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Tips for making long car trips with children easier

Well it is summer, most obviously! I know of many families either planning on vacations or currently traveling. With that thought in mine, here are some things I’ve discovered that make traveling with children more pleasant.

1) Make sure to have a change of clothes convenient for everyone in case of accidents. Even older children can spill drinks or get drinks spilled on them.

2) If you have a child that gets car sick, check with your pediatrician for medication that can help. However, be warned that most of that medication does make your child drowsy. Also, I’ve found that buckets that ice cream comes in are great to use in the vehicle, because of the lid (toxic containment). Enough said about that one — yuck.

3) If you’re taking along battery-operated toys, don’t forget the extra batteries or the charger. We also have a car charger for almost all of our electronic toys and phones.

John also found a car charger for our rechargeable batteries! Talk about being handy!

4) Small flashlights can be a lifesaver, if you have to be traveling at night. We have a standing rule that if you use the flashlight inappropriately such as shining it in your siblings eyes or shining it toward the front of the van distracting the driver then you loose your flashlight privileges.

5) Each of our children are responsible for taking along their own pillow and blanket — even by the age of two, our kids knew that when we pack our suitcases they needed to get their blanket and pillow. It works well to fold the blanket up and put it inside the pillow case with the pillow.

6) I also make our kids pack their own suitcases. When they were younger, I would give them a list of what they needed to bring and then check their cases for accuracy. As they have gotten older, I just tell them how many days to pack for, what we’ll be doing and if they need to pack anything special.

7) As for munching along the way, I try to keep this at a minimum. I do keep things like grapes, dried fruit, cheese cubes, cheese sticks, pretzels, peanut butter crackers, and gummies. For drinks, we try to stick to Kool Aid, and water, but we sometimes to let the kids do the soda thing too. I try not to give salty things early in the trip, because that makes the kids thirsty. Of course, that means more restroom breaks.

8) When it comes to meals while on vacation, we discovered several little tricks that help. First of all, we usually look for hotels that provides breakfast with the room. If we’re going to eat out we usually try to do it at lunch, because the meals are less expensive. We also try to find a buffet. Our kids eat better balanced meals at buffets. Let’s face it, anything is better than fast food restaurants.

OK, we’ve worked on feeding them, and packing them. What’s left — oh yeah. Entertaining them. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a DVD player in your vehicle sometimes you can still find yourself looking for something to keep the peace! As our kids have gotten older, it has gotten easier in some ways. However, we still have the occasionally battle especially when an eight- year-old gets bored and decides it would be fun to aggravate his sister or sisters. So we always have the promise of “if you keep this up then you can forget about doing (fill in blank with whatever they are wanting to do).”

We also found that younger children love surprises, even little ones. So when we take a long vacation that has a couple days of travel time, I pack surprise bags for each day.

I use plain brown paper lunch bags and put things that I’ve picked up on sale or at a discount store. I also label each bag with a child’s name and the day they are to receive them.

Some ideas of things to include are small notepads, pencils, colored pencils, activity books, new books from a favorite series, stencils, small toys, washable markers, cards, card games, magnet travel games, a few pieces of chewy candy etc.

Just a tip about markers, you can take a small shallow container fill it with plaster of paris, put the markers lid down in the plaster and let dry. The kids are less likely to loose the lids this way. If the lids pull out over time just glue them back in.

Things not to include in surprise sacks are play dough, silly putty, chocolate, crayons, ink pens, or ink stamps, toys with lots of little parts, gum and other things that are either messy or that will melt.

By the way, did you know silly putty can melt? It really sticks to the car seats when it does.

We also used to do car games when the kids were younger like see how many different state license plates you can spot. We do this as a family as opposed to individually to prevent the fuss of who saw the license plate first.

Pick a color of car and see how many cars you can spot of that color or make a list of colors and then tally how many cars you count of each color. I think it’s best to set a time limit and then have the kids “graph” the results. You get the bonus of sneaking in a “school” skill, too!

Of course, I know many of us bless the people who invented portable DVD players, I-pods, MP3 players, and DS‘s, etc. However, after a while even these things will loose their appeal, especially for younger children.

That’s when frequent breaks become a lifesaver. When our kids were younger, we would pack things like a soccer ball, Frisbee, or ball and glove and make use of rest areas to get out of the van and run off some energy.

And when all else fails, just repeat, “Children are a gift from God…”