Ah, summer time is almost here. Summer promises long stretches of sunshine, trips to the beach and, well, long car rides. If you’re like most parents, the most dreadful part of the summer is that long trip to and from your destination. That’s not just true for car trips, either! Ferry rides, flights and bus trips all carry the same daunting stigma.
If you feel like you’re fresh out of ideas, read on for a few tips and tricks to keep the kids entertained while you’re on the go. After all, getting there is half the fun!
Play Word Games
It’s possible that you might think this is the dorkiest suggestion ever. But hear me out. Playing word games on the road serves a few purposes. It just depends on what you play.
You could fall for the old “license plate letter” game, which dictates that the first person to find all the letters of the alphabet on the license plates of passing cars is the winner. Let’s be completely honest, though. What kid in his right mind wants to spend his drive checking out the backsides of others’ cars. No kid, that’s who.
Instead, do it a little differently. My kids play a very simple game when they’re getting a little drowsy. We simply pick a category, then go through the alphabet. For instance, we’ll choose the category “vegetables.”
Child 1: Broccoli
Child 2: Cucumber
Me: Ummm…. Dill??
Games like these don’t last forever, of course. But they will get the kids to stop arguing, and it’s fun when the kids challenge the parents. (Apparently “dill” is not a veggie.)
Visit a Child-Approved Landmark
When I was smaller, we used to vacation in Maine for a few weeks each summer. Maine is a gorgeous state – simply incredible. So incredible, in fact, that my parents decided they wanted to stay.
For about a week (or so it seemed) of each of our vacations, we three kids were put in the back of the family station wagon as my parents toured the state in search of property to buy. Finally, we all began to protest loudly. We wanted to go to the beach!
As a compromise, my parents allowed each of us to choose one landmark either in the area or along the route home to visit. The result? I’ve seen the world’s largest globe, the world’s largest pair of concrete legs, the Lizzie Borden House, and much more.
If you need a little help, visit RoadTrippers.com. The site covers the United States, Australia and New Zealand; just plug in a route and some darn cool landmarks along your route will show up. There are sites like this in other nations, too. Just do a little Google search and see what’s available!
I’m not usually one to advocate for plunking kids down in front of electronics. I’d much rather see a child running around outdoors, turning over logs and splashing in the mud.
But sometimes, if you can’t beat ‘em, you’ve got to join ‘em. Or, to use a different cliché, desperate times call for desperate measures.
In other words, there’s nothing wrong with downloading a movie to your tablet before you leave the house. Stick that puppy on in the back seat, then enjoy an hour and a half of silence. Again, a particularly good trick for when your kids are arguing over something silly.
Books are certainly another option, but remember that some kids get horribly carsick if they read while riding in the car. Nothing will make your trip go sour more quickly than pulling off to tend to a child who’s turned green.
Pack Plenty of Snacks
I only kind of mean bribe your children with food. Kind of.
Be creative with your snack packing. Be sure to include the obligatory apples and crackers, but sneak a few Snickers bars in there, too. It’s okay to indulge every now and then, and your kids will find the trip that much more special if they’re permitted treats they don’t (and probably shouldn’t) otherwise have.
The trick is to make it a surprise. If my kids are whining that they’re hungry, there’s a darn good chance they just want to get out of the car. They’re bored. So instead of waiting for their complaints, every now and then I’ll reach back behind me and toss them each a little Hershey’s Mini.
They love it that much more because it’s such a little surprise, and the funny thing is they’ve never asked me for one of their own volition. I think they know I love surprising them just as much as they love Mr. Goodbar.
Talk to Them!
Your kids may call it entrapment. I call it “convenient proximity for conversation.” No matter which camp you’re in, a long trip is a great opportunity to talk to your kids.
You don’t have to talk about your hopes and dreams and wishes and deepest secrets. Talk to them about baseball. Or about what they want to do when you all get to your destination. Talk to them about their favorite color, for all I care.
The one thing, however, that you do not want to do is talk to your kids about anything that’s going to sound confrontational. If you do this, it really is kind of like entrapment. It makes the trip uncomfortable for everyone. In other words, the car ride from Missouri to Florida is not a good time to bring up your daughter’s grades.
Stick with the Classics
Before you go on your trip, stock up on little toys you can bring along. Everyone from the babies to the teens can find something to fiddle with in the car. For babies, you’ll want to keep the frustration to a minimum, so make sure you’ve got some clips for her toys and non-spill drink and snack cups.
For the older ones, check out the magnetic games you can buy – you’ll find everything from BINGO to Monopoly in itty bitty versions, perfect for travel.
Most of all, don’t stress! Remember that the journey is part of the fun of it – life happens while you’re in the car just as easily as it does once you reach your destination!