Kids and Road Trips Part 1: Planning

Photo Credit: Brittany Randolph CC Lic.

Along with all the valuable aspects of a family road trip are the challenges that arise when families spend so much time together, in the enclosed space of a vehicle.  My experiences, both as the child growing up and as the mom responsible for vacation planning taught me quite a bit.

As the mom, I was determined to come up with a solution to the “riding in the car all day long” blues.  I developed quite an extensive list of “good ideas” and “really bad ideas that seemed good at the time”.  These ideas, both the good ones, and maybe a few of the “flops” may help you to make these days a little easier.

THE BIGGEST LESSON I LEARNED WAS: Planning and structuring that time minimizes the irritation points that can happen so quickly on driving days.

In this era of videos and computers in our cars, that might seem like an easy fix to the doldrums of a day in the car.  My opinion, however, is a bit more skeptical.  I really didn’t want the kids spending 10 straight hours watching videos.  I never allowed that at home, and I didn’t want it happening on vacation either. Not only does it turn brains to slush, but it also negates the family time of a vacation. My kids still got their video time…but it was  limited, not constant.

The old adage that I’ve used so often on this blog applies here

Fail to Plan…and You Plan to Fail.

The  Key is to occupy their minds.  An occupied child doesn’t whine, fuss with siblings,  etc…  but to keep them occupied takes a plan.

The Plan:

  • Leave at a time that is conducive to sleeping:  I’ve known families who begin their long trips at 10 pm….The kids sleep all night long and wake up the next morning

    Photo Credit: Emran Kassim on Flickr CC Lic.

    at their destination.  That’s great if it works for you…. but it would have never worked for my family.  Instead, we left home on the first day at 5 am.  Our little angels were scooped up and placed in the car, still in their pj’s, and they usually slept for the first 150 miles!!!  (Driving days are measured in “miles”, not “hours”.  )

  • Breakfast in a Bag.  We began this idea several years ago and it works great for mornings when we either have just left home, or stayed at accommodations without a breakfast provided. (National Parks, et al.) It also is a great “time-user” which is our goal in occupying minds.  🙂snacks for travel

    Breakfast in a Bag is a paper sack (though you could put it in anything) that contains various breakfast items such as muffins, fresh fruit, individual fruit/applesauce, cereal {my kids always preferred it dry} bagels, pop tarts or fruit/granola bars.  Personalize it to your family’s likes.  Everyone always had their water bottles, so that was taken care of.  I topped the sack off with plastic spoons (if needed)  and napkins, and we were set.

I have a few old cloth placements that stay in the glove compartment of the car, and we use those as lap towels when we eat in the car. When we’re finished, the crumbs can be shaken out the window and the car stays a little cleaner. 🙂

  • Finally…..I am “sold” on this idea, because of the success it has given us.  I LOOSELY schedule the day…  Should I repeat “loosely”?  I have a general idea of the “suggestions” I’m going to make to my kids on Monday morning….Tuesday morning….Wednesday afternoon, etc..  Though I don’t use a timer or stop watch, ha!  I know how long each activity will occupy them….and I’ve planned the day.  They don’t even know that I’ve planned it out.  They think that their ‘really cool mom’ just happened to come up with another ‘really cool idea’ at the exact moment  they were tired of the last ‘really cool idea’.   No need to tell them any differently.

What Sorts of Things Do I “Suggest”?

  • Read Aloud Time: I read aloud from a chapter book. If possible, I find a children’s classic that relates to our vacation (I’m an avid children’s literature guru, so I thoroughly enjoy this “hunt”) 🙂
  • Family Games on Road Trips:  This post describes quite a few car games.  Add this to your personal list of favorites.
  • Family “Bonding” Time: We may read from a favorite joke book (or Shel Silverstein poems) or just talk (great when they were teens and talking time was so rare) Sometimes we would get into a “giggle-fest” (an invention of our own making).  This can be anything you want it to be.
  • “Writing Stuff”:  Coloring books and colored pencils, (NEVER crayons that would inevitably be left in a hot car….) handheld pencil sharpener.

    Photo Credit: Barb Watson CC Lic.

