Do you know that feeling? Being on vacation and thinking you need a vacation to recover from vacation? It’s true that family adventures aren’t always pinterest-able. Our children don’t have the same stamina as we do, and certainly they don’t always share out interests. Nor are they at all interested in whether we can make a 16 hour drive in one day. Children have needs for entertainment as well as snacks and potty breaks, and when they feel their needs (and wants) are not adequately being met they will let you know. Vociferously.
However even at a young age children are capable to enjoying the new experiences of your family trip.
Here are five things you can do before you leave that have been helpful for my family’s frequent travel. While some of these seem more specific to road travel than any other, they’ve all been helpful for us, despite the method of travel.
- Wet bags and zip top bags. I love wet bags: they are reusable and thus better for the environment, and they work for cloth diapers, soiled clothes, swim clothes, or anything else that is wet. However there are some things that require complete disposal, and no road trip should be without some disposable zip top baggies. Keep them in the pockets of the seats so that if someone is feeling nauseous they can access the bags easily.
- Fun bags. Pack a fun bag for each child. You can use a simple draw string bag, or a larger backpack, depending on your needs. What matters is that each child has his or her own bag with snacks and toys. Books are nice but can lend to motion sickness. (See point above.) Toys with magnets are a great idea, as are puzzle cubes and other such brain teasers. My kids love MadLibs as well, even if every answer is “fart.”
- Plan to Stop. Definitely don’t plan to drive 16 hours in a single day if you can help it. Even if you pack food you’ll need to stop to eat. You’ll also need to stop for [frequent] potty breaks, and stretching your legs is healthy and necessary. I think it’s a shame to drive right through a place without stopping and learning something or seeing something. I don’t go anywhere without consulting a few resources, including Atlas Obscura, Roadside America, and local travel websites.
- Audiobooks. You can download audiobooks from places like Audible, but often your local library will have a collection of audiobooks. We’ve been on road trips where we’ve had to take detours because we reached our destination before we had finished our book and no one was ready to get out of the car. It’s surprising how engaged the whole family can be with the right literary selection. For filling in smaller units of time we like podcasts, and of course music is an important element to any trip. (If you need some family-friendly music, click here for pages of recommendations.)
- Buy a membership to your local museum or zoo. I can’t stress this enough, this is the smartest thing we do every year. Most museums participate in a national or international reciprocity system. Because of our membership in our local science museum we’ve had free admission to fabulous museums all over the country and in Canada. Each museum has been unique and engaging. But chances are, with the high cost of travel, we wouldn’t have visited many of them. It’s hard for me when we are already spending so much money on a trip to spend more, so having this free fun thing to do is always a welcome relief. If the initial cost of the membership catches your breath, consider asking the grandparents for help. In my experience they are happy to contribute to a gift that gives all year long. (Our current membership is part of the ASTC Passport Program, clicking the link will help you identify the vast collection of participating museums. We’ve previously participated in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.)
There will still be some tears, some invasions of personal space, and some complaints. But I promise you that these simple preparations can avoid a lot of common travel problems. Perhaps in the retelling of your travels there will be less drama, but in the actual experience of your travel there will be a lot more smiles. Enjoy the moments. There are never enough of them.
Happy trails to you!