We just got back from a very long, but not too excruciating road trip with our four children from Pennsylvania to Colorado. I was a little weary about how the kids would do on such a long trip. I planned for weeks. We do have some experience, though, with travelling long distances with our kids. We've been to Hilton Head, South Carolina six times, and Disney World once.
I always listen to every tip I hear when someone talks about how to travel with kids, but I usually don't learn much. Here are some ideas that work with us. Hopefully you can get a few tips from my list that might work for you!
- We got the kids to bed by 10, got to bed right away ourselves, and got started by five in the morning. My husband and I just took a quick shower, grabbed our last couple items we needed, and threw the kids in the car. All four of them, from the ages of 15 to five fell back to sleep at least part of the time in the car.
- After a couple of hours, we ate our breakfast in the car. I packed granola bars, pop tarts, grapes, gogurts, and juice boxes so we could save time by not stopping for breakfast. We try to stop as little as possible. We try to make our first stop for bathroom breaks when we need gas, usually about 4 1/2 hours into the trip. Also, we literally run to the bathroom! It feels good and saves our precious time.
- I break up the day into blocks of time. The first block is always rest/sleeping time. The next block is breakfast. After that they can get into their bag and choose an activity. My 5-year-old chose video games on her DS. My boys chose the XBox. Beware, though, to bring the XBox, you must wire it in directly to the battery to work properly, or you can bring an older system like the Gamecube. My 15-year-old chose to read her magazines and listen to her Ipod.
- After a couple of hours of an activity of their choice, we pick out a movie to watch that the whole family will enjoy, including my husband who actually drove the whole way. He can at least listen to it. I sit in the front and recline my seat to watch it. I bought new movies on Amazon really cheap! We got Heavyweights, The Brady Bunch season 2, Big, Innerspace, Bluestreak, and Prince Caspian. I figured we needed at least one new movie per traveling day, along with a couple of our older movies that the kids picked out. I also got a few that the kids could watch by themselves on one of the two portable DVD players, High School Musical 3, Rush Hour 3, and Entrapment.
- After movie time, we start watching for a McDonald's sign for lunch. If you stop after 12:30, the lines aren't as long. Once again, run. My husband gets the gas, I get in line with the list of what everyone told me in the car. If there's a play area, my oldest daughter takes the little kids to play for a couple of minutes while everyone takes turns using the bathroom. If there's no play area, my oldest daughter takes my youngest daughter to the bathroom, my oldest son takes my youngest son to the bathroom, then they meet me back in line and wait for the food (along with the list to make sure we got everything we ordered). I run to the bathroom, then we all jump back in the car. Eating lunch in the car saves so much time. We don't do anything else while we're eating. It's a great way to pass the time.
- The next block of time is the kids choice again. Maybe someone else will play the XBox, someone will watch a movie they pick out on the portable DVD player, my son read his golf book, my oldest talks on her cell phone.
- Then we play something together. We downloaded Uno Rush on the XBox and played that together. Boy was that fun, and it really passed the time while the kids laughed away! When we used to bring the Gamecube in the car, we brought Mario Cart. That's really fun, too.
- After the last bathroom stop, we play Mad libs. Mad libs are also a great thing to do if you get stuck in a traffic jam. The kids laugh their heads off and don't even realize they're in a traffic jam.
- One of the last things we do in the car is watch The Brady Bunch. For some reason, all four of the kids enjoy it! I do too!
- At the end of the trip, we all just watch the city we're coming into and start packing up the car from the mess we've made. There shouldn't be too much garbage because we keep a plastic bag hung over the arm rest for trash, but never less, there's always cleaning up to be done.
I like to stop the day somewhere around dinner time. The kids have had it by then, like between 6 and 7. We stay at a hotel with a pool and whirlpool (for my husband and me to relax in!). We order pizza and have it delivered to the pool. We bring our own drinks, and relax for the evening. We like to stay at the Marriott's because many of them can accommodate six people in one room, two queen beds and a sofa bed. They also have a free breakfast in the morning, saving us precious time and money!
When we start out on day two, we head out a little later, like 8 AM. Our hotel is always a little past halfway so we have a shorter distance the second day.
Another thing I do is have treats for the kids. I bring a little candy, and buy a new toy or magazine for them. I also borrowed a couple DS games and gave them to my youngest to play on the ride home when she's "had it".
Of course I bring snacks. I try to bring some healthy ones that aren't too messy, cheese sticks, nuts, chex mix, fruit snacks, and yes, some chips too.
I think a long trip teaches the kids about patience and finding things to do to keep themselves busy. After this long trip to Denver, it sure will make our 13 hour trip to Hilton Head seem easy!