I’ve had some tough moments traveling with kids. Like the time we were almost home and my daughter wouldn’t stop crying. She just wouldn’t. Nothing Apple or Netflix had to offer made her happy. Finally, at the end of our rope, we pulled into a Cracker Barrel (an hour and a half from home!) to wander around and hope for a reset. We wound up spending over $30 on a toy, in a desperate attempt to make it through the last leg of the trip.
In case you’re wondering, we did make it home that night. But ever since, I’ve been on a constant quest to discover tips for a stress-free road trip. Here’s what I’ve found so far…
Traveling with Kids During the Holidays
It’s a Surprise!
Buy a bag full of cheap toys at the Dollar Tree. Plan to hand a different toy to your child every couple of hours, or every meltdown, whichever comes first. The idea is keep a Mary Poppins-like stream of new toys coming.
You may wonder at the effectiveness of a trinket that falls apart on contact, but the draw here is new, never-before-seen toys. Trust me, it works.
And be sure to think outside the box while you’re shopping around. Toys are great, yes. But so are pom poms, sticky notes, pipe cleaners, and even ice cube trays for sorting. Plus, Dollar Tree typically carries some great educational activity books and flash cards. And don’t forget glow sticks for nighttime driving.
The Voyage of Discovery
Look through the eyes of a child, and everything can be fun. My preschooler LOVES maps. So a great car activity is drawing a “map.” Get her started with Home on one end and Grandma’s on the other. Encourage her to draw interesting sights along the way. (It’s fun to see what she notices: a grouping of bright green houses, a chicken standing in the middle of a side road, jet streams, etc.)
Pick up some free maps at rest stops to study together. These are great for tracing out your route and serve as cherished memorabilia little ones love to accumulate. (Bonus tip: Grab anything that’s free wherever you stop. Even real estate magazines are popular with the littles around here. It’s fun to walk out with fresh new material at different stops along the way!)
Eat While They Play
If the kids need to burn off some energy, stop at a place with a play place. Encourage them to play (no eating!) while the adults sit down and enjoy a relaxing meal. On the way out the door, grab the kids some food to go and let them eat in the car. This can also work for a picnic in the park if you typically pack a cooler for your trip!
Road Trip Treasure Hunt
Whether you’re on the road or in the air, a little preparation can buy you some happy playtime. Draw out a chart with pictures of different items the kids are likely to see, and have them place an X (or sticker) on the items they’ve located.
Didn’t plan ahead? Work with what you’ve got! At the next rest stop or trail, grab an empty cup or bag from the car and encourage the kids to find as many fun nature objects as they can for their collection. Express wonder at each object and study the different shapes, textures, and colors over the next leg of the trip.
Pack food that’s fun. String cheese, pistachios, and sunflower seeds are great for the older ones (and don’t involve a sugar crash!).
Go for a theme. For holiday travel, place treats in holiday sandwich bags or add a fun Christmas sticker. Watch Christmas movies and eat popcorn with a few green and red M&M’s mixed in. It doesn’t take much extra prep time to be a little creative.
Don’t Forget the Gear
Pack a baby carrier or small umbrella stroller for “just in case.” Especially if you’re traveling alone – proper gear can be a necessity when it comes to using the restroom yourself, navigating fast food lines, or just managing more than one child in general.
Lower Your Expectations
Be sure you’re well-rested for the trip. Avoid the tendency to stay up late packing – lack of sleep can keep you feeling anxious.
Finally, relax. Expect the trip to take longer than you expect. Focus on creating adventures and making memories in the small moments. Follow the kids’ lead. They’re great at that. Holiday traveling with kids can make memories you’ll all have forever.
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Kelli Pavlovec draws from her experience as a work from home mom to help smart moms get unstuck and find their best self at Two Hour Mom. To find out how to Pursue Your Life Dreams, Even While You’re a Mom, click here.