    Travel Journals (I’ll write a post on that someday)    Puzzle books (I love Usborne books)

  • Card Games;
  • Pen and paper games like Tic Tac Toe  (bring a spiral notebook to keep the paper ‘contained’)
  • Tents!!! When my kids were younger, they LOVED to build tents in the backseat and would play in them for hours!!! It was ok with Dad as long as it didn’t obstruct his view 🙂 I always brought an old sheet on vacation.  (It folds thin and has MANY uses)
  • Individual Reading Time: Silent reading has been a regular part of our home since the kids learned to read. Though they were not always ‘readers’ by desire, I required it of them – and continued that during vacations. They always get a snack during this time, so that made the idea a little more appealing.

Photo Credit: Brecken Pool on Flickr CC Lic.

As I said before, I know the approx time each of these activities will “occupy minds” (reading aloud – 45 min.; puzzles —  30 min.;  a new car game is good for another 30 min.;  etc…) and I “loosely” schedule accordingly.

NOTE:  Many times, videos were pulled out right before lunch.  We were often looking for a rest area for a picnic and if we had to drive a little past lunchtime in search of one, the video would occupy them and keep those hunger pangs at bay.   (Just Fyi, during all those years and family vacations, though there were sometimes CLAIMS of ‘starving to death’  before the lunchtime stop, no one ever actually did.  We have a 100% “return home with everyone alive” rating.  🙂  )

After lunch was Quiet Time.  This lasts 1 hour and is something we have done in our home since the kids gave up naps around the age of 3.  We continued it on vacations.  Perhaps, it’s importance is magnified on vacation when we are with each other 24/7 and that “personal” time is sooo important.  They can read, ‘think’, stare out the window…whatever they want….they just have to be “quiet”.  It’s the all-important “down” time. Sometimes they (or I) would drift off to sleep – which made the hours pass even quicker.  🙂

The remainder of the afternoon was for videos –or backseat tents….unless I felt a need to “suggest” more activities.  As I said, everything is loosely planned/scheduled.

Schedule:  (I found this while going through my vacation records from years past.  This was a trip to FL when the kids were pre-teens.  It will give you a general idea of how I planned it.  Remember, this is a LOOSELY followed schedule… no stop watches or  timers.)

  • 5 am Leave home  (kids dressed in pajama pants and tshirts)
  • 7:30 (approx.)  Everyone begins to wake up!  🙂  (except for Dad who has been  awake since 3:30 this morning)
  • 8:00 (or when we find a rest stop)  Stop at a rest stop to get dressed and prepared for the day; go to restroom and get breakfast items out of the trunk
  • 15 min. later:  (OK…honestly, it usually took longer, but I can dream, can’t I??)   back on the road with breakfast in the car
  • 9:00 Puzzle books  (My kids LOVED puzzles/brain twisters at this age)
  • 9:30  Family game – car game
  • Sometime mid-morning – probably around 10:30: Fuel stop – everyone to the restroom (REQUIRED)  and to stretch legs
  • After Fuel stop:  Family Reading time – read 1-2 chapters out loud
  • 11:30 (time approx) Joke book (because of the age of my kids at this time, they were “in” to joke books.  We brought a couple on the vacation)
  • 12:00  (or until we find a rest stop for lunch)  videos or computer/phone games to fill the gap…
  • Lunch stop/restrooms/refill water bottles
  • 1 hr later??:  Back on the road – QUIET TIME for 1 hr.
  • 1 hr later:  Travel Journals
  • 30 min. later: Silent reading – with a snack
  • Videos or computer games until we get to our destination

This was just one day on one vacation, with age appropriate activities planned.  Of course I have no idea (memory) how closely we actually followed this schedule, but it was a guide that I assume we followed “loosely”.  🙂

They always got  to watch their videos or play the computer games.  They just didn’t get to be a recluse and non-communicative with the family for 10-12 hours while feeding their brains on mindless activities.  This idea of planning worked well for us for many years….  The plan was modified as they grew older and their needs/interests changed, however, the basic idea of mom having another ‘really cool idea’ up her sleeve never ceased.

Kids and Road Trips Part 2.


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