(First off, a big Thank You to all of you fabulous readers who were able to retrieve my lost post via Google Reader! I can't tell you how happy this makes me! xoxo.)
We are back from our annual 4th of July reunion in Colorado. We had an excellent time but are very happy to be off the road, at home and in our own beds. Unfortunately Jon couldn't join us this year as he's acting in a play and has other work that he couldn't break away from. So I decided to take the 8 hour drive out to Colorado on my own with our two boys (Oh yeah, and at 6 months pregnant). Crazy you say? Well I do agree, but in someways this was one of the best road trips I've had with the boys. Why? Well in addition to having a little help from above, I think some serious preparation and planning (and the chance to caravan with my sister's family) did just the trick.
I'd love to share a few tips (some learned the hard way :)) for traveling across country with young kids (particularly if are traveling by yourself!).
TIPS FOR ROAD TRIPPING WITH YOUNG KIDS
- Evaluate your needs and devise a plan. How old are your children? Do you have an infant/baby? Are your kids potty trained or are some in diapers still? What are their needs and how can you address them in the best way possible both ahead of time and while on the road? For example, my oldest, 6 yrs, needs a lot of brain stimulation so I prepared a lot of dot to dots, mazes, math activities, etc. for him. Whereas my youngest, 3 1/2 yrs, needs a best friend play toy at all times and needs to snack constantly, to stay in a good mood. So I made sure I was ready for both of these things and more. After evaluating you might end up deciding that being the sole driver just isn't in the cards for you at this time. But then again, you might decide that you think you (and your littles) are ready and want to take the plunge! And you might just find out, like me, that it was totally doable and worth it!
- Separate the trip into shorter, manageable sections. This doesn't mean you have to stop at each "section" of your trip (but then again you might need to for feedings, diaper changes or bathroom breaks!) but you can have mile markers where you pull out a new toy or coloring book, etc. When Jon and I drive together on long trips we typically have the rule, no videos until after dinner or when it's getting dark. This encourages the kids to engage in their planned activities while it's still light out and day dream while looking out the window (a very important part of a road trip, if you ask me). On this trip however, as I was driving by myself, I told the boys that they could start watching videos after our "middle of the trip" mile marker, Little America (where we would be also be meeting up with caravanning cousins for a short while). This helped me out as I wouldn't have to worry about entertaining them for such long periods of time and by making this clear ahead of time they knew what was coming and how to mentally prepare themselves for how the trip would play out.
- Involve your kids in the pre-planning. Let the Littles get involved with the plan up front so they are not as thrown by any surprises. For example, we had our boys earn money for a toy from the dollar store before the trip. They then each picked out a couple of plastic Power Rangers who quickly became their inseparable (and eventually armless) road trip companions. We also took them to the library where we picked out books on CD as well as movies on DVD. I like checking out movies from the library because it's something our kids have never seen so they are engaged and excited about it, but it's not as expensive (or even free at some libraries) as purchasing an entirely new show. I then throw in a few tried and true beloved shows from our home DVD library if all else fails. We also let them come with us while picking out snacks but make sure that they didn't break into any of it until the trip. Yes they got antsy and complained, wanting the yummy thing right then but I held strong and didn't let them have any of it until we got on the road. You could also work together to make a number of homemade snacks and treat which is a really great way to go. If I did this again I'd love to pick out some of my pinned snack ideas to make such as these, these, or these (we had candy buttons on another trip and my boys loved picking them off and eating them. They quickly became my "oh no, the boys are starting to lose it, time to break out another sheet of candy buttons" trick up my sleeve). This is a fun idea as well. I think keeping these things "special" along with knowing what sort of snacks they had in store before the trip started helped them look forward to the long adventure ahead.
- Make or purchase accessories that will help your trip run smoother. This year I finally made another travel desk for Little O as well as an art portfolio case that could be used a top the desk and then placed within the underside pocket (where the board is) for storage. I then stuffed them full of fun games and activities as well as blank paper, markers and colored pencils. These were then slung over and stored on the side of their seat arm rests, making it accessible whenever they wanted it. As my oldest is more capable of helping himself and his brother out, I also put a bag full of additional books, games, tag readers, etc. between their seats so that they could help them selves out when they needed a change of entertainment. I also made sure that the boys each had a water bottle full and available at all times. I kept the snacks in a box in the captain's chair and passed them back when needed. Both my boys can now unwrap their own drink box straws, string cheese wrappers and more, making things that much easier (hooray!).
- Don't forget to assess your needs for the trip. Whether you are teaming up with another driver or going solo, you can't forget to evaluate your own needs for the trip. I mean, if practically every responsibility is going to to fall into your lap, you need to make sure you are happy, comfortable and excited about the adventure you have in store! Being 6 months pregnant I had make sure that I stayed well hydrated, had lots of healthy snacks (as well as the essential sour gummy snacks that keep my senses alert) and had opportunities for breaks to get out and stretch my legs (which the kids needed as well, so it worked out great!). I also needed to be engaged in the audio books so I had some say in what we finalized when going to the library before hand (Being a YA/Middle Grade illustrator, I'm quite the fan of these books so I was more than OK with a younger sort of book. You might have work something out when you can listen to a more adult book, perhaps while the kids are watching shows or have fallen asleep). Make a number of mixed CD's with music that will engross you and keep you alert and awake. I love songs that bring me back to past times in my life. Waxing nostalgic amidst stretches of red rocks, prairies and endless road can be quite fulfilling. This is also a great time to plan fun projects and brain storm about the future. I can't tell you how many young adult "novels" I've written in my head while road tripping. Maybe someday they will amount to something :). I also found that Instagramming the trip made things much more bearable for me. I was able to keep Jon in the loop and not feel so alone on this long journey (you might notice that a number of these pics here are from Instagram. I'm new to this world but if you want to follow me you can find me at mer_mag).
- Be willing to roll with the punches. As you can probably guess, traveling with kids requires a certain amount of flexibility. Fights might break out when you least expect. They need to go to the bathroom just ten minutes after visiting the last rest stop. They claim to be "bored" with the unending amount of activities you have planned for them (many of which they haven't even bothered to look at!), etc. For I us I decided that I was going to make this trip about the trip itself, and not just the destination. So when all else failed, we found a random place to stop, get out and photograph the beautiful scenes before us (Oh and I brought a long a digital camera for the boys to take pics themselves. The giggled for a good 30 minutes taking pictures of each other legs, noses, etc. while in the car. I highly recommend this for kids who can work a camera).
Stopping and taking breaks actually ended up being one my fondest experiences of this trip. We were able stop at one my favorite landmarks, the little white church in Virginia Dale, CO. My friend's grandfather actually built this darling church and I have wanted to stop and take a closer look at it for some time. Yes making these types of stops adds time to the trip but for us, it turned out to be completely worth it.
When we finally did arrive at my parents in Colorado we jumped right into to the pool to relax and cool off!
We were so ready and excited for all the 4th of July festivities to begin. And I what a fun time we had! I can't wait to share our story and all of our pics with you, which I will be doing so very soon!
What about you? What works for you when traveling with little ones? Do you have any helpful hints on how to make things go smoother? Or some funny flops, if nothing else :). If so please share. I know we'd all love to hear them!