Real Parents On: Traveling with the Kiddos

Just in time for summer vacations and long weekend road trips, the always amazing panel of parents is back with the best tips and tricks to help you and your kiddos survive those long trips over the river and through the woods. And since I knew there would be lots of great wisdom from my Facebook buds, I've included some of my favorites from there at the end as well.

Elizabeth says:

Quick! They're Asleep...Let's Go! "When we are traveling any great distance, I try to schedule departure times around naps (and then floor it ... just kidding, sort of).  When the kiddos are asleep you are free to drive without anyone breathing someone else’s air or without whining (I despise whining).  If your kids are no longer officially napping, leave at a time when they are most likely to fall asleep, which for most children is after lunch.

For those parents in the midst of potty training, take a potty chair.  This way when nature calls, the bathroom is only a pull-over away rather than 15 miles down the road. Don’t dismiss this advice for sons, as urinating is not always their only need.

I am among the few that refuse to get a DVD player for the car, so I pack an arsenal of kiddie distractions that I can have at the first whimper of “Mom are we there yet?”  I pack snacks, drinks, quiet toys, books, crayons and coloring books, kiddie music and whatever else I can think of that will buy me a few more miles and a few more minutes of quiet.  The tip that I will leave you with is sage wisdom from my mother.  Schedule stops of about 30-60 minutes into your trip for picnics, bathroom breaks, and general play time.  You might have to pull off of the highway for a safe place for your children to run amuck, but believe me, it will be well worth it—for you and them.  Happy traveling and good luck ... you’re gonna need it!"

Elizabeth says:

Everybody Gets Their Own Spot

"Snacks, drinks and a DVD player with two screens — these are the three tools needed in our family for long drives. We've only been on vacation a few times but when we went the kids each had their own bag for clothes, etc for the trip.  They also brought their games and set up their "spot" in the van the way they wanted it. I've always packed a storage bin full of snacks and the one time we stayed in a motel I purchased breakfast and lunch items and we only worried about dinner.

Now, when I was a kid I loved singing along to the tape player with the windows down. Playing the license plate game and road sign bingo were also ways to pass the time.  Sometimes I miss those good old days."

Jennifer T. says:

An Adventure to be Enjoyed "For me, traveling with the kids is a mental game.  The kids call it an “adventure” when we drive back to Pennsylvania (a 10+ hour drive for us).  I let them set their seats up the way they like.  They usually pack pillows, blankets, stuffed animals & snacks.

I don’t look behind me.  I don’t want to know how crammed in they are.

We fire up the DVD player for a while, but most of the time is spent listening to audio books.  The last trip we listened to Henry Huggins, Stewart Little, and Little House on the Prairie.  I pack for the front seat plastic grocery bags for the inevitable emergencies, wipes, hand sanitizer, sun glasses for me, cell phone, map for trying to determine how far we are to the next truck stop.  I try to just focus on enjoying the time with my kids, as much as possible."

Kelly W. says:

They're Got It Down to a Science "With a family of five, flying is cost-prohibitive. Instead, we've driven everywhere. Our families are 6 hours in either direction, so in any given year there's a good chance that we'll be traveling at least 2 or 3 times. Our kids are used to it, and now that they're older, I can't say I have much to complain about. I still remember the days when when toddler #2 puked all over the van, when child #1 had to pee for the 35th time, when we desperately tried to get someone #3 nap, and when we had to pull over at dirty truck stops to nurse a baby. Now our fam looks forward to traveling and our kids are at the age where they can (mostly) entertain themselves. Thank goodness!!! (Having a DVD player now also definitely helps.) We've tried a number of things along the years to keep our car trips sane. For a super long trip I once made small gift bags for each state. I drew an outline of the state on the outside of a lunch bag and filled it with small busy toys, cards, a snack, and coloring sheets. (There are lots of places online to download free printables such a state trivia, coloring sheets, & maps.) Every time we entered a new state, we learned about it! We bring a mix of kid & grown-up CDs and sing really loud, we pass the snacks, we stop & buy Mommy some Starbucks, we search out penny squishers at rest stops, talk a lot, and count double-long trucks (with 3 boys, our rousing game of "double" gets a little competitive sometimes!). We love to go places and hope to someday soon do a cross-country try with our boys."

Jen M. (that's me!), mom of a deliciously cute munchkin baby, and wife of 4 1/2 years. Read my bio below.

