As summer draws to a close, now may be just the time to sneak in one last summer road trip before the kids go back to school. The weather is still warm, with plenty of activities available for you and your family. Hit the road today for the perfect kid-friendly road trip. If your kids have already started back to school, keep these tips in mind for fall or winter break.
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How to Plan A Kid-Friendly Road Trip
Long car trips can be difficult on kids. Let’s face it; they can be extra tough on adults if the kids get bored. How do you make sure your kids are ready for the trip and your car is ready for your kids? Here are some ideas for covering all the bases.
Make the Car an Extension of Home
Keep it neat and organized, but don’t sacrifice amenities. Lot’s of cup holders and handy storage areas in the car will give the kids a measure of control over their environment. The more control they have, the more contented they will be.
Pack in Pieces
Think ahead to what the kids will need. Group items in individual containers such as a small cooler for drinks, a bag for snacks, a shoebox of DVD’s, and a backpack for books. It is great to have a vehicle with enough interior space to keep all this stuff within your children’s reach. However, consider giving them access to only a few packs at a time. You can switch them out at rest stops. This will prevent attacks of short attention spans that lead to complaining and restlessness.
One of the best ways to keep the kids happy on a family road trip is to plan plenty of activities. While many vehicles today are decked out in rear-seat entertainment consider resorting back to old-fashioned family games that reigned supreme before the digital age. An involved game of I-spy or the license plate game are classics, but if you need more inspiration, check out this list of suggestions.
Focus on Flicks
If your car is equipped with rear-seat entertainment, be sure to bring plenty of movies.
Many family cars are available with integrated DVD players. This is a massive advantage on long trips. However, you should take charge of the Now Playing’ list. Pick out only a few feature-length films to hold their interest at least until you clear the next state line. If possible, pack movies that appeal to everyone. To take the experience up a notch, have a contest. Let the winner choose the movie. The contest could be answering math questions, spotting the first green VW Beetle, or the parental favorite “quiet game.”
Listen to Audio Books
A lot of families also enjoy sinking into a good audiobook on a road trip. Everyone can get involved, including the driver, and there is a plethora of titles available for download and streaming online. Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks. Some great audible books for families are:
You could take it a step further by having your children read a book out loud. To keep reading skills sharp, consider having the kids take turns reading passages of a book. But remember that reading in the car can make some kids nauseous, so be mindful if your child has a sensitive stomach.
Incorporate Your Child’s Interests
Most kids develop certain talents and interests at a young age. If your child develops a specific knack or talent, consider building an opportunity to enrich that interest into your road trip. Take advantage of all that a specific locale offers.
For example, a trip to the beach can easily accommodate a side trip to a marine park for a child interested in marine life, or a kid interested in politics may appreciate a stop at a state capital building. By following these tips, your kid family road trip will lead to lasting memories.
Keep a Focus on Safety
In order to take advantage of all the fun a family road trip can offer, parents must keep safety first. Here is a post on road trip safety tips.
A requisite for any road trip with kids is a child safety seat that is properly installed and within the expiration date. It may seem illogical that a car seat can expire, these dates can be critical, as the plastic components of a car seat deteriorate over time.
It’s also good to discuss designated meeting points with your kids in the event of separation. Make sure they know to stay close by if you encounter large crowds.
Make sure you have plenty of medication to soothe your child in the event they feel unwell or come down with a cold. It may also be a good idea to pack anti-nausea medication if your child is prone to motion sickness.
Stick to Your Child’s Schedule
If your child is on a regular schedule for eating, drinking, and napping, try hard to approximate that schedule on your family road trip. Some deviation will almost certainly be required, but by keeping a familiar schedule, you can keep your kids happier. A happy kid is a kid that is well rested and has plenty to eat and drink. One of the quickest ways to wreak havoc on your family road trip is to have a backseat of hungry and tired children.
While it’s good to keep kids loosely on their routine, a road trip is also a good time to build in plenty of flexible time. While adults may appreciate touring cultural attractions, young children have limited attention spans and a limited appetite for educational enrichment on a vacation. The key is to balance fun with learning.
Keep it Comfortable
Make sure you pack plenty of snacks and drinks for the whole family as it can be unpredictable when you will stop. In selecting restaurants, it likely will be a good idea to avoid locales that require quiet or are not kid friendly.
Be mindful, however, that a child may not be able to hold it for long if you encounter a long traffic jam. While making fluids available, limit their quantities or schedule regular bathroom breaks.
Blankets and pillows can also make the backseat a much more comfortable place for the kids. If you anticipate wide changes in weather or temperature, make sure to pack appropriate attire. Regardless, a light jacket or sweater can be good to have for cold restaurants or attractions.
Anticipate – and Enjoy – Detours
Some of the best moments of a family trip can come unexpectedly. Allow extra time for travel and in between activities in case your family decides to make a detour. Keep your eyes open for interesting stops along the way, and consider coupling detours with bathroom and refreshment breaks.
If you enjoy technology, there are now apps that help you locate points of interest along your route. A successful family road trip also requires a degree of flexibility and a willingness to go with the flow. Kids will naturally be disappointed when an anticipated event or attraction is cancelled or doesn’t materialize, have backup plans readily available.
Act and Interact
In her book Taking Back Childhood, noted child psychologist and author Nancy Carlsson-Paige admonishes parents to cut back on violent movies and games and promote open-ended play. So watch one movie (chosen carefully for content), then turn off the DVD player. Dr. Carlsson-Paige points out that children need opportunities to express themselves creatively in order to build mental abilities, strengthen emotional connections, and deal with issues they encounter that may confuse or disturb them. Here is where parents get to let their kids run wild while they are strapped safely into their car seats. Here is where you get to really connect with your kids while helping them develop appropriately and have fun.
In order to accomplish all these goals simultaneously, you only have to do one thing talk. More than anything else, this is the critical element of a low-stress car trip. Talk about school. Talk about extracurricular activities. Make up a new game. My favorite is ‘20 Questions.’ There is creativity and mental challenge for all participants in that game.
Talk about the birds and the bees. Dads, connect with the kids on sports. Moms, ask those questions you have been dying to ask about the new kid at school. Be creative. If you are creative, the kids will be, too. They will learn by your example. They will express themselves and explore their psychological environment. They will find joy in the journey, and they will grow closer to you. All in the back seat of the family car.