How to Survive a Road Trip… With Kids
My childhood summers basically consisted of loading up the car the day after school ended and not coming back until a week before it started again in September. I look back on those road trips fondly, but there were plenty of times when I found myself bored out of my skull, stuck in the back of the car, staring out at the emptiness that is Northern Ontario, considering whether or not I should start slapping my brother across the nose as a new form of entertainment.
These travels have given me a few insights into how to survive travelling with school-age kids. (This doesn’t include toddlers and babies—they are their own huge production. I’m talking about kids who are somewhere in-between loud 5-year-olds and sullen 13-year-olds.)
For the love of God, get headphones
Even if you like to think that you’re one of those families who never watch TV and don’t need no stinkin’ computer to entertain yourselves, by the third straight day of driving for 10 hours, you will all be officially sick of each other, no matter how well you get along outside of the car. At that point, gadgets (iPads, iPods, Nintendo DSs, PS Vitas, those little vibrating football games and so on) will become your best friends (unless you are lucky enough to have kids who enjoy reading and can do it in the car without throwing up).
But this means that you’ll have multiple people trying to watch Adventure Time or play some version of Pokémon all at the same time. If you don’t have headphones for each person, then get ready for some real madness to begin. Make sure everyone has a set of headphones before leaving (and get a real cheap pair of earbuds to toss in the glove compartment, just in case) and consider getting a headphone splitter if there’s only one iPad or DVD player and more than one kid to entertain.
But I’m hungry now!
To this day, I can’t travel anywhere without first hitting up a bulk food store to stock up on big bags of random foodstuffs. Yes, everyone likes to pretend that they’ll just load up the car with carrots and apples and that’ll be cool (and don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge healthy food nutjob most of the time), but make sure to even out the healthy snacks with some junkier ones. Everyone gets cranky and hungry after four hours in the car, so rather than pulling off the road every three hours to stock up on chocolate again, pick up some dried fruit, nuts, crackers, cookies and gummies.
BIG NOTE: If you pick things that melt easily, keep them out of the sun or suffer the consequences, like when my family’s full bag of Big Turk pieces melted into some sort of horror goo that could only be ingested by cutting a hole in the bottom of the bag and squeezing it into your mouth like the world’s worst toothpaste.
Assign seating in advance
Okay, few of you have kids who spend two hours punching each other in the neck because they wanted the left window seat and not the right, but in case you do (or fear that you might), make sure that you understand the seating stuff beforehand. Does one kid really love sitting behind the driver while the other doesn’t care? Arrange it so that’s how it works out. Are there three kids and one is always going to be stuck in the loser middle seat? Set up a schedule in advance and make them swear a blood oath on it (okay, maybe not that last bit). Set up a pillow barrier if there are boundary issues. Car seating arrangements shouldn’t be that hard but if there’s a history of conflict, they can feel like the freakin’ Treaty of Versailles.
Keep a garbage bag in the car
I don’t know what it is about kids and car trips, but I swear they can produce a ton of garbage in a matter of minutes. Whether it’s torn-up paper or tissues or food or wrappers or whatever, trash will accumulate all over the car. Keep a grocery bag handy so that you can collect the detritus as it appears to keep your car looking from like it’s driven by hoarders who collect old McDonald’s cups and damp tissues.
Eventually, you have to turn off the iPads and actually talk to each other. A great way to get bored kids more mentally active and engaged while driving for the umpteenth hour through the Prairies is prepare games and quizzes.
If there’s a TV show that everyone in the family likes to watch (or that you watch with your kids), try quizzing them on that (or visa versa). Also good: Place names, movie trivia, things that relate back to school subjects they actually like, or—if you’re not feeling creative—whatever kind of questions you can find in a quiz book. (My dad used to ask me ones from the Mensa for Kids book.) Be sure to let them quiz you back so that they can bask in the glory of their mental superiority when you can’t remember the name of Princess Bubblegum’s rainbow unicorn.
Pack a little bag of “others”
Good things to keep on-hand during a road trip include pens, bandaids, Gravol, pain relievers (adult- and kids-strength) gum, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, plastic bags and mini bottles of rum (maybe not that last one, but after 14 hours in a car I certainly find myself wishing for nip).
Good luck, travellers.