Huge Travel Fails "Since our munchkin is still young, we've only really taken three roadtrips with her, so have very little actual wisdom, but I can tell you about a huge travel failure that is sure to make you laugh.When iBaby was only 2 weeks old, we decided to go down to Maryland to visit with my family. The trip was usually only 5 1/2 hours, so we figured maybe it would get 7 or so...and we'd get a week to relax with help from the grandparents. Well we were severely green. No clue at all. And we had two HUGE fails.

Fail #1: Breastfeeding a two week-old cannot wait. Sometimes the baby will tell you it's time; other times it's your boobs. But something is sure to tell you, and neither can be ignored. We were several hours into the trip when I became all-too-aware that nursing must happen as soon as humanly possible. I mentioned this to Sean, and he pointed out that we were about a half hour to the closest town with a place to stop. I didn't feel confident waiting and I whined the whole time as my poor portable dairy farms filled to overflowing. I was eventually near tears when we found a Burger King parking lot, but I was way too full for the munchkin's tiny little mouth to latch on. And I had left my hand pump back in Pittsburgh. So I had to hand-express into a plastic bag until I was soft enough for my poor starving little child to help us both out.

So let's review the picture here: rented minivan, screaming newborn, me frantically squeezing milk from my boob into a plastic bag in a Burger King parking lot, hubs hand-feeding me a double cheeseburger and trying to block the view of any passersby. And the whole trip took 8 hours. 8. Epic fail.

Fail #2: Those little plastic trays in public restrooms are there for a reason. How is it that for years we've been in and out of public restrooms and saw those baby changing stations. And yet when we were traveling and needed to clean up some poo, it never crossed our minds? So here it is, August, 427 degrees, and poor iBaby is propped up on a suitcase covered in a plastic bag and t-shirts as we try our novice hands at changing her diaper. She was too little to squirm, thank goodness, but she was the perfect age to poo and pee as soon as her bottom was exposed to the fresh air. It wasn't until we were within two hours of being back home again that it occurred to us we could change her in a physical restroom.

Again, fail.

I don't know about you, but I'm filing all these tips from the veterans away for future use. Where can I stash them? If only I had a plastic bag..."

wisdom from the masses

My amazing parent-buddies on Facebook also had some very clever tricks of their own to share. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

For babies & toddlers:
  • If your little one drinks fruit juice, fill a bottle or cup about 3/4 and then freeze it. Add juice before you leave and it stays cold longer. Tie toys to the carseat — so much easier to retrieve. We also played kiddie books and music, and stopped along the way to help squirmy little ones get the wiggles out. (h/t Donna W.)
  • There is a product called a sippi-grip. It is the most genius invention and they sell them on Amazon. It holds bottles, toys, sippy cups, practically anything can be attached to a car seat or high chair. Love them! (h/t Jessica K.)
  • Buy a mylar balloon from the dollar store and tie it to the floor so it's eye level with child. The movement and shiny part makes for a lot of entertainment. (h/t Brigitte J.)
  • Parental DON'T: When Noah had just turned one, he had just learned to sip through a straw. We thought we were smart and brought juice boxes which were supposed to be used only in desperation (up until then he hadn't had 100% juice that wasn't watered down). Long story short, "desperation" happened about every hour. After that, so did the MASSIVE BLOW-OUTS. LOL - whoops! (h/t Kelly W.)

For older kiddos (common theme = pack activities!):

  • It is easy to make a reusable activity book for you kids. Find activity pages online or make your own on computer paper. Put the pages in plastic page protectors and put in a pronged folder. You use dry erase markers. Give them a travel pack of tissues to wipe it off. Or if you have a laminator or want to have it laminated it is even longer lasting. My kids are 15, 12, 10, and 7. (h/t Jenn P.)
  • Put a medium-sized plastic crate with a lid in the middle (provides a boundary!) w/books, DVDs, iPods, pencils & paper, snacks, puzzles, maps, etc. Really worked in keeping them occupied & peaceful! Also put ID tags on their shoes just in case. Oh...and be careful w/crayons in the car. One fell under the car seat and melted into the car's fabric. Eeeek what a mess. (h/t Melissa H.)
  • Buy small inexpensive gifts for each child. Pack them in brown paper bags. (the gifts not children) Give a bag to each child every so often. It breaks up the trip, and the travel boredom. Good for restaurants too! (h/t Wayne M. — Sean's dad!, Brigitte J. and Rachel H.)
  • Have something about each state you're traveling through prepared in advance. Once you hit the state line, it's time for the reveal... a puzzle, game or something state specific. Lots of planning, but keeps them entertained. (h/t Roger W.)

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