“Aaaah! She’s bothering me!!” wails my son from back seat.
“He hit me!” follows instantly.
“What now?” I ask.
“She breathed my air!” the little one shouts back.
“There’s enough air for everyone,” I answer. “Let’s play a game…”
After over three weeks of holidays, I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to think about cooking. Luckily, in addition to plenty of kitchen time, I spent a large part of the last month on the road with family trips. Travelling with any number of children can be stressful. If the above conversation sounds familiar, the tips below may help you make the most of family fun time, unless, of course, the kids breathe each others’ air.
- Plan ahead.
This includes knowing where you’re going and how long it will take you to get there, as well as packing up any necessary gear, hats, water bottles, and snacks well in advance of the time you want to be piling into the car. My husband was shocked that I managed to get out of the house for a day trip with five kids last Chanukah at 8:30 am. It was this trick that allowed us to get out efficiently, before the kids got caught up in the middle of a game at home or got hungry for a snack before everyone was ready to go. Part of planning ahead is also knowing your family rhythm and pace. If you know it will take you two hours to get out the door in the morning, no matter how much you pack up the night before, planning the impossible will only cause frustration. For young children who nap, if a whole day activity is too much, consider a half-day activity, leaving after lunch, at naptime, so the kids will sleep in the car and arrive at the destination refreshed and energized. Alternatively, leave early and end the outing with lunch, and allow the kids to sleep in the car on the way home.
- Send everyone to the bathroom as close as possible to leaving.
Everyone includes the adults. Parents can sometimes be so focused on getting the kids ready that they forget about themselves. While they can usually wait better than the little ones to arrive at the destination, less personal discomfort means more patience for handling traffic jams and children’s squabbles in a calm and patient manner.
- Eat before leaving home.
If you don’t allow eating in the car, this is crucial to starting the kids off in a good mood, unless they get motion sickness. Like Tip #2, this will give the parents the energy and patience needed to deal with cranky children squished into a metal box on wheels for an extended period of time. Don’t count on eating on the road. You will likely be too busy to eat properly. If you are the driver, eating while driving may also distract you from focusing on the road and driving safely.
- Have an arsenal of age-appropriate car games and songs memorized.
One of the things that stands out the most clearly in my memory when I think back to childhood road trips was making up new, silly verses to “Down by the Bay.” That seemed to last longer than “Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?” lasts with my kids. My favorite car game is now “I Spy,” which can be adapted to children’s levels by using colors, things that start with different letters of the alphabet, shapes, etc. or played backwards, with kids searching out the window for airplanes, animals, unusual-colored cars, etc. For mathematically-inclined children, license plate games can range from simply finding a license plate with a 2 on it to adding up license plate numbers. For older children, who know how to spell, the classic “We’re going on a trip and bringing apples and bread and a can of corn, etc,” adding items with the next letter in the alphabet, in turn. A similar game that does not require spelling but does require creativity and language skills is telling a story one sentence at a time, in turn. Songs and games involving everyone are especially helpful for keeping tired kids awake and preventing sibling fights via distraction.
- Arrange seating strategically.
“Why do I always sit all the way in the back where the air conditioning doesn’t reach?” “I never get a window that opens!” “I want to sit next to the baby!” “Why am I always in the sun whatever direction we’re driving?” Deciding who sits where in the car can be as bad as deciding seats at the supper table. However, whereas many people have a rotation system at the table, you probably don’t want to constantly be moving car seats around. Plan your youth jigsaw carefully, taking each individual’s needs, as well as the family needs, into account. With our small seven-seater, we have two rows of kids to scramble.
Seating factors include, but are not limited to: Who is the most likely to be bothered by the sun? Can you put up a sun-shade? Who is the most likely to fall asleep? Should the sleepers be in the least accessible seats, so they aren’t bothered, or in seats where it will be easy to take them out of the car without waking them? Will anyone need to get out to throw up or use the bathroom before arriving at the final destination? Who may need adult assistance in transit? We always make sure to have someone in the middle who is big enough to play with the baby and has long enough arms to pass things to the little ones in the back seats. Do some seats have less leg room than others? Decide whether you want to put the taller kids in the seats with more leg room or the smaller kids, with bags by their feet. Don’t forget the important factor of personality. Which kids are the least likely to fight if they are sitting next to each other? Take a deep breath (of your own air), and let the mapping begin.
- Give each child a water bottle and a quiet toy to occupy themselves in the car.
Sun, air conditioning, and boredom all increase thirst. Even if you have Mr. Long Arms sitting in the middle seat and happy to pass water around the car, it’s much easier to just give each small child their own sippy cup or bottle to hold during the ride. If your child’s car seat has a cup holder, they will definitely want something to put in it. As far as toys go, you don’t want any traveler to have to rely on another for entertainment, especially if some are snoozing. Travel board games are great for packing, but those tiny pieces are not car-friendly. Stick to self-contained, personal toys like Rubik’s cubes, maze balls, action figures, fifteen puzzles, and (Don’t laugh at me; this is one of my kids’ favorite toys.) rubber bands.
Ready? Set? Go!