Friday, May 21, 2010

The Road Trip Post

I'm asked a lot about suggestions on travelling with children, so I need to make it an official blog post.  That way, I can make sure I have most of it in one place instead of scrambling on each individual email.  

When we travel with kids, it's nearly always by car.  24...48...72 hour drives aren't unusual, as we live half a continent away from extended family - and haven't been brave enough to bring 3 car seats on the plane yet.  Hassle!  And with Steve's summer schedule, we've been able to take month-long sojourns with kids.  So these are notes from the trenches about what does work...after many failed attempts at what doesn't. ;)

Seriously, my most valuable Travel With Kids advice is just to prepare for it to NOT be awesome.  Then if/when it is, you're pleasantly surprised.  If you expect a quiet backseat, no scuffles, and no bathroom emergencies, you'll be quickly vowing to never travel again.  I usually start off a trip saying, "This will be hell, but worth it."  And then we're always surprised when it's only occasionally hellish. :)

If you get to the end and have questions, don't hesitate to email me.  I'd love to brainstorm with you...or to hear more ideas!

ENTERTAINING CHILDREN

In my more novice travel days, I packed SO MUCH to do for the kids.  Now, we've really streamlined things.

I've learned that pipe cleaners last for entertainment for hours in the day, and glo-sticks were huge hits after dark.  Both I find at the dollar store.  Slinkies are big hits too, also at the dollar-store.

Also, those little spelunker lights that go around your head.  As long as you remind everyone to only face them down (not into the rear-view mirror), that can buy about an hour or so of joy after dark.

Dry-erase boards are also huge hits and space efficient.

I made Jack a little supply-kit with tape, scissors, paper, pens, hole puncher, and other doodads in an accordion file with an elastic clasp.  Huge hit.

Andrew does well with a brand-new action figure he hasn't seen before, and does fantasy-play for about 300 miles.  Then we delve into the other options, but the toy has to be brand-new to have that type of endurance.

THE DVD PLAYER CONUNDRUM

Here's what I've found about DVD players.  When we have a 3 day trip, we save the DVD player until Day 2.  And on any given day, we wait until after the afternoon-naps and preferably as late in the day as possible.  When we turn it on too early, it just revs them up and gets them all hyper in the back - but then doesn't distract them very long.  If we hold out until they *really* need it, then it's the perfect solution to the backseat-crazies. 

We also used to buy DVDs when I'd find a movie under $5, until my smarty-friend Christine suggested Redbox.  Brilliant.  You get a new movie for $1, you don't clutter up your DVD stash with more movies, and you can return them in most grocery stores, Wal-Marts, McDonald's, and outside of gas stations.  So we rent one on the road, then have 24 hours to get it back to them down the road.  Love it. 

FEEDING CHILDREN

I have three hungry-piglets for children.  And they have differing food avoidances that make them slightly hyper/crazy/unlikable - but the simple gist is we can't really stop off for fast food.  Gas stations are getting good about carrying bananas, fresh fruit, etc...but that's just in a pinch.  They're pricier there.  We like stopping at grocery stores and getting what we need from the deli or produce area.

For pre-packed foods, I get a bulk thing of organic raisins on Amazon.  They don't hurt the child when you toss them back (teehee!), and the kids usually like them.

Apples are good too, because they don't rot when you pre-wash them.  Oranges.  Bananas don't pack well, so we just get those at grocery stores along the way - and eat them right away.  Clearly that's not always the case, as there's plenty of smooshed banana residue in the back.  But I digress.

Other foods we like for our particular kiddos: Larabars or Pure bars.  They're practically a meal, they're so dense for kids.  Expensive ($1.22/bar on Amazon), but cheaper than fast food.  Goji berries on Amazon (the absolute best price I've ever found).

Fritos are just corn, oil and salt...all my kids can eat them, and they're readily available in the gas station.  

We like Dixie cups to pass back servings of things like the Gojis. Then you can get the bulk bag, but each child has a small enough portion to not lose the entire large bag in a spill.

Trader Joe's also has dehydrated fruits and fruit leathers, but I treat them as a "kids-going-crazy" distraction, not a food.  They're not filling.

