If you have done any traveling at all, then you know what a pain it can be. Packing, loading your car or van, driving hundreds of miles, securing a place to stay at your destination, setting up a temporary home while you’re there, then conducting the whole process in reverse when it is time to go home. Now, try going through that process with a couple of young children thrown into the mix. Your day just got a lot more interesting.
Yes, parents, you do have to take your kids with you. I learned early on that leaving a baby at home with instructions to only eat one jar of Gerber Puree per day doesn’t work.
I have been a parent for 18 years, and no, traveling with kids doesn’t get any easier. You may get better at it, but it doesn’t get any more fun. Children are natural irritants, it’s a God given talent, and there is no better place for them to exercise that dark gift than in a car or on a plane during a long trip. And of course they don’t keep it confined to just you. They believe in sharing their frustration, anger, and resentment towards you over this long trip with as many people that they can get within earshot (“getting within earshot” being defined as “how loud they can be”). I determined long ago that the only kids I had patience for were my own. My kids are angels and everybody else was blessed with brats. Yes, I went there, but of course there are other schools of thought.
That being said, it is possible to make long distance travel bearable for everyone, you, your children, and the people who won the lottery and find themselves sitting near you and your bundles of joy. As we hit the open road (or wild blue yonder) this holiday season, a few tips for traveling with the offspring in tow:
A word about car seats….they are there for a reason. Use them. Airlines will typically allow children under two to ride in their parents’ lap. This is unwise. Severe enough turbulence during a flight can cause an unsecured child to be injured as surely as a low speed collision can while riding unsecured in a car. Buy your child their own seat.
When traveling by car, make sure they are secured in their car seat the entire time the car is in motion. If I see you doing otherwise, then you can thank me for the state trooper who will shortly be pulling you over. I’ve called in and ratted out more than one brain dead parent, and wear my highway tattletale status with great pride.
Pace yourself. I’m a guy; to me a trip is getting into your car at the beginning and getting out at the end, preferably with the shortest amount of time possible between those two points. Don’t subject your kids to that torture. Drive a couple of hours and then let everybody out for a break. (Don’t forget to stop the car first).
Pack for the kids: Have a small backpack loaded up with small toys, games, books, Valium (oops, did that just slip out?), crayons, stickers, etc, and hold back a few surprises. Giving them something to do, keep them occupied. This particular lesson was learned the first time I heard “how much longer?” 20 minutes into an eight hour drive.
Pack a second time: a second bag, containing snack foods, drinks, baby wipes, and other treats, should be included. You can also bring along band-aids, towels, and even a Frisbee or ball for rest stops.
Audiobooks: kids love these, and they are readily available on CD at your local library. Of course that means Dad won’t be able to play any AC/DC or other good driving music, but it will keep the kiddies occupied. Memo to Dad: if you must have your AC/DC, remember one word….iPod.
Playrooms: free play areas are available on nearly every interstate exit. Burger King and Mickey D’s both have very nice indoor play areas where your kids can blow off energy, and you can down a big old sweet tea that will come back to haunt you in about half an hour. You can also order food to go for them. If you’re not fond of the idea of food being spilled in your car, I’ve found that threatening them within an inch of their lives works wonders.
If you have very small kids, a training potty might be a worthwhile investment before a long trip. In a pinch, a plastic cup in the glove box will suffice. Yes, it’s a little embarrassing, but it beats having “goodies” in your upholstery. Nothing ruins that new car smell faster than an overflowing toddler. Trust me on this.
I was never a big fan of car mounted DVD players until last summer. We took a six hour trip to Wilmington NC…..thanks to the DVD, I didn’t hear from my son for the majority of it. Not that I don’t want to hear from my son, but when he is perfectly capable of filling that entire six hours with discussion about one episode of STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, I suddenly become a big proponent of the video trance.
Sleep is a blessing, unless you’re the one asleep, as in “at the wheel”. If your kids drop off during the trip, let em snooze. But not too long, or else you’ll have a whole ‘nother set of problems later that night.
So there you go. I hope it helps. I’d like to think that nearly twenty years on the road traveling with kids taught me something, and as they get older and more independent, I feel it is my duty to pass along the wisdom to the next generation that felt it oh so necessary to propagate themselves.
(Billy is the Director Of Content for LeadsByFone LLC, and actually loves and adores his three wonderful children….really…truly….he means it….honest injun)