Sunday, May 1, 2011

Weekly Column: Road Trips for Beginners

Here’s an idea: let’s gather our young family into a cramped vehicle, buckle them in, and make them sit still – happily! – for hours at a time as we careen over boring highways.
Road trips never seemed to sound torturous to anyone but me, yet all I could think about when faced with a voyage was how miserable we’d be for the duration.  Toddlers hindered from running around as needed?  Babies refusing to sleep in the car?  Moms and dads stretched to their limits of patience while navigating both foreign roadways and cranky children?
For a long time, the thought of a road trip made me so doubtful that we just never went anywhere.  It seemed too difficult.  Too stressful.  Too tiring. 
But that soon became too boring. 
The longer we stayed home while everyone else was driving to the lake or visiting family on vacation, the more I wanted to try road-tripping.  And after only a few rookie voyages, we got the hang of it; now, it’s fun! 
Just in case you’re as hesitant as I was to travel with young children, here’s what we’ve learned about having successful road trips. 
·         Young kids aren’t as used to long car rides as you are; plan to stop more than you think necessary.  Potty training kids will make this more of a requirement, but any little one needs breaks from the car.  Try taking advantage of picnic areas to let them stretch their legs while eating.

·         Keep snacks within easy reach, and don’t feel obligated to maintain the usual snacking rules; let them munch as long as it keeps them happy.  This is where your snack-packing plan is important.  Knowing they might graze during the entire drive, keep the selection as normal and healthy as possible.  Try baggies of cut-up fruit and cheese, dry cereal, boxes of raisins, or peanut-butter sandwiches.  Swamping your cooped-up kids with empty sugars will make everyone miserable.

·         The public library has a wonderful selection of juvenile books and music on CD.  There are longer novels for the grade-school crowd or shorter storybooks for the little ones.  Besides stories, one of our favorite travel CDs is a collection of songs from classic Disney movies.  Anything you can agree on that fills up time will make the miles pass with less notice. 

·         Pack each child a small bag of toys and books so they can stay busy.  Fill it with unknown treasures from the bottom of their toy boxes, and let them choose a few favorites to top off the bag.  A small notepad and pouch of crayons is helpful, too.

·         If kids start complaining, acknowledge them honestly:  “You know, I’m tired of sitting still, too.  What would you do if we were playing outside instead?”  An imaginative conversation eases boredom as well as anything else, and young kids can create some hilarious opportunities for chatting.  Try not to enclose yourself in the front seat with only adult conversation; include the kids for maximum boredom-busting.  When the kids are happily occupied, then the adults can get back to talking alone if needed.

·         Part of the fun of road trips is the ability to forego strict schedules and plans.  Let the kids’ moods help in determining your speed.  After all, the trip is probably as much for their enjoyment as it is for yours! 

·         No matter how perfectly you plan your adventure, there are bound to be frustrations.  But not only will they help you learn what to do next time, hopefully they’ll provide funny memories once the trip is complete.  Happy road-tripping!


  1. Well I, for one, am glad you joined the party and initiated yourself into the art of road-tripping -- and it sounds like you've come up with some great traveler's tricks in the process! Fun! Fun!

  2. My parent's best invention was the magic bag. It hid in our glove compartment, a simple unassuming brown paper bag. When the time was right (my sister and I were losing it) some new little trinket would appear (two of course, matched) in the bag and my sister and I would get to put our hand in and draw out a little something to entertain us.
    We drove far - from Texas to Maine - a few summers in a row. But that was before car seats and the rigors of safety.

  3. This is a great run down, Sarah. I've done some serious road-tripping with tots in my time, and I think you've done a fine job with these tips. Makes me excited for our upcoming multi-day cross-country venture this summer.

    (Glad you had a great visit with friends, too. ;))

  4. Great tips! As a travel writer (in my other life), I can attest for them!


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