Traveling during the holidays is stressful on its own. When you add a car filled with small children, you have a recipe for the longest day of your life. Fortunately, there are a few ways to make the experience not just tolerable, but fun, in the family adventure kind of way. How?
Plan in advance. It is always important to start with a plan. It’s likely the plan will change, so flexibility is key, but if you start with a plan in place it will be much easier to adjust as you go. Starting with a plan does not mean that you are stuck with the plan, but rather that you have some idea of when you will start, what route you will take, where you hope to take your breaks and when you want to eat.
Pack light. Wherever you are going, there will likely be a store you can stop at if you don’t have what you need. No one in the family needs seven different outfits for three days at your mother’s. Decide what is needed, bring one extra outfit and be done with it. If you have an infant, it can be tempting to bring every piece of baby equipment you have at home. DON’T. You will be with family. Everyone will want to hold the baby anyway, and you probably won’t even use the equipment you bring.
Avoid a lot of liquids. There is something about traveling that makes some children thirsty. Try to limit how much your child drinks on the trip because liquids will go right though her. Though you are going to expect frequent stops, inevitably your child will not have to go when given the chance, then need to go 15 minutes after you leave the gas station. For children who have recently been potty trained, you might want to consider using a pull-up for the trip. Doing so can save you from accidents when it is just not possible to stop right away.
Have healthy snacks available. When children eat junk food on trips, especially if they are not used to eating it, their bodies tend to overreact to it. It is best to stick with snacks that are healthy and that your child is used to eating. Use sturdy containers that close well and a thermal bag for packing favorites. Bring napkins and wipes to clean up messes.
Bring activities. There is only so much time a child can relax and stare out a window. DVD’s can be helpful when children get bored, and parents should not feel guilty about having children watch a little TV during the holidays. Perhaps use holiday DVD’s and make viewing them a special treat. You should also bring crafts, games and books that are travel friendly. However, be aware that some children get carsick if they use these. Try books on tape or have the adult passenger read aloud, if possible.
Make up games. Verbal games not only help your child pass the time, they also help engage her brain. If your child is learning the alphabet, search road signs for letters. Grab an empty tissue box, put an object in it and have the kids guess what it is without looking. Let them feel, shake and smell it to see if they can guess what it is. Play a few rounds of I Spy. Get creative and you’ll find that the kids will even make up games to play.
Sing songs. If your kids are young, they will love singing together. If they are older pick songs they love and hope for the best. If they are teen’s, they may roll their eyes and put in their ear buds, but they’ll still remember your time together.
When things go wrong – and they will – take a deep breath and realize that despite the travel issues, whether big or small, your child will have fond memories of the trip if you respond with patience and a smile.