Got a long road trip in your future? One that includes young children?
Here are a few tips for smooth sailing (well, for driving–I don’t know how to sail) that I codified after a successful trip earlier this month from Sacramento, CA to Colorado Springs and back. Many, but not all, of these tips assume at least two adult travelers. Someone has to administer the beatings–I mean, navigate for the driver and distribute goodies to the Backseaters.
The trip was a success largely due to my son not having any potty accidents on any play structures at any McDonald’s. But also…
Tips for In the Car
1. Let’s cut to the chase: iPhones. Favorite games on the digital pacifier this year included Cut the Rope and the movie tie-in game Truffula Shuffula (Dr. Suess’ The Lorax).
2. Sesame Street Platinum Hits. SO much better than Wee Sing’s synthesized instrumentals and auto tuned vocals. Hilarious, clever, and gosh darn honest.
Cookie Monster: C is for cookie. What are some other words that start with C? Oh, who cares about those other things–C is for cookie!
The kids liked the songs but mostly they liked watching mommy snot herself laughing to The Count’s Latin disco track about counting sheep, “Lambaba.”
3. StoryNory. This podcast from the UK has classic tales such as The Secret Garden and Rudyard Kipling’s Just-So stories, as well as an original series called Katie the Ordinary Witch. We love it.
4. Pack picnic food and a camp stove, and eat in public parks. This lowers the chance of potty accidents at McDonald’s considerably. My partner and I have gotten very good at sniffing out good parks for the kids to wear themselves out in (actually, see #1 above. Map function on iPhone).
5. Bring condiments. Mac-n-cheese = kid food, but with hot sauce = grownup food.
We like to alternate camping with hotel stays. Camping is good for shorter drive days and after a day of touring a specific attraction. You can arrive while it’s still daylight and get the tent set up. Hotels are good for crashing in after a long road day.
6. Take advantage of the facilities. A beer after a long drive is so refreshing. How about enjoying it in peace and quiet?
Also, why not give your little one some shower toys that also function as plates and cups?
Did you know a hotel tub, when dry and filled with pillows, is a fine place to have a late-night chat and perhaps another relaxing beverage with your partner? Date night!
Out and About
7. And on that note, date night! Our kids are often in day care, school, or other activities and frankly, we are not used to spending unstructured blocks of time longer than a weekend with them. Doing so on a family vacation is fun but also exhausting. Back before kids, vacation meant plenty of boom-chicka-bow-bow, and now, well…
If you’re visiting family or friends for more than one night then I say you can humbly, politely ask them, while proffering gifts of sweets or wine, to take the kids while you and Dearest have a night out.
8. Have goals. Some ideas: Get the tent up in less than 10 minutes. Collect license plates. Collect National Park passport stamps and Junior Ranger badges. Goals add structure, and kids need structure.
9. Consider a fitness program at least a few months before your trip, especially if traveling in high heat or altitude conditions. I was dizzy at the start of our 2-mile hike at 10,000 feet in Nevada. Guess what? So were my kids. I really wanted to see that beautiful lake, so I’m glad I was able to suck it up and carry my two-year-old piggyback for part of the way.
10. Buy them stuff. All kids get the I-wants; you can’t avoid it. By saving a little money on our picnic dining plan we were able to buy some great educational I-wants, including a set of small desert-themed figures. Our daughter used them to make a stop motion music video in which the coyote chases a hiker and a cactus, in turn, chases a Stellar’s Jay. We also like the Who Pooped in the Park? books, which tie in geography-specific animal droppings with a fun story.
Forget those junky gender-role-stereotyping Happy Meal toys forever!