Spending four hours in the car with my six year old on Saturday reminded me that the season of long car and plane rides has arrived.
Kids acting badly (or loudly) can happen to the best of us. What’s more annoying to me than a baby crying on an airplane? Watching the baby’s parent trying