During the summer I hear a lot about vacations from other families. Things like, "I am really looking forward to our trip to the beach, but it is four hours in the car with the kids, ugh." I just giggle to myself. We take a 12 hour car trip with the Personal Assistant twice a year to visit family, and believe it or not, it's mostly enjoyable.
Basic road trip with kids survival.
- Drive as much as possible during sleepy times and naps. For us that means leaving at least 2 hours before our son usually wakes up. We pack up everything but a change of clothes and toiletries the night before, and put a still pajama-ed, mostly sleeping kiddo in his car seat and drive.
- Stop for meals. We try to eat breakfast at a diner near a grocery store, or just stop for breakfast at a grocery store with a bakery and cafe. The grocery store is preferable because it is cheap and early (7:30ish) on a Saturday morning pretty empty. Which means we can let the Personal Assistant bun some energy running up and down the aisles (with supervision of course) without bothering anyone. We then pick out some road snacks and something fun to toss in the cooler for lunch, and use the bathroom to change kiddo into his clothes. Really, early morning grocery is the perfect rest stop.
- Time driver changes and rest stops around your kid's mood. If he needs a diaper change, everyone must at least try to pee, because if he is playing nicely, or sleeping, the car will not stop. Obviously, this is easier with one kid, but the basic premise is to plan to put your kid's needs before your own. Pack snacks, caffeine, and some conversation prompts to help the driver stay rollin'. Of course, if someone is too tired to drive we switch, but it is Chinese-fire-drill style.
- Eat lunch at a park. Almost every little town has one and there is usually people to watch, play equipment, and somewhere to sit. It is a great chance to run some energy out before the afternoon nap.
- Most importantly, plan ahead for the melt downs (more on this in a minute). They will happen, your reaction will determine wether or not the trip is fun, or miserable.
- Be willing and able to bail anytime after the halfway point. We plan our route to be near to friends and family in case we need to stop for and extended time like an hour, or overnight. The last stop of the day on the return trip is usually at the in-laws, about 2 hours from home. (We have family at that point in the trip on the way up too.) We usually plan to eat a leisurely meal and let the Personal Assistant be chased around by the grandparents while the Hubster and I recharge our batteries. Sometime around kiddo's bedtime we are ready to hit the road again, with him in PJs and ready for sleep. If we just can't, we can always spend the night, because we NEVER travel on the last day of vacation. We plan to spend the last day of vacation at home, unpacking and getting back in to routine. But if we have to, we can stop at a hotel or relative's house for the night anytime after the half way point and try again the next day. Takes a LOT of stress out of the drive.
Meltdown prevention plan.
I pack an awesome box of fun for our trip, and the Hubster loads up the iPad with new (non-annoying) videos like Sesame Street, Sean the Sheep (our fave), and Thomas. There are also age appropriate games, animated books, and puzzles, but the iPad is our distraction of last resort, because screen time gets boring, but DOING something (mostly) does not.
- The first line of defense is the car-tainment basket that is always available. It contains thin paper and board books, alphabet flash cards, a deck of "Cars" playing cards (for numbers and looking at cars), coloring books and crayons, a few small toys or stuffed animals that get rotated, and a game we call noodles and poofs. A small metal jelly roll pan serves as a lap desk, crayon holder, magnet board, and general play surface. The basket sits next to the car seat so he can help himself.
Noodles and poofs is just a parm cheese container filled with pompoms and pipe cleaners. He can dump them on his tray, then spend hours (no joke) fitting them back in the small cheese shaking holes. It is brilliant.
- The second line of defense is the prize box. Basically I take the trip (12 hours) minus nap times (4 hours) and divide by the Personal Assistant's average attention span (15 minutes tops) and that gives me the number of unique activities he will need to stay occupied (32). Holy cow. Don't panic. Subtract 4 for an hours worth of activities he is familiar with, and 8 for two hours worth of iPad time and you get a more reasonable number (20). Prizes are given for good behavior, ("You were really polite at that rest stop, have a prize!") preventing boredom, ("You have ants in your pants! A prize will help!") and previous good behavior as a melt down starts, ("I know you are feeling _____ right now, but gee, you were really good at that rest stop, have another prize!"). Prizes are wrapped, because that makes them more prize like, and unwrapping takes up more time, and makes him calm down enough to focus on unwrapping to get at the new item, as opposed to rejecting it out of had because he is in a bad mood.
Before a trip I sort through the stuff, and pick out what is age appropriate and interesting.
Thin books head straight for the basket, because they would probably get ripped if they were wrapped.
The rest gets wrapped in bright tissue paper with fun (painter's) tape.
Things I am excited for this trip are toobs, they are great because they are like ten little toys in one.
Melissa and Doug "Water Wow!" painting book (paint with water to see colors, then let dry and paint again!)
Melissa and Doug Lace and Trace (this was a splurge item).
And some Crayola activity books from the dollar area at Target. Part reading, part picture book, part coloring book...should be pretty engaging.
Here's my prizes all packed up in a diaper box. It will sit in the trunk, and I will sneak a few up to my seat whenever we stop. The "P" marks the penguin toob, which I will give him when I play Happy Feet and serve popcorn. It is his favorite movie, so that should be fun!
In the past, I have not used all of the prizes, so they get set aside for future trips or hidden in the trunk for those days when you are out running errands and nothing is going right. I only ran out of last summer's prizes a month ago, so the effort lasted well beyond the initial road trip.
Happy Vacation to you and keep on rollin'!