Whether your proposed winter road trip is to visit relatives or go on a weekend getaway, if you’re bringing your children along, it’s better to be prepared than trying to deal on the fly with tantrums, spills, arguments, boredom and bellyaching. Here are some FamilyCarGuide tips on keeping the peace – and your sanity – during long family road trips.
Anticipate everything, and have a plan in place
This isn’t the first long journey you’ve taken with your offspring, so make a quick list of what’s happened before and how you effectively dealt with it (or not). Did you fail to bring the favorite DVD or stuffed animal or not enough snacks? Was the trip just too long for anyone, including the adults, to comfortably tolerate in one unending sitting? Were you too cranky yourself and, thus, quick to anger when back seat disputes broke out? Did you make the mistake of telling the kids you were just going on a “little drive?”
With a repertoire of past experiences, good and bad, surely you have amassed some knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. As you look forward to your next road trip in the family sedan, minivan, crossover or SUV, keep what you’ve learned in mind and put a plan in place that gives you more-or-less-failsafe options when the unexpected happens.
No one likes the same routine over and over again. If you regularly make a trek across the state or drive more than three hours to a particular destination, it can become a real buzz kill for the kids, whose attention span and tolerance levels fluctuate from short to decidedly less than what’s needed to last through the journey.
How do you counter the sameness? How do you make this road trip different than the others before? In other words, how can you make the time fly for your kids so they’re entertained, calm, well-rested and argument-free for the duration? Short of a miracle, it does help to be a little creative with carry-along games, DVDs, music, books, puzzles, snacks, toys and other goodies.
A few days before the trip, start gathering items or make a list of what your kids currently enjoy spending time doing. There may be a new DVD that’s coming out that they’d like to watch for an hour or so. Maybe you have a favorite movie they never tire of watching. With dual-screen rear-seat entertainment systems, like those on the 2012 Honda Odyssey, the kids can watch two separate movies at the same time.
Buy some new coloring books and washable crayons for younger tykes. How about a wardrobe case for your little girl’s Barbie stocked with different outfits you might pick up at a garage sale or buy on eBay? There’s also any number of apps to download on smartphones or tablets that may be age-appropriate for your other children.
Something for everyone
If sharing is a problem in your family, don’t expect your kids to happily give up a particular game or item just because you say it’s time to let the other sibling have a chance to use it. Instead of the inevitable squabbling, bring multiples of whatever they’re likely to fight over. That is, if this is not a financial burden. Some items may just need to be rationed, probably during a rest stop or quick fill-up at the gas station.
A better strategy is to make sure to bring along something that’s just right (or worked before) for everyone. Think of this as a constantly evolving scenario, since children’s interests change quite rapidly. Most newer family vehicles have lots of storage bins and cubbyholes to keep little surprises just that until needed.
Split up the trip
You know your children. You also know how far you’re going to be traveling. If the road trip will take more than six to eight hours, maybe the smarter decision is to split it up into two days, instead of trying to drive straight through. While this isn’t always possible, due to time constraints and other considerations, doing so now and then on regular long-distance family road trips will help keep the peace and make for a more enjoyable journey.
Where this really makes sense is during vacations. Sure, you’re en route to a certain destination, but there are likely dozens of spots along the way where you could spend the night and get in a little fun or educational side-trip at the same time. Remember that anticipation helps whittle away the hours. If your kids are looking forward to visiting a mid-way spot on your journey, even if it’s just for a few hours, it’s likely time well-spent in the long run.
The next-to-last stop before turning in
Sometimes the best strategy for getting the kids into bed, once you reach your day’s destination, is to dress them in their pajamas on your next-to-last stop. Savvy moms know that overtired, cranky youngsters aren’t easy to get ready for bed after hours on the road. During the last gas stop or meal, getting the small ones comfy in their jammies and prepared for sleep with their favorite pillow and blanket can make a world of difference. Once you get to your destination, they’re already ready for bed and you can likely just carry them inside and tuck them in without even waking them up.
This article originally appeared on FamilyCarGuide.