In October 2011, the Lad, my mom and I drove from Oregon to Wisconsin to pick our little trailer, Dottie, up from the manufacturer. I found, about 3 hours into the trip, that the movies didn’t load correctly onto my new iPad, and we were going to have to do something to keep the Lad occupied for just over 4700 miles.
Here are a few things we did:
- One thing he spent hours with is the TAG reading system (he ‘reads’ a lot that way at home too). He has had it since his first birthday, and loves using the pen to play games, listen to stories, see what sounds the pictures make, etc. They have a Jr model pen now that is great for the wee ones (say 1-3 years old). It just takes books to the next level and helps them entertain themselves for a bit. The Jr books are board books too, so they are nice and sturdy for the wee ones. Make sure you carry some extra batteries with you and I would also recommend a pair of kids headphones! Some of those songs will get stuck in your head for the entire trip.
- We made sure to have loads of snacks and drinks handy too (healthy things, and we especially love the little applesauce ‘crushers’ from Trader Joes and mini-carrots…really keeps the mess down too!). We don’t eat fast food (it is a once or twice a year thing and there is only one place we go, which is local to the Northwest), so we liked to stop and make some sandwiches, have an apple, and eating more normally helped with our energy levels and kept us more stable during the drive (we got less annoyed with each other too).
- On occasion, one of us would sit in the back with him. A little company goes a long way!
- We played different music the whole way which was great (at one point he told us, ‘all of the country music is turning me into a cowboy!’).
- We tried to sing songs, as much as the Lad would let us.
- We practiced our counting and the ABCs.
- We would point out the wind turbines, when we saw animals we would ask him what they were (and what sounds they make…still not exactly sure what sound a llama makes…I have heard it, but don’t remember), we counted how many trains we saw, the first person to see the city won, we looked for different letters and had him identify things. We had him looking out as much as possible. He started seeing things before we did and would point things out to us.
- We also played ‘what color is that?’ Create games along the way that engage your child.
- During stops we would get out, ‘go potty’ (to make things even harder on ourselves we had been potty-training around this time too), and either have a little hike or play a game of chase to get the ants out of our pants. Usually that wore him out (we would run until he said stop), and we would get at least 2 more hours out of him. If there weren’t people around that we could disturb, we would turn up the music and have a dance party.
- On our long trip, we found the midwest has a wonderfully unhealthy obsession with water parks (I found this to be one of the most awesome surprises of the trip!). Our guy loves to swim, so when we stayed at a hotel, we would swim at night and burn some energy off that way too. That really helped and he could sleep through some pretty noisy hotels. Talking about the swimming pool at the upcoming hotel kept him engaged and excited about getting to the next place, so he was a little more patient in the car too.
- The other thing we had was the crayola magic color pens and paper. They only make color when you use their special paper, they wont mark walls or interior…a great option. We got something like this, which gave him a hard surface to color on:
Crayola has a new iPad app as well. You can get the app free and you will have a few pages to color. If you buy the special Crayola Color Studio Stylus (runs just less than $30) it opens up even more pages to color.
- One tip, if you can help it, make sure if you are heading out close to nap time, you have plenty of fuel in the car to get you all the way through nap time. This is even more important if you have a kid that wakes up when the car stops. I do, and the Lad always falls asleep in the car at the worst possible time (many times it is 10 minutes from our final destination…UGH!!!!).
- If you don’t have stops already planned, a great website to check is www.trekaroo.com. It is a website devoted to traveling with kids and there are reviews from other parents about different activities all over the US. We use it to get ideas, not only on the road, but at home when it is raining and we have exhausted all of our activities!
A few tips for REALLY long trips (remember, we went cross-country, but I think the points still apply to shorter trips):
- We did longer days, but tried not to be in the car more than 6-8 hours and we made stops when folks needed them (we were also traveling with my mom who has a very bad back and needs to get out and move every so often). You will need to judge what your child can handle. Some are better and more accustomed to being in the car, others have a harder time. You know their breaking point…don’t let it get to that or you won’t get them back in the car!
- We tried to not stop at all during nap times and tried to cover as much distance as possible while he slept. The Lad is used to being strapped in the car (he has joined us on several road trips starting at 3 months old). To make things even harder on ourselves, we had just started potty training, so this was an adventure!
- We tried to keep our days no longer than 8 hours, and if we did have a really long haul (8+ hours), we tried to take a day off and relax. We made the long haul from Bozeman to Keystone, and spent 2 nights there checking out Mt Rushmore, the Wind Cave, etc. We had a chance to burn off some steam.
- We had hotels booked for the first few days, just so we were covered, but the rest of the trip we booked as we went, or just pulled in. Some times you don’t quite make it to some of your planned stops (stopping due to fatigue, having been in the car long enough, hitting storms…sometimes, you just never know what will crop up).
- Stay as flexible as possible, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and remember, everything will work out. Not sure about you, but this is something I have to remind myself, even at home (that type A personality, I suppose).