For Amanda Carman, founder of www.excited2learn.com, a breakthrough came while taking her young child on a 10-hour car trip. “Instead of looking at it like ‘we just have to get there, how much longer?’ and having the whole trip being something akin to travel torture, we went the other direction,” Carman explains. “Travel is no longer just a means to an end. It becomes part of the adventure, part of the fun and quality family time.”
Looking for ways to reducing the driving doldrums and fall in love a road trip? Try these ten tips from Carman and other experts:
- Be over-prepared. Bring the necessities (wipes, trash bags, snacks, first aid supplies) as well as the things you will need to for more comfortable travel (a mini-flashlight for kids, frozen juice boxes to keep other food cold until drinkable, books on CD, hand-held games, pillows, extra clothes). When in doubt, pack it.
- Encourage backseat driving. Use your route as part of the entertainment. Have your children use a Bingo marker to make a dot on a map to represent each place you pass or stop. Or mark the route you are taking using a highlighter. Challenge kids to count the number of towns until your next stop—or better yet, use the map to help determine a few fun stops along the way.
- Break it up. Plan a new activity, snack, rest stop or treat for every 30 minutes of your drive. “The amount of time you spend preparing will save you twice that amount of time on the road,” Carman says. “It can be a quick snack, a coloring sheet or a small toy. Your child will look forward to picking a treat each time.” Or, write clues to a riddle on index cards and place them in a series on envelopes. Every 30 minutes, your child opens an envelope until he guesses the answer. Reward him with stickers, a small toy or other fun treat.
- Eat on the road. Your instincts might tell you to plan your stops around meals, but Carman recommends the opposite. “Eat in the car. Use it as part of the entertainment to pass time,” she advises. “When planning your route, scope out places to stop along the way. Use stops exclusively for exercise and restroom breaks.”
- Make an evolving scrapbook. Create flashcards of common sights (stoplights and road signs), landmarks or major cities along your route. As you pass each one, have your child glue that card on a page in the notebook, adding her own words and artwork. At the end of the trip, you have a ready-made keepsake created from your child’s perspective.
- Engage in some Q&A. Ask interesting questions and record your child’s responses on your iPhone or handheld recorder. What will he be when he grows up? What has been the most fun part of the summer? Download these audio files after the trip and label them with the year. These clips will become an keepsake (and possibly, great blackmail material!) as your child grows older.
- Get clingy. Provide two passengers in the car with identical sets of window clings. Have one make a design on their window while the other has his back turned. The first then tells the other how to replicate the same design. Do they match?
- Name it. If you find yourself traveling near the same cars for a period of time, name them. The white sports car becomes the White Racer and the sedan is dubbed the Green Hornet. “Track how long you travel together and make up stories for who is inside and where they are they going,” suggests parenting expert and father of six Robert Nickell, founder of www.daddyscrubs.com. “Make it about the experience of the drive and use creative storytelling to increase family bonding.”
- Let them be actively bored. Eileen Gunn, Founder and Editor of FamiliesGo!, (www.familiesgotravel.com), says that its not a bad thing to embrace boredom. “It helps them to think creatively,” she explains. “Sometimes when you leave them to their own devices, they will surprise you with their elaborate ideas and imagery scenarios. ”
- Music appreciation. Stock the car with CDs or download a variety of songs from artists old and new. Take turn playing DJ in the car and introduce your kids to artists you like. “Throw in artists like Dan Zanes or They Might be Giants. A lot of kids’ music is good, and use this time to learn more about what your children enjoy listening to,” Gunn explains.
Tips such as these do more than just pass the time, says Mathias Friess of www.webjet.com. “Everyone has heard the adage, ‘Life is not a destination, but a journey.’ Car travel can seem daunting and stressful, but with a bit of creativity, you can have just as much fun while traveling as you do at your destination.”
By making the process fun, you can help change your entire family’s perception of car travel and help you make the most out of the time you have with your children—while they’re still children. “When kids do fun activities in the car, they are making good childhood memories that will make them look forward to family travel, forge deeper connections with family members and also make them want to travel with their families once they grow up,” Friess says.
Such has been the case for Carman and her family. “It gets easier each time we take a trip,” she explains. “We never thought long distance travel with kids could be so much fun, but now we look forward to the drive.”
Now hit the road and enjoy the experience!
Brooke Barnett is the Assistant Editor at MetroFamily Magazine.