, do not do so without a video player and an impressive collection of Disney and/or Veggie Tale movies. I abhor putting little ones in a digital stupor, but it beats a Benadryl one and this is a special (read that: desperate) situation.
The second thing to establish is a mindset that your trip (with kids 5-15) begins the moment you leave your driveway, not the moment you reach grandma’s or wherever your destination is. That means the car trip, as an integral part of your vacation, is meant to be pleasant. Even fun. So plan to include what kids love during your road trip.The car trip, as an integral part of your vacation, is meant to be pleasant. Even fun. Click To Tweet
Kids love being consulted
You don’t have to figure this all out by yourself. Share your objective to make “getting there” as much a part of your family’s vacation as the destination. Ask your kids for their suggestions on what would make this fun for them and include the ones based in reality. (Unless you want to paint your minivan to look like Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine.) But it’s important, no, it’s critical to state your objective is also your expectation. So if this road trip is to be pleasant for everyone, whining and fighting are outlawed. They get one reminder before pre-determined consequences for non-compliance are implemented. You’re still parenting here.
Kids love food
Let’s be honest, so do parents. So if you want to make hours of car confinement more pleasant than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, pack lots of family favorite snacks, sandwiches, and drinks. Besides, bringing your own is more economical, and healthier, than roadside fast food.
Kids love and are motivated by money
Perhaps they’ll want some spending money for use wherever it is you’re going. My kids always asked to play our “Found It!” road-trip game because they could earn money playing it. I’d name two things they should look for and assign a financial reward for each commensurate with the level of difficulty I thought they’d have finding each. First one to spot the item collected the reward. For example, a boat in tow might be worth 50 cents; but a dead raccoon might only be worth 25 cents. A specific truck, like a furniture store truck, might be worth $1, but a bike rack on a car just 25 cents. I’d usually throw in one “big money” item, like a truck hauling live chickens or railroad ties, for $2. This game kept them alert but quiet for longer than you’d think.
Kids love adventure
If we spotted a sign along our way for some interesting or quirky roadside attraction, we’d stop to investigate. Once we saw a sign, I believe it was in Georgia, for The World’s Smallest Church. We were curious about that and had to see it. It was basically the size of a tool shed but had stained glass windows, a pulpit, and 12 chairs. They held weddings there. We took pictures and have memories of our 15-minute detour. It was worth 15 minutes of our lives.
Kids love old-school but don’t know it
I recommend spending part of your road trip down-grading the technology and listening to a kids mystery story on CD. Listening to a story will engage your children’s imaginations as they try to visualize what they’re hearing. And mystery stories are particularly good because your kids will be drawn in trying to figure out the solution. You can’t get anymore tried and true children’s mystery stories than The Boxcar Children* series. They’re classic. Teach your kids how to blend basic technology with imagination – old school style. (And it won’t make them car sick like reading in the car may.)
It’s not rocket science. Make getting to your destination an intentional, integral part of your vacation by including things your kids love, and road trips will be part of your family’s cherished memories.
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