We've also had good luck pre-making buffalo burgers and keeping them frozen in the ice cooler.  That gives them a dense, high-protein food in the morning...which staves off the starving-child-in-the-backseat (never awesome).

Buying small water bottles, make sure they have the sport caps.  We try to have a Fogoo for each child and fill  it with clean water sources - but in a pinch, the kid-size bottles are nice.  If they don't have the sport cap, though, prepare for wet seats in the under-5 crowd.

BODILY FUNCTIONS

When I can convince them to do it, I put the kids in diapers in the car. I know.  It's weird.  But, it's a back-up plan in cases the need for a bathroom doesn't coincide at all with the exits and rest stops.  Boys can pee into ziplocs or empty cups.  This upcoming trip is Simone's first time where she'll be using the toilet.  I'll report back on how that goes.

Otherwise, we just wait until someone has to pee and do a Big Stop.  We get gas, run around in any grassy knoll we can find, grab food, and take care of "business."

TIMING THE DAY

This is still a work in progress.

When we get up at the hotel, we get everyone in the car and hand them breakfast.  Eating keeps them occupied for awhile, but then the mid-day period gets a bit stir-crazy.  We try to take a long stretch for lunch - like grabbing food and eating at a park.  Stay about 2 hours, then get back in the car around 1:00- when both Littles are ready for a nap.  That gives us a few calm hours of driving, then we usually need another break around 4ish.  Run around, get everyone food and stretch legs...and then get back in the car and put in a movie.  This tends to be our roughest patch of the day and there are often the most tears right before sleep (in my 3 and under crowd).  Anything that helps us survive that stretch, we do what we can.  Once the kids are asleep, we drive until 10 or 11 and then stop at a hotel.

The problem is that the children don't always transfer well and they're often ready to bounce on the hotel beds.  We're working that out.  When I devise the perfect plan, I'll let you know.  Right now, I'm assuming they just grow into that being  a better process. ;)

HOTELS

If it's just in-and-out, we'll get the cheapest/cleanest thing we can find.  If we're stopping earlier, we try to get the Holiday Inn Express suites with the divided sections.  Then Steve and I can watch a movie on our TV, the kids can run like crazy in the other section.

We unplug the phone the second we get in the room.  We have cell phones anyway, and my kids all gravitate towards picking it up and "calling" people. Trust me, the front desk doesn't like that. :)

Bring an extra ziploc bag, in case your bathtub plug doesn't work.  My kids love baths, and we can fill the ziploc with water and use it as a makeshift plug.

I have a bag of gears and wooden building things I bought at a thrift store for a buck, and I keep it in our hotel bag.  Then they only see it on trips, so they're excited when I pull it out.  That occupies them in the hotel room, putting together little cars or whatnots.

MODULAR PACKING

This has been an ongoing evolution, but I think I finally have it down to a science.  Instead of packing each person's items into a separate bag, I do it chronologically.  The hotel gets one bag, grandparent's house gets another, the cabin gets another, swim things in another, etc.  Then we just carry in one bag to the hotel instead of 5 separate ones.

I pack food into the cooler or a plastic storage tub - because then the kids can step all over the tub and not scrunch the food.

We also have an "Oh Sh*t" bag, which has wet wipes, sanitizer, band-aids, back-up clothes, etc etc.  Anything that if you *don't* have it, becomes a crisis.  I just keep that in the car.

A key to modular packing is distinguishable bags.  Paisley print is the hotel, zebra print is the grandparents, etc.

EXTRA STUFF ABOUT THE CAR

In our mini-van, we pull out one of the seats so there's a wide open space in the middle.  That helps with the packing, as there is room for the food tub, but also lets you change diapers in the rain/snow/etc.  And, it gives a space for a parent to crawl back and attend to the kids.

I pack a light blanket for each child.  Covering the kids seems to help them fall asleep, I've found.

I like a pillow for myself and a Queen size flannel sheet to wrap around me in the car.  Even if I'm not sleeping, it's more comfortable to travel that way.


Keep ample trash bags, ziplocs, and plastic shopping bags tucked away somewhere (I  keep in the Oh-Sh*t bag)...as there are 4,697, 024 reasons you might need these.  Or maybe it's just us?


Okay, that's what I've got.  I'll update it as we go.  There's always room for evolution!

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