You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent!

Family vacations…tips to survive the drive!

You are packed and ready to go, just the drive stands between you and vacation…change your mind-set, the drive is part of the vacation!  There are great family memories to be made driving together, games to be played, songs to be sung, picnic lunches to eat and talks to be had.  We drove to most of our family vacation destinations and we have many great memories of the miles we traveled.  My husband usually was on a mission on the way to our destination.  We had a very organized travel plan with hotel reservations in several places on the way.  We would cancel the reservation as we traveled through the city if all was well, but if we were pulling our hair out, we would stop!  This system worked well for us, and then we never were trapped without a place to stay.  We learned our lesson early on when we had a car sick child throwing up in his terribly upset sister’s sand bucket, and we wanted to stop but it was a Watermelon Festival with every available room booked in a 100 mile radius!  Who knew?!  Yes….the memories!

Here are a few tips for car travel:

  • Pack your car the day or evening before you leave.
  • Have a detailed travel plan with hotel reservations and planned breaks throughout the travel day.  Print out all your reservations and place them in a travel folder.   www.TravelMamas.com is a great website for travel tips.
  • Be mentally prepared, it takes much longer to travel with children!  A one day drive may take two!  Everyone is much happier if you do not push too hard and drive too far.
  • We covered the windows with sun shade clings…not roller shades that are dangerous if you have an accident.  The darker car helped for naps.
  • Stop at rest areas and have active play.  Bubbles, beach ball toss (the ball can be deflated and put back in the car) and tag.  Children can usually only handle a car seat about 2 hours maximum unless sleeping.  Plan for stops every couple of hours.
  • Be sure and have a blanket for infants to lay on and stretch and kick!
  • Use malls or play areas in fast food restaurants for active breaks if the weather is bad.
  • Hotels make great stops for potty breaks.  The lobby restrooms are clean.  Just walk in and thank them when you leave.  We have never been stopped!
  • Pack healthy snacks.  Keep a cooler with water, yogurt, fruit, cheese cubes, milk, humus, vegetable sticks and dip etc.  Crackers, dried fruit, peanut butter, toddler snack mixes, vanilla wafers, graham crackers and a few other treats will help pass the time.  Don’t encourage a lot of candy and juice; you will have a child with a tummy ache and “high” on sugar!
  • Plan to leave at night and travel when the kids sleep or for us, the better option was leaving very early in the morning.  That way we had slept prior to driving and were not totally exhausted when we arrived at our destination. We would carry the kids to the car in their PJs and get several hours of travel in before the sun would come up.  First stop was a breakfast picnic!  Travel a couple more hours, and it was lunch.  The kids would nap after lunch with some quiet music and then a stop again for a snack.  We would always plan an early stop in a hotel with a pool.  Nothing like a swim to get everyone tired and ready for bed.
  • Pack picnic meals.  You will usually be able to eat healthier, have familiar foods for the kids, combine lots of activity with the meal, and have more fun.  A few sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, vegetable sticks, and a treat is a fast and easy picnic.
  • Pack a separate bag with the necessities for an over night stay.  Pajamas, new outfit, toiletries.  One bag for the whole family for the night in transit.  This will be much easier than carrying all the luggage into the hotel room for one night.

Fun in the car:

  • Pack simple toys that are quiet.  Plan for about a toy every half hour of awake time.  Mix a combination of old and new toys.  Sometimes a surprise wrapped up in a gift bag is a great way to encourage a child to get back into that car seat to travel again after a break!
  • Crayons, washable markers, paper, and coloring books
  • Magnetic games
  • Magna Doodle, Aqua Doodle
  • Magnets work great on a cookie sheet or a Magna Doodle
  • Stickers, sticker books, Colorforms or any reusable sticker that can be placed on windows of the car
  • Bubbles for rest stops..we have been known to break them out in the car too!  Worked great!
  • Beach balls to play with at rest stops…they can be deflated for the car.
  • Books on tape
  • Music, a combination of energetic fun music and calming restful music
  • Board books, story books
  • Puzzle books for older children
  • Small figurines, Playmobile pieces, match box cars
  • Finger puppets
  • Ravensburger Ribbon Puzzles  These are cardboard puzzles with pieces that are attached by ribbons.  No missing pieces!
  • Blue painters tape…kids love to play with tape!
  • Pipe cleaners  Kids love to bend them into shapes and you can string Cheerios on them to make bracelets.
  • Portable DVD player (even though I am not in favor of a lot of “screen time” for small children, they can be life savers)
  • Head to a Teacher’s store, the Dollar Store, the dollar aisle at Target, or any educational toy store for other ideas that are easy to transport and inexpensive.

After you make your “travel fun bag” keep it for future trips.  The kids will look forward to the quiet toys every time you travel.

Motion sickness:

Children may start to have problems with motion sickness during the toddler years.  If your child starts to get a bit “green” here are some tips.

  • Make sure your child’s tummy is full with low fat high carbohydrate food.  No greasy burgers, stay with crackers and fruits.  Keep something in your child’s tummy.
  • Keep your child in the middle seat if possible and looking straight ahead, not out a side window.
  • Don’t have your child color or read, looking down with the car in motion can trigger car sickness.
  • Keep the car cool and the air fresh.
  • Cool wash cloths on your child’s head or back of his neck may help.
  • Encourage your child to sleep.
  • Sipping a carbonated drink.  Ginger and peppermint will sometimes calm nausea.
  • Stop the car and let your child out to walk around for a bit.
  • Dramamine is an option, check with your doctor.

So…pack those bags and the car…children do just fine when you travel smart.  There really is something about a long drive that bonds a family together.  Even vacation disasters can become treasured memories in years to come.  Did I tell you about the time that the front of our van got hit by lightning and it flattened the two back tires?!….Yes, it EVENTUALLY became a great family memory! One of the kids won an essay contest with that story!  You will survive, you will have fun, and the kids will have great memories…I promise.

Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.


1 Comment

  1. Great tips! My family and I recently made a long trip to Duluth, MN, to visit an indoor water park there that my kids have been begging to go to. The kids had never been in the car for such a long period of time and motion sickness was a major issue on the way. I wish I would have found this post months ago.


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