So you want to take a road trip with toddlers. Congratulations! Medication to help ease your insanity has been ordered and should arrive shortly. Ah, I kid, but it’s no secret that long periods in the car and small kids don’t always mix. However, with rising airfares and an in-flight environment that’s increasingly hostile to families, traveling by car is often an easier choice. We have taken several road trips in the past six months while working to get our youngest’s UK residency visa settled, and here are a few thoughts to keep you happy and sane in a very enclosed space.
1. Pick media everyone can enjoy
You folks who have fancy cars with separate audio systems for the backseat are at your leisure here, but we drive a subcompact Honda. We can’t hide. There’s no reason to listen to multiple rounds of Raffi or audiobooks if you find them annoying (my husband flat-out refuses to listen to another Beatrix Potter audiobook in the car). But with small kids who repeat everything they hear in the car, a road trip is probably not the best time to listen to Kanye West’s full discography. We have found They Might Be Giants’ kids albums, Jack Johnson, Motown classics, Yo La Tengo, and The Beatles are acceptable to everyone in the car. As far as movies go, we don’t break out the iPad unless the situation is dire but the movies we have on there are family favorites that we all appreciate.
2. Pack bento boxes
Roadside food is, in a word, gross. Lots of processed salt and grease, lots of sugary fillers, sports drinks with weird dyes…it’s bad. It’s icky enough for adults but giving it to kids and then strapping them into a car seat? Disastrous. We go the bento box route: small compartments with lots of tiny, attractively presented foods that tiny hands can handle without a lot of mess or fuss (we made the mistake of buying 5/1GBP croissants and our car looked like a bakery floor). And choose your materials carefully when traveling: stainless steel when possible or BPA-free plastics. Anything that’s going to sit in a car for extended periods needs to not be prone to absorbing smells.
3. Break it up–but wisely
We try not to do all the driving at once, but we also don’t want to fall victim to overpriced roadside attractions. Much as I love the billboards, the idea of visiting South Of The Border in the Carolinas doesn’t really thrill me. But towns with historic sights, interesting local delicacies, or even something simple like a public beach along a river can break up the day and get everyone stretching in the fresh air. On our last trip we visited the town of Chester on the way to Northern Wales and a lunch of pasties before wandering the cathedral was a great break for us all.
4. Have some games ready
A few sing-alongs or “Spot the sheep/cow/horse/pigs!” (granted, easier to do in our English countryside home than in other places) are fine for little kids that are too young for things like the license plate game or Mad Libs. We use the iPad to play games like Memory and Spot The Differences–nothing to clean up and no parts to lose, but still age-appropriate. I look for cars that are unusual in color or size and incorporate them into a game of “I Spy.”
What do you like to do while road-tripping with kids?