This past September my family took a road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Since we live in south Texas, it was a bit of a drive. Later this year we are going on another road trip to California (I love that we homeschool and can take trips on our own schedule). Keeping 5 small children occupied in the car for long periods can be challenging. I’ve written before about car travel and how we have backpacks, snacks, movies, and car games. For the trip this past September I decided to step up the car activities a notch.
During the back-to-school sales, I stocked up on binders, spiral notebooks, colored pencils, and pencil cases. Each of the 4 older children got a binder and matching colored pencil bag. Inside the pencil bag was several pencils with erasers, a set of of colored pencils, and apencil sharpener. Crayons melt too easily in the Texas heat, so no crayons were included.
The front pocket of the binder had a list of suggested games such as I Spy, the Alphabet Game, and Roadtrip Bingo. A simple Google search for car games gave me plenty of suggestions. Next came the pencil bag, then spiral notebook. I then printed out sheets Roadtrip Bingo game cards, tic-tac-toe boards, dot game boards, a list of the 50 states for the license plate game, car scavenger hunt, and (for the older boys) a paper Battleship game. The back section of the binder had coloring books and pages.
Overall I’d say they were a big hit with the kids. They were certainly occupied and the restlessness was kept to a minimum. I’m definitely going to refresh these binders for our next trip.
Going back to my traveling tips posts, today I write about car survival. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I greatly prefer to travel by car with the kids rather than by plane. So how do we manage to drive for 2 or 3 days and keep everyone happy?
One year for Christmas, shortly before traveling to Disney World, each child received a backpack. Inside each pack was a pencil case, coloring book and, a road trip bingo game. Shortly before leaving each child added books, travel board games, and a favorite stuffed animal or doll. Everyone was given colored pencils (crayons can melt in the car) for their pencil bags as well as erasers. We went to Costco and bought snack size chips, crackers, granola bars, and cookies. Each child picked a few snacks for their backpack and I refilled once or twice a day as necessary. I have found that keeping the kids well-fed makes for a much happier day.
We are fortunate enough to have a DVD player in our minivan so I stock a CD carrying case with our favorite movies and TV shows. At home we limit screen-time, but on the road we are a little more liberal with the time. The kids are very happy watching their favorite shows and snacking. Our mp3 player comes in handy as well for playing all our favorite music. Some of our favorites include the Disneymania music, or any Disney soundtrack. We even try to theme the music to where we are traveling. For example when we drive through Texas we listen to our favorite George Strait Texas songs, or a trip through Oklahoma has us listening to the Oklahoma! soundtrack.
When not doing any of the above things or napping (even the big kids get sleepy in the car) we also play car games. We keep track of how many license plates we see from other states, the alphabet game w
here we look for each letter of the alphabet in order on billboards and signs, and “I’m going on a trip” game.
To save a little money and to allow breaks for running around, we pack our lunch and stop at rest areas rather than going to a restaurant. There are many rest areas, especially in Texas, that have playgrounds so we stop there to eat and get some exercise. I also pack our big 5-gallon water jug in the car full of iced water. I keep it within arms-reach of my seat and can refill water bottles as needed. I bring the individual serving Hawaiian Punch or Crystal Light lemonade powders to add to the drinks occasionally as well.
Since all of my children are in car seats or booster seats, it can be difficult for them to reach forward to get snacks or water bottles that I want to pass to them. One of the best solutions I have come up with is to purchase one of those grabbers that is often advertised for the elderly or disabled to reach thing on high shelves. I can then easily pass back items to the third row while my husband continues to drive so we don’t have to pull over or remove a seat belt. This is by far the best car tool we own.
I have to admit that not everyone is happy 100% of the time. Kids (and parents) get tired, cooped up, and bored. But we’ve managed to find a way to make the trip mostly enjoyable with minimal upset.
As I mentioned in my previous post, this time a year ago we were preparing to leave on our big trip to Disney World. This means that this time last year I was in the middle of packing suitcases. The first thing I do before packing a single item is make a list of everything that everyone might need packed, including socks, shoes, clothing, diapers, bibs, toiletries, sweatshirts, etc. The list used to be on paper and I found myself having to replicate the list for every trip. So for this trip I chose to create a OneNote including boxes where I could check off every every item as it got packed. Each family member has a column and underneath the clothing items to be packed is a list of other miscellaneous items such as cameras, chargers, and the like. By making this list digital, I found that I no longer need to re-create it for each trip, but just modify it for the location.
After I get the list straight, then go through each member of the family’s closet and gather each item needed. Each person then gets a pile on our king-size bed. Previously I would pack the suitcases based on the person. Each member would get a section of a suitcase. I discovered a few years ago, however, that it was MUCH easier for us when we reached our destination if I packed according to day rather than by person. So after gathering everyone’s clothes, I make a pile for each day. For example Monday’s pile would have an outfit (including undergarments) for my husband, myself, and each child. Each pile is then placed in a soft-sided zipper bag like this one I found at The Container Store, and each bag is labeled with the day of the week. In addition I make separate bags for pajamas, emergency outfits for the kids, and swimsuits or sweatshirts.
I have found this system to be extremely helpful because when we arrive at our destination I only need to pull out one zipper bag a day and everyone’s clothing is ready for the day. Also, if we are taking a car trip that has multiple nights on the road, it is much easier to bring one or two suitcases into a hotel rather than every suitcase. All I need is to bring one suitcase with the clothes for the next day and one suitcase containing our toiletries and pajamas. This system of packing may take a few minutes extra time before-hand, but it helps keep everything neat and organize,and there is no more sifting through suitcases trying to find outfits.
This time last year my family was less than a week away from our big trip to Disney World where my husband ran the Walt Disney World marathon. We had a countdown going for many months before our trip, and all were excited. Leading up to our trip, since my husband was working and the kids were way too young to help, the majority of the packing was up to me.
I tend to be a planner when it comes to preparing for trips. I like to have lists going several weeks in advance and don’t like to wait until the last minute to have things packed. This particular trip was by car, which I actually prefer. While air travel is faster, it is much more frustrating. Car seats have to be hauled from the parking lot to the baggage check-in, the number of bags you are able to check, and able to carry, is limited, not to mention getting 4 small children through crowded airport security. There’s always one child who decides she doesn’t want to carry her own carry-on that she insisted on packing, and I live in constant stress and fear of disturbing fellow passengers on the flight. Car travel, on the other hand is much less stressful for me. It may take longer, but I am not so limited in what I can pack, it is easier to bring our own food, and I feel much more relaxed.
So getting back to our Disney trip, this time last year it was less than a week until our trip and I was making lists and planning like crazy. Next time….packing!