Living in the Niagara Region of Ontario puts us approximately 19 hours from both of our families. Hubby’s family live in PEI, mine up in Northwestern Ontario. Far. Previous to living in Niagara, we lived in Montreal. Still far. Road Tripping is something we’ve just always done – we know the routes between our home and our parents’ places really well, we know many campgrounds along both routes and our preferred stop-overs. We have developed a certain level of “comfort” with road trips as a result.
Then we had kids.
Suddenly we couldn’t just “drive all night” and we absolutely had to stop more often than once or twice in a day’s worth of driving. Not only did we have to stop, but we had to get out, stretch, spend a solid 20-30 minutes minimum just “resting”. SO ANNOYING! We’ve had to rethink our entire approach to road trips thanks to two adorable bundles of joy – and the trip we took this summer was no exception.
We try to camp our way to/from visits with our families to save a bit on hotel costs, but more than that, it forces us to slow things down a bit and allow us to actually enjoy the “travel” part of our vacations.
Here are a few tips for surviving a road trip with young kids (keep in mind, my kids are currently 1yr and 4yrs old!).
Pack music & instruments! Anyone who knows me would consider this obvious given my history as a Kindermusik Educator, but this can seriously save you those times you get stuck in traffic or when patience is beginning to wear thin. I have extremely fond memories of travelling with my family and we didn’t always listen to “my” tunes – often we listened to whatever my parent’s preferred, but they found ways of making those songs fun and goofy. By packing instruments, you can enhance the enjoyment (and noise …) that much more. Swapping out “grownup” tunes for kid ones from time to time stretches the limit of the power music has over the “happiness” level even further.
I take music a step further and Miss J and I actually do a little music theory (listening for certain instruments in songs, listening for dynamics, etc.). Now that she’s a few years into the Kindermusik program, she’s got a great ear for identifying instruments and loves to try and figure out what she hears and then which instrument family it belongs to. Almost anything can be turned into a game on a road trip!
Family Road Trip Games! We were really lucky this summer that Mr. B was happy to clap and listen along when we would play road trip games like “I Spy”. Miss J is learning French, so we switched our usual “I Spy” game from English to French to help her learn her colours – by the end of our 5 days on the road there and back, she knew them all!
Snacks! This especially applies to babies beyond 6-8 months old – when all else fails and you need to get that “extra 15 minutes” to your destination, small, safe, healthy snacks are a great way to avoid the 15 minute meltdown. The older children will also benefit from light snacking and keeping hydrated – it’s worth the extra “pee stops” because you’ll be keeping their energy levels up and their sugars balanced. If you plan your snacks ahead as you would for a camping trip, you’ll be able to regulate the quality better than if you buy along the way. See Survival Tip #2 for healthy snack ideas.
Colouring & Story Books! Older children that can easily follow a plot and give proper care to an MP3 player can really enjoy Audio Books. For younger children who do not get carsick, colouring books and storybooks are a great way to pass the time. You may find that the child who gets sick in town in “stop and go” traffic is actually fine on highway driving as long as it’s relatively flat with no major hills and valleys. I packed a craft kit for Miss J that had colours, stickers, paper, and colouring pages. For in-hotel, I packed her a beading kit for necklace and bracelet-making (something for us to enjoy together) and this awesome Melissa & Doug Paint with Water Pack. Hours of fun in one kit!
The AquaDoodle. This amazing little toy absolutely SAVED our road trip East when Miss J was 2yrs old. She ended up only watching movies when it was too dark for her to see her Aquadoodle Travel Doodle. This thing is awesome! It uses just water in the pen and as your picture dries, it disappears leaving space for more pictures. The travel version of this is even better because it folds up, neatly stores the pen and fits perfectly in the back pouch of the seats. Definitely a FANTASTIC investment!
Think “Mixed Media”. It wasn’t until the end of day 2 that I decided to pull our the movies for Miss J. And even then it was just to get us to the next stop. I try hard on road trips to avoid “plugging my kids in”, and we never bring movies with us on day trips or even weekend trips. It’s not because I’m dead against them – it’s not like our kids can “go outside and play” instead like they could if we were at home – we’re in the car! They’re sitting anyway, so using movies or tablets to help them pass the time is absolutely fine. To us, it’s a matter of using the powerful things in our arsenal at the right and necessary moments of a 2+ day drive. If you yank out the movies in the first hour, you’ll find that the colouring books are no longer interesting. If you pull your various media out in a specific order of what your kids like to what is an exciting treat, the time fill fly by way faster and you’ll deal with much less whining. Both kids on this trip spent at least 1 full hour each day just looking at their books. Neither kid can read on their own (Miss J’s getting close though! She identified many words! YAY!), but they CAN “read the pictures” which was amazing to behold from the mirrors up front.
Road Trips do not have to be the “worst part” of a trip. We have dreams of driving clear across the country with our kids someday and stopping at as many historical monuments and interesting landmarks as possible. In fact, many of our favourite vacation moments are not from our destination, but from our stops along the way. We try hard to stop at places that can be fun and unique to help us all enjoy our drive a little bit more. “Fun” and “Road Trip” can be in the same sentence!
I mean … just look at the GROUND we covered in this most recent road trip! We took the Chee-Cheemaun Ferry, toured Manitoulin Island, visited the quaint town of Marquette, Michigan, fed deer in Northern Minnesota, explored the Mall of America, visited Rockford, Illinois – home of the Rockford Peaches …and many “little” things in between – most of it “unplanned” … our drives were filled with as many memories as our actual visits with friends and family were! 3,790 km, 43 hours. Now THAT’S a road trip!