Car Trips with Children
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Whether you are traveling across the country or just a few hours to get to a hiking spot, kids in the car can be a challenge. Sometimes kids flip out before you get to the end of the street, and this may discourage many from even attempting longer trips. Others buy fancy vans with DVD players, while a majority keeps the tradition where the dad just yells to the back seat ďdonít make me stop this car!Ē My strategy is to have lots of toys and food inside the car while taking the occasional city park break.
An early morning start hours before their usual awake time works well for me. They usually are awake for half hour or so wondering whatís the deal, then they fall back to sleep. When they do wake, they're usually groggily and are chilled out for quite awhile.
Driving in the dark is frustrating when kids are awake because itís harder to grab things if they drop something. They also have little to look at and youíll need to focus more on the road at night. Although, it can be nice if they are somewhat tired as theyíre more likely to fall asleep, zone out or just say quiet.
On some A to B trips, Iíve just driven through the night. This works well as long as someone can watch the kids the following day while you sleep. When itís just me and the kids, I can't really get away with this, I need my sleep or they really drive me nuts.
Behind the front seat (within my reach) is a bin of toys that the kids enjoy. These are toys used only while traveling in the car. Unfortunately, because I travel so much in the car I have to switch them out often. Usually, once the child is board of the toy, they drop it at which point I reach back and pull out a new toy.
Another is snack items that I can pick from a bag in the front seat and hand back to the kids. They spend a lot of time pulling the cereal in and out of the bag or working the wrapper down that granola bar. On long trips in our car (not my thrasher truck), I place a plastic tarp across the entire back seat area, cutting holes for the car seats to attach. This way even a spilled drink will not get on the leather.
If you have a pickup truck, you can legally put a car seat in the front seat. Now that my oldest is talking, he requires much less stimulation and we can play more verbal and visual games. With one in front and the other in back, there are also fewer sibling complications with fighting over toys and food theft.
In reality, the biggest secret is probably getting them use to traveling in the car. Start them within a few weeks of birth. Make them think this is part of life; they will have no reason to know otherwise.
Update: Now that my kids are approaching 4 and 2, I bought a cheep DVD player. This works awesome, they are quiet for a whole video or two. What I like about it is that I can take it into the tent or a hotel room and work its magic there as well. Because its relatively inexpensive, I don't have to baby the DVD player worrying they might goof it up. To keep it a novelty, I only bring it on the longer road trips that last all day.
Mesa Verde National Park, Inside Balcony House