The Frog Family loves a good road trip, especially when we're headed to Disney World! Here are a few tips I've picked up along the way (and from our friends on Facebook) that help make long car rides go very smoothly.
1. Take a practice road trip.
You must be thinking, "I'm already taking an 14-hour road trip to Disney World, and now you're telling me to take one just for practice?" Well, kind of. Mainly, it's like a test run for seating arrangements, to see how accessible snacks, drinks and toy bins are and to identify ways you could make the car more comfortable for everyone.
2. Involve the kids when you are mapping your route.
This will give them a visual of how far you'll be traveling and will also give them something to do during the trip. I like to help Tad and Lily highlight our route on a foldable map beforehand. It's a fun and educational exercise that keeps them engaged throughout the trip. Steve E. from Facebook has this idea: "on our last trip we found the kids really enjoyed using Google on an iPhone to learn a little about each area we were passing through!"
3. Have a "road trip to-do list."
My wife is great at lists, so she makes one for our road trips that literally outlines all the fun activities she and the kids can do. I have honestly heard them say "I hope we have enough to time for all that" when they see their road trip to-do list. It includes scheduled stops along the way, Frog Family sing-alongs, oldie-but-goodie word games and even a clue to when they can expect a surprise. These road trip to-do lists give all of us a feeling of anticipation and excitement about what would otherwise be the least favorite part of our vacation. Mommy Frog has already added this idea from our Facebook friend Michelle D. to her list: "I packed bags for the kids. They did not know what they would find next so it kept them busy. Some old stuff and some new!"
4. Make the pit stops count.
"OK, it's time to get out and stretch our legs" is not any way to treat a pit stop during a road trip. First of all, that means nothing to your kids. It's like telling them, "OK kids, get of the car and recite your ABCs." Secondly, pit stops are a great way to have them burn off some energy so that they may just take a nap when they get back in the car. We always pack a rubber ball or a Frisbee to play with during our breaks at the rest areas. Jody G. from Facebook agrees: "Also, take activity toys to stop at rest areas and play - toss a ball or play a quick game of kick ball. Read this one on-line... eat where there is a play place. Let the kids play and get their food to go."
5. Spare the sugary snacks.
It doesn't seem quite fair to give Tad and Lily sugary snacks and juices then expect them not to turn the inside of our car into a bounce house. Water, sugar-free juice, granola bars, trail mix and popcorn are good alternatives.
6. Don't be afraid of a little bribe.
We try not to spoil our kids, but a special surprise during a long, boring car ride can go a long way. We don't reward them if they are arguing or being impolite, but if Tad and Lily are just antsy or a little cranky, a small toy or new game is just fine. It doesn't have to be a physical object either. Mommy Frog and I never tell Tad and Lily about every single reservation we have for that vacation. Announcing that we'll be having breakfast with Mickey Mouse the next morning puts a stop (albeit temporary) to the "Are We There Yet?" song. Here's what our Facebook friend Casey H. had to say on the subject: "Bribery! with kids...15,10,9...every time we enter a new state (driving from northern NY) they get to pick out of the goodies bag ( IF there has been no bickering and fighting)..an envelope with cash/gift card or some Disney-themed surprise."
7. Dim the lights.
We keep car shades on the back windows year-round, but these are especially important on a long road trip. It's much easier for the kids to take naps without the bright sun in their eyes and if we're driving early in the morning, the shade helps them sleep a little longer. Tad and Lily also bring their snuggle blankets from home which they use to turn the back seat into a tent. This goes a little further than "dimming the lights," but if it makes them happy, it makes me happy.
8. Pack a "convenience suitcase."
If you have to make an overnight stop before your final destination, you must pack one suitcase with a change of clothes for everyone and any toiletries they will need for that night. After a long day of driving (and riding), the last thing you want to do is unpack and repack everyone's individual suitcases. With this "convenience suitcase," you'll also be able to hit the road much sooner the next day.
9. Bring something from home.
I mentioned that Tad and Lily bring their blankets, but they also bring the pillows they use every night and wear their favorite pajamas. It's amazing how these little things make the cramped back seat feel much more comfortable. It sounds like our Facebook friend Lorraine W. has the right idea: "Comfy clothes, snacks, movies, plenty of room between kids :)"
10. Respect the statement "I have to go."
When I hear those four words, I stop at the very next exit or rest area. Period. It's the kind thing to do.
Have road trip tips? Share your insights!