So I had a post planned of tips for travel with kids. Turns out I already wrote it. The good things is that, I still agree with myself and the advice I gave. This trip was different than others we’ve taken in that there was so much driving. So go read the other post and then come back for 10 more tips.
1. Pack special things just for the car ride.
We knew we’d have some very long days in the car and even on the shorter days it would be a lot of driving from the kids’ perspective. We hit up several dollar stores and the dollar bins at Target and packed a tote bag full of little items we knew we could pull out when needed. The favorites by far were Silly Putty and some Chinese yo-yos. Ruth also enjoyed crayons, stickers and a pad of paper. We actually overpacked and came back with a lot of items left over. We ended up putting most of them in our Operation Christmas Child boxes which worked nicely. We didn’t want to take a lot of other toys on the trip but we did have a bag with a few small toys for Ruth that we could pull out when needed.
We were also blessed by H’s sister who packed a bag of snack food gifts. Each package was wrapped and the kids knew they could only open one a day which added to the excitement. We saved these for when Ruth was particularly grumpy and it was amazing how a bag of gummy alphabet candy could turn things around.
2. Use technology wisely.
We’ve always been a strict non-DVD player in the car family. But we knew this trip would be more challenging. We typically listen to audiobooks in the car on trips (and really all the time). But this has gotten more challenging as the types of books the boys like has diverged and Ruth isn’t really at the stage where she enjoys listening. When we are a home and listening on short car rides I feel like they can learn to listen to something the other person likes but we knew it would be an issue on such a long trip.
Before we left we purchased two (slightly used) Kindle Fires and I loaded them up with free audiobooks from Audible.com (they were having a special offer on some classics) and with audiobooks from our local library. Sometimes the boys both listened to the same book, using two sets of headphones, but they had the choice to listen to things on their own.
The Kindle Fires also have a few games on them. Angry Birds being the favorite of the kids. We allowed them to play when we had exhausted other options and we knew they were tired and bored. I’d say they played more than we might have liked but much less than they would have chosen on their own. And finally, we brought along our laptop and a few DVDs for Ruth to watch. We saved the DVDs for the handful of days when we had very long drives (6-9 hours) and brought it out when we knew we were on the last couple of hours of our day. I think we used it 4 times out of the 15 days which seemed about right to us.
We also allowed the kids to take photos. David loves taking pictures and this was the number one thing for him to do to keep from being bored. (He turned 6 on the trip and his present was a camera but prior to that he used an old camera of H’.s) Ruth could use my iPod touch or the old camera.
3. Stop and get out of the car. A lot.
On average we stopped about every two hours. Sometimes more. This trip took a LOT of planning, almost exclusively done by H. He had mapped out how much time we’d be in the car each day and had made sure to look for places to stop and things to do along the way. A detour to see Foamhenge. Many stops along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Or sometimes just a quick stop to stretch legs and get a snack and go to the bathroom.
4. You can always find a playground.
We first learned this lesson when we traveled to Paris with John when he was 18 months old. I think sometimes when traveling it’s easy to focus on the “must see” destinations in a city and forget that real people live there. People who have kids. Kids who go to the playground. Playgrounds or parks are an easy and free way to give the kids a little free-range time and to interact with the locals instead of just other tourists. On this trip we enjoyed playgrounds in Nashville and Alabama and Vicksburg and New Orleans and Atlanta.
5. Stay with friends when possible.
We were very blessed to be able to say with friends for 6 of the 14 nights we were gone. This obviously has the benefit of saving money but it also had other benefits. Most of the people we stayed with cooked us dinner and gave us breakfast (more money saved) which provided a great relief from constant eating out and was almost always healthier. From the kids’ perspective they also got to play a lot more when the people we stayed with had kids. Amy’s girls immediately introduced my boys to their board game stash. A sweet older cousin in Nashville allowed Ruth access to all her dolls while the boys played basketball with their newly discovered 8 year old cousin. Our last night on the road we stayed with H.’s college roommate. His two high-school aged kids were wonderful with our kids. The boy played some kind of rough battle type game with my boys that they loved and the girl patiently played Candyland with Ruth.
We did also stay in hotels, which our kids love for the novelty (although not so novel now). The mixture of staying with people we knew and hotels was just about perfect.
Come back tomorrow for 5 more Tips for Travel!