Editor's Note: Seasoned traveler and Clayton mom Karen Dawkins will be sharing travel tips here on Go Ask Mom on Mondays in June starting today. Dawkins has traveled around the world with her family on a budget. She writes about her experiences and tips at Family Travels on a Budget.
Luggage loaded. GPS set. Kids buckled. Let the whining... errrrr, I mean road trip.... begin! Summer vacations are great, once you get there. It's the driving that's tough. But it doesn't have to be that way. With some simple planning and just a slight shift in mindset, the journey can be as much fun as the destination -- no TV or videos required!
Here are some tips I've learned through the years to keep our road trips fun and frustration free.
Involve kids in planning. Young kids might not understand everything, but talking to them before the trip helps build their excitement. Show them the map of your route. Involve kids in tracking your progress on the map or watching for landmarks (tunnels, rivers, major buildings) along the way. Older, tech savvy kids can research dining options along the route, check for highway construction that might interfere, and make playlists for each leg of the trip.
By the time our second son was three, he knew more than ten major "landmarks" between our home here in Clayton and Columbus, Ohio. As we passed each one, he would announce the next landmark to expect. Our oldest makes a "Name that Tune" playlist for our trips. He plays a short clip of a song and we have to name artist and/or song title. Whoever gets the most right wins. Surprisingly, his seven-year-old sister usually wins the game. We all "win," though, because the game takes an hour or more and the kids don't even notice.
Kids need breaks. Adults tend to think "let's push through and get there quicker." Kids don't understand that idea. Used to running and sprawling (their preferred video game position), they have no appreciation for the adult approach. Sitting in one position, locked in by seat belts, they feel trapped. Instead of pushing through, plan to stop every two or three hours along the way.
We stop at rest areas that offer wide open spaces to toss a baseball, throw a Frisbee or play hopscotch. When my kids were younger, we blew bubbles to chase and pop. It only takes 15 minutes, but the payoff of less whining is well worth the investment!
Pack healthy snacks. Adults can go hours without food, but our kids can't. They get hungry fast, especially when they're bored. However, sugary and salty snacks lead to tummy aches and sluggishness. Instead, pack healthy snacks that fill them without dragging them down. Dried fruit, bottled water, nuts, string cheese, bananas, apples and baby carrots pack easily without needing prep time.
Now that my kids are older, they make the snack food grocery list for road trips. Of course, they always add cookies, candy and chips to the list, and I usually surprise them with one or two. Generally, though, they choose healthier options. More importantly, they don't complain when they peek in the cooler!
Read all about Karen Dawkins, a Clayton mom of three, on her blog Family Travels on a Budget. For more tips and ideas, read Surviving Are We There Yet? for traveling with young kids and Surviving Car Trips with Tweens and Teens.