Prepare For Your Next Road Trip With the Kids

This summer we're doing it, bringing our 2- and 4-year-old on a 12-hour road trip from Denver to Minnesota, and already I'm shopping online for used kid gear to make our travels go as smoothly as possible. However, to say I am totally prepared would be a farce, and I'm a little bit nervous how they will do sitting for hours in a confined space next to each other. Between the fights, the whining, the boredom and the endless pee breaks, will we survive?  That's why I've started my plan early and looking for the best way to go about this adventure.

After all, taking a road trip with kids isn't a new thing. Families drive with their children all over the country, from national landmarks such as the Grand Canyon to beach vacations in Florida to the ultimate road trip destination, Disneyland. No matter where you're going, here are some great ways to help make the voyage run more smoothly for everyone involved.

Plan it Out 

How far are you going? Will you stop along the way? What about food? It's good to try and answer some of these questions before they become dire needs, because, who wants to deal with a tired or hungry kid in the middle of nowhere. In fact, let your children help plan the trip by researching and choosing restaurants and attractions. This involvement will strengthen their overall investment in the journey.

"Plan your longest driving day for the first day of your trip when kids tend to have more patience," suggests Kihra Hekkers, the QA and Products Analyst for Good Buy Gear and mom of a 4- and 7-year-old. "And, be prepared to stop a lot to run around and stretch little legs."

Booking a hotel in advance proves useful too, just in case you stumble on an unexpected fair or event that has all the rooms in that tiny town taken. We always try to find accommodations with a pool since  we don't have one at home. Plus pools are great to get some exercise in, burn energy, relax a little and it can be an incentive for good behavior and patience along the way.

Older Kids vs. Younger Kids  

We all know each age has its trials and joys, and there's nothing like close confines to bring these out. If you're traveling with older kids it might be a little easier to keep them entertained. Of course there's tablets, headphones and novels, but another way to engage the kids is by sharing an audio book with them. Great options include the Junie B. Jones audio series and classics like Beezus And Ramona, Charlotte's Web, The Phantom Tollbooth and Because Of Winn-Dixie. And if your little ones aren't so little, the Harry Potter books on tape series can be a lot of fun too.

Now for the younger set. It's easy to find a tablet for a little kid too, though if you want to limit screen time try peppering the journey with family sing-a-longs and a simple I spy game. Because toddlers and preschoolers tend to have less attention span, short books on tape like the discs that come with the Skippy John Jones series work well. Same for shorter shows such as Daniel Tiger or Sesame Street, which you can download from Amazon Prime onto a tablet.

Another trick, says mom Jamie Bruce who has a 20-month-old son, "Stuffing smallish toys and fabric into an Oball for the baby to play with and pull out." Keep a couple in the front seat with you and when he's done with one, pass back another. And, if you're bringing a baby on the road trip, try a wrap-around car seat toy for his or her excitement and a mirror so you can see each other along the drive.

Pack a Toy Box 

"Bring lots of travel toys and hand them out one at a time when the kids get bored and crabby, not all at once," says Hekkers. "As with most toys, open-ended travel toys usually keep kids entertained for longer." Along this vein, she recommends blank paper books, colored pencils, stickers, chalk boards, and coloring books. But, warns Hekkers, don't bring crayons, as nice as they sound the soft wax easily melts in a hot car.

Put all of this in a sealable box to make it easy to move around (I like a simple plastic bin), and add other no-mess items such as the magic ink books and water coloring pads by Melissa & Doug, or the bendable Wikki Stix. Electronic learning devices prove useful too if you don't mind a little noise, including VTech's baby laptop or alphabet tablet , and Leap Frog's Mr. Pencil Scribble and Write, an electronic drawing pad. I Spy books are another fun way to pass time.

Also, bring bags of small plastic animals or figures for pretend play. Not only do these work well in the car (as long as your kids don't chuck them at each other), but the toys can go just about anywhere, from the car to restaurants to your hotel room. Best part, a lot of play things can be bought used or from an online consignment shop like Good Buy Gear, so you don't have to spend a lot of money to keep the kids happy. Save that dough for souvenirs.

Don't Under Estimate Silly Games

"Road trip bingo games are great for times when you want to look at the scenery but the kids want to play a game, they allow you to do both at once," says Hekkers, who recently took her kids to the Grand Canyon. "My 7-year-old loves the Melissa & Doug license plate game too. It keeps him entertained for days on end."

Other popular road trip games include the car version of Simon Says where you tell riders to make a silly face, scratch their elbow and other seated actions. There's the color game where everyone calls out the word "banana" every time you see something yellow, "tomato" for red objects, and "blueberry" for blue things. This can expand to a whole other slew of colorful fruit, depending on how into it the passengers are.

Older kids might like brain teasers, such as the game where you say a movie and they have to say another movie using one of the words from the one you said (works with books and songs too). For example, Beauty and the Beast, then Sleeping Beauty, then American Beauty and so on. Check out Minitime.com for even more great ideas for car trip games listed for kids by age. There's also the good, old fashioned magnetic boards to play with, which again are also useful out of the car.

What You Really Need

Snacks might be the most important thing you pack next to the clothes, any medicine and that toy box. Make sure all the food is easy to eat and not too messy. After all, a spilled, sticky fiasco will just make everyone grumpy. "Bring special snacks that aren’t common at home," suggests Bruce. "And, invest in a snack cup with a lid and a water cup that your child can use on their own." On the drink note, skip any sugary beverages (and food) since that will just make them more hyper.

Another thing moms and dads should consider packing is a portable toilet if you have younger kids. It's not uncommon to hear your 5-year-old shout out as you drive up a mountain, "Mom! I need the potty now!" On that note, wipes, paper towels and plastic bags to stuff soiled tissue in is a must. I have also found a couple towels to be useful for everything from cleaning up a mess, to soaking up spilled water to acting as a blanket/sun shade/pillow.

Of course in the end what you really need is a good attitude and the ability to be flexible. Kids, like roads, aren't necessarily straight and can go in so many directions. That's why it's smart to have a map, but sometimes you have to go where the wind takes you. Just as long as you're having some fun along the way. 

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