by Kerry Bennett
Ahhh! Summer vacation — a chance to kick back and relax. For my family, that often meant a trip to my parents’ home to visit the cousins. But without the option of a Star Trek transporter, getting there meant a long, 15 hour car ride.
Anyone who has driven as far as the nearest grocery store with kids knows that children in a confined space can be a recipe for disaster. Here’s a list of simple road-tested tips to make your next road trip more pleasant.
1. Water is best. Though juice and sugared drink options are abundant, fill up your child’s drink bottle or sipping cup with plain H2O. Water keeps them better hydrated than sugary drinks which often only make them more thirsty and more in need of bathroom breaks. If it spills, water eventually dries without leaving behind a sticky residue or stain.
2. Pack healthy snacks. (You define that at your house.) Just remember: don’t pack anything too salty, too sweat, or too sticky. And don’t take anything in the car that you don’t want to vacuum/scrub/hose out of the upholstery because more likely than not, it will end up there. Making up individual snack bags for each child also helps avoid arguments over who is hogging the food.
3. Load up on wipes. As sure as Lincoln is on the penny, something is going to get spilled or smeared all over someone. Be prepared to clean up those little messes with moist wipes or a wet washcloth in a baggie.
4. Bring a garbage bag. If you’re still using plastic grocery bags toss in a few or pack a black industrial size one if that’s what you need. Take a minute to declutter the car at every stop.
5. Appropriate activities depend on the age and abilities of your child. Travel-size games, small toys and printed activities are good choices. While in-car DVD players provide movie entertainment, remember that audio books can be another fun way to enjoy stories you haven’t had time to read together. Websites offer downloadable options for sale and many libraries offer a large selection of books on CD or as an electronic resource. Just be prepared to sit in the parking lot or driveway until you finish a chapter.
6. Break out the maps — either digital or paper. Or prepare a simplified map. It doesn’t have to be accurate to scale but should include towns, tourist attractions or notable markers along the way. Once the child spots the item, he or she can check it off the map.
7. Wrap small gifts to open at specific destinations. What’s inside can be as simple as a pencil and notebook, a small treat or a new activity. Or mark the packages to be opened at a specific time, such as every two hours on the hour or at an odd time like 17 minutes after the hour. Children who can tell time can keep track of when it is time to open the next package.
8. Resurrect your childhood games. Have each member choose a color and then count the number of cars you pass of that color. Choose a side of the road and count the number of horses or cows you see. Look for letters of the alphabet on road signs. Sing songs. Tell jokes.
9. Get stuck. My kids loved playing with adhesive bandages in the car. Pick up a package of inexpensive ones at a dollar store and let them cover themselves or each other. Tape is good to stick things like a map to the car door or window (low enough to not impair the driver’s vision) and isn’t too messy to clean up at the end of the trip.
10. Plan for rest stops. Though it seems obvious that children would want to run around once they get released from their seatbelts, it isn’t always so. Sometimes sitting just makes them more lethargic. Throw in a few things to get them moving when you take a break from driving. Pack a small Frisbee or soccer ball, a skipping rope or small bottle of bubbles to blow and chase. Bring swimming suits and stop at a pool or waterpark along the way.
Like the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” a family vacation begins when you hit the road. Planning to enjoy the journey as much as the destination allows you to extend the summer pleasure.
Kerry Bennett lives in Calgary, AB
Canyon Creek Ward, Calgary Foothills Stake