Summer Vacation Car Travel Tips

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Car travel can be daunting, even scary for a mom transporting a carload of kids across country. One mom in particular heading from St. Louis to Texas for summer break sent out a plea for help a few days back looking for some tips on surviving her journey. The following is my attempt to calm and prepare her for a great time

I grew up in the back seat of our family’s station wagon, the sixth of eight kids squished between my siblings for hours on end– car travel is in my blood and perfecting it, my mission.

First step, entertainment- the “toy bag” or backpack. My first rule of travel is that each child packs his or her own backpack. Depending on the age of your kids, they may need your guidance. Think: paper, crayons, Playdoh, Legos, cards, electronic games (gameboy, iPod, PSP), etc. Bring along some cookie sheets for the kids to do their drawing, and playing on. They double as magnet boards and will provide hours of fun. Pack along the alphabet, number, shapes/Colorforms, etc.

This “toy bag” is all about fun, the only rule is that the kids have to be able to carry it on their backs and that includes your preschoolers. It’s important for the kids to be self sufficient and able to load and unload their stuff (It makes your life pretty sweet, too).

Once the kids have packed their backpacks, they leave for me to inspect. Here is where the backpack fairy steps in to create a bit of fun. The night before we leave, I hide a few surprises inside and wrap them with aluminum foil (quick and easy). I number the gifts and then along the journey, I say, "pull out surprise #1 or #2". This keeps them excited and is fun for everyone. The surprises are cheap and little, and sometimes a treat-like a fruit snack, or a new pack of crayons, or a match box, etc.

Now for some on the road entertainment for the family: Tunes. (I have a blog of kid friendly music CDs) Choosing music and a few great books on CD are essential steps for a great trip. We always hit the library the day or two before a trip and the kids stock up on books, and CDs. Listening to a book on CD is fun for everyone. We’ve listened to many a Harry Potter, Junie B, and tons of others–depending on the kids’ ages. If you are a Christian, a friend turned us on to the Land of Odyssey (Focus on the Family). The kids have grown up with the characters, and together, our values and beliefs have been nurtured- you’ll love these. Some of the CDs are for older kids, so keep an eye on the content.

Last tip is to create an in car Movie theatre. if you have a DVD in your car or you bring one along, this is easy. Redbox allows you to rent a DVD for $1 a day –  but the best part is you can return to any Redbox along the way. This means, check it out in St Louis and then return at a location in Texas – pretty sweet. Make sure to pack some festive movie treats.

In closing, family travel on the open road is priceless. What matters most is that you are together-trapped, if you will and forced to talk, laugh, argue – be a family. Be sure to give yourself grace when it feels overwhelming. You are doing a great job and should feel so proud of yourself! Make it a great trip!

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