“Are we there yet – are we there yet — are we there yet…?”
What parent is not familiar with this ever-present anthem of the family road trip? It seems like kids from tots to teens know how to use this phrase to irritating proportions!
Keeping a kid quiet and entertained on an airplane for a few hours can be difficult enough, but in these tough economic times, more and more families may be opting for ground transportation when it comes time for the family vacation. Let’s face it, traveling with little ones is never easy, and it is that much more difficult by car, train, or bus.
I know of at least one set of parents that insists on loading their kid up on antihistamines before any trip of a few hours or more to make him sleep. Perhaps that works for them, but there are many far more creative, and healthy ways to make traveling with your tots not only bearable but even fun!
How to best keep your kids calm and also keep your cool while traveling will depend on their age. However, most experts agree that one of the best things you can do for kids of any age is to get them actively involved in the trip before you leave. That means making the time to discuss all of your travel plans with them, show them the route on a map, talk about the interesting things you may pass along the way, even ask them for some suggestions of where to stop. Empower your kids by letting them pack their own bags.
Think about making a “Vacation Book” before you leave to fill with photos and other memories along the way. For kids between the ages of 6-10, appoint them “official trip photographer.” Inexpensive digital cameras can be purchased for less than $50.00 and these provide hours and hours of entertainment as your little reporter documents your travels. Most of these cameras take stills and videos and have features that allow editing and special effects, that provide a lot of amusement as budding filmmakers create funny movies and pictures to share with friends and family alike. Of course, you can always have them do the same on your Smartphone!
Like any major undertaking, if you want to keep your kids calm and entertained while traveling, you need to do some pre-planning. Whether you are traveling by plane, train or automobile, pack a small bag of favorite books, games, treats and distractions for each of your children. This bag should contain their most favorite comfort items, maybe even that extra special jawbreaker, or other sweet-treat you would not let them have under any other circumstance!
Keep It Simple
OK, you have done just about everything you can beforehand to try to make sure your road trip doesn’t turn into the next installment of Chevy Chase’s “Vacation” Movies. So now that you are rolling down the highway, what can you do to keep everyone sane? Believe it or not, experts agree that many of the tried and true low-tech games still work well for children (and parents) of all ages. “I Spy” or “Find That State’s License Plate” can entertain a child on a road trip for miles and miles. For older kids, new spins can be made on these games, such as using that low-cost digital camera to capture images of specific things you ask them to “Spy” – or see if they know the capital of a given state found on a license plate.
Story games are always good, such as a “tag” story game, where one person starts the story, and the next picks it up and so, on and so on. We have been doing this game with our daughter in the car since she was five, and at 15 she still loves it, and we love seeing how her creativity and storytelling skills have grown.
Any parent knows kids from eight to eighteen love to ask questions, and when our daughter is in the car her natural curiosity seems to go into overdrive, and it’s just one question after another. So use that, with the Old Favorite – Twenty Questions. If your kids do not already know this game, don’t worry they will be a natural at it. Another License Plate game is have the kids see how many words they can make from the letters on the plates they see, one plate at a time.
When the games give up the ghost, don’t forget about the art of conversation. If you are like most families, the time you have during the rest of the year to just all be together, without other things to do, and just talk to one another, is limited. Well 5-10 hours in a car driving to grandma’s house, gives you a captive audience! Talk about what you would like to do and see when you arrive at your destination. If you have typically non-talkative teens, do your research before you go, and really try to find out about some of the things they are interested in, and use this time to really just talk – and not lecture!
Plan Interesting Stops
You are going to have to stop a number of times on any road trip for food, potty and sanity breaks. Make the most of them. Try having a picnic at a scenic or historical spot, instead of just running through a drive-thru. This again is something that can go into your pre-trip planning and that you can get your kids interested in. Google search “Americas Best Roadside Attractions” and you will be directed to some really interesting and bizarre “must see” sites along your route such as “The World’s Largest Peanut Monument,” in Georgia, or the “World’s Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.” Make a list of the ones you and your kids want to visit.
Don’t Neglect the Tech
A lot of kids today are tech savvy and are allowed by their parents to use handheld computers, smartphones, and video games all day long. Other parents have resisted the allure of such gadgets, and restrict or limit their kids’ exposure to technology and media. Not to make a value judgment on either lifestyle, but the truth is, when traveling, high-tech toys can be a godsend – at least until the batteries wear out! When our daughter was 9-years old, her use of technology other than for homework was severely limited at other times, but she would not travel without “Tabby” – her Tablet Computer. Portable DVD players, game consoles, MP3 Players, even a smartphone, can all provide hours and hours of not necessarily mindless entertainment for your kids while traveling.
It’s the Journey
American Author Greg Anderson is often attributed with the quote, “… Joy is found in the Journey, and not the Destination.” Admittedly, I am sure he did not have his 8-year old with him in the backseat when he said that! But, with patience and creativity, a dab of tradition, and some high-tech help, parents can make “getting there” so much better the next road trip!