As a family we do a lot of car travelling. Sometimes long distances, usually only an hour or two at a time. But no matter how much time you spend travelling with kids, you will inevitably hear, “Are we there yet?!?”
I’m here to tell you that there are some ways you can (hopefully) keep your kids entertained while travelling. And I don’t just mean by giving them a screen, or using the DVD player in your car. (Do they still put DVD players in cars? We’ve never had one…)
Our longest trip so far has been on the Amtrak, travelling from Syracuse, NY to Orlando, Florida. We drove to Syracuse (2 hours or so), spent the night, then boarded a train and just went for 30 hours, give or take. Then we did it all again coming back. That was a LONG trip, but we survived. The neat thing about the train is it stops here and there and you can get out, stretch your legs, and look around at different scenery for a few minutes.
I enjoyed the train, but it’s not great for sleeping, and the way home seems a lot less exciting than the way there…
Check out these easy ways to survive travelling with kids and tweens
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This one is easily geared to your child’s age. We love to talk about our travels. My kids like to know how long we’ll be in the car, what they can bring to play with, and what’s at the other end. Being 7 and 9 they can pretty well pack a travel bag for what they need for the entire trip. (I’m still in charge of clothes and toiletries.) Some parts of that bag will be car friendly, and some won’t. But often this level of planning helps them stay interested in the trip.
Something we haven’t done because we haven’t travelled more than 4 or 5 hours from home by car is making, or using, a map. Letting the kids “trace” their way along and read about, or draw in, cool things they see along the way. Historical plaques, wildlife, even rest stops that have something interesting about them can all be inspiration for a drawing or small story. You could make your own map, print out something from Google Maps or give it a search on Pinterest and see if anyone else has taken a similar trip and borrow some of their ideas.
My favourite part of being in the car is listening to music. My husband doesn’t mind music, but when travelling gets rough, or the kids get out of hand, the music is the first thing to go. If you’re likely to enjoy music together, make a playlist to take with you. There’s something about singing together as a family that makes life more fun.
When I was growing up my sister and I shared a walkman and had 2 pairs of headphones with a Y adapter. We eventually graduated to a discman each, so we didn’t have to listen to the same thing. But either way Mom and Dad didn’t have to listen to our fun pop music. And Alison and I learned to share and compromise on music. Now my girls and I share close enough music tastes that we just turn up the radio and sing along together!
I don’t know about your family, but we get some motion sickness sometimes. That means no reading in the back seat, and making sure everyone can see out the windows well. Sometimes that requires staying in a booster seat for longer than legally required, so the kids can see out well enough to keep the vestibular system working properly. We have 2 backless booster seats that work well for the girls. And they’re easily movable if someone else wants to take them somewhere in a different car. I still suffer from motion sickness sometimes – especially when I’m trying to use my phone in the car. I have to put it away, keep my head up and take some deep breaths.
We always keep some plastic bags in the backseat of the car. (I once used a Ziploc baggie when we were in Mexico – Rose wasn’t feeling well on the bus from the resort back to the airport and somehow I had a baggie in my bag. I was never so thankful for random baggies in my life!) My car has pouches on the back of the front seats. I grab more heavy duty grocery bags (usually the ones you have to pay 5¢ for in the store), check that they don’t have holes, then stick 2 in the back of each seat. I’m very glad that my girls almost always know when they’re going to be sick now. Saves a lot of disgusting clean up!
If you are travelling long distances, sleep is your friend. My girls will sleep in the car – and that’s when we enjoy the quiet, or change the radio station to something we (the parents) enjoy. When we took that long train trip, we slept overnight on the train. We didn’t bring pillows, so the kids balled up our raincoats and did their best to get some shut eye. It worked out okay, but that was not the best night’s sleep for any of us.
We did take our toothbrushes and toiletries in our “carry on” bag – a great tip for travelling long distances. Even if you’re in the car, sometimes having them accessible for after meals or late night travelling when you’d like your kids to get some serious sleep on the journey is a time saver.
We have a small arsenal of “car games” we play on all our road trips. When the girls were learning letters and how to read we’d play the Alphabet Sign game: Starting with A, find a word on a sign that starts with each letter in the alphabet. This gets tricky at Q, X and Z (depending on where you’re travelling, of course!) We still play this, it’s great for sounding out new words for my younger daughter.
We also play a Cow Game – but this one has ever changing rules. You gain points for cows on your side of the car, and lose all your points when you pass a cemetery. The catch is that the people on the other side of the car have to see your cemetery in order for it to count. So if you see a cemetery don’t point it out – but keep watch for ones on the other side! This game can be adapted – cows are our mainstay, but we also count horses and other farm animals. If you see something more rare (deer, swans, other wildlife) you can decide how many cows they’re worth. Right now we’re making a notebook with some better “rules” for the cow game so there’s less squabbling in the back seat.
If you don’t have to deal with motion sickness in your family (lucky!) you can buy magnetic games like checkers, get a lap desk and let them colour or draw, or even let them read. We can’t do any of these, but I know there are people out there who can!
For Rose, this is easy. She talks non-stop, so get her started on something and you can just listen for hours. She does need some reassurance that you’re listening, but ask a question here and there and she’ll talk your ear off. Emma is more quiet so you need to ask pointed questions to get her talking. A trick is to play a progressive story game. Come up with an idea, and then go around the car having everyone make up the next part of the story. It’s good if your kids get a bit silly with this. (Maybe they’ll get so involved they won’t notice that you quietly stopped playing!)
Being “trapped” in the car is also a good way to talk to your kids where they have no choice but to listen to you. Use this time wisely (ie don’t go on too long about your subject of choice.) You can broach puberty or peer pressure topics, ask them how school is going – for real – or bring up other family stuff that you’ve been putting off talking about. Just make sure you follow up these “heavy” talks with fun games or favourite radio stations so it doesn’t feel so serious in the car!
I’m sure there are a lot more ways to help you survive travelling with kids and tweens. These are just the things I do as a (sometimes) travel mom. I actually do a lot of these every time we’re in the car. Even if we’re just driving to dance class or across town I will use the captive moments to try to connect with my kids – or let them connect with each other.
Here are a few of my other travel posts:
- Tips for Enjoying Canada’s Wonderland as a Family
- Parks Canada oTENTik: What it is & Why you should visit one
- 7 Things I’ve learned Packing for a Family Camping Trip
- 9 Tips for Enjoying Attractions with your Kids
- 6 Things I’ve Learned about Myself on our Family Vacation
- 7 Things I’ve Learned Vacationing With Kids
- How to Enjoy a Hotel Stay with Kids
What do you do when travelling with your kids? Anything I totally forgot or neat things I didn’t think of? Share them with me in the comments! And enjoying travelling with your kids – it can be great fun for everyone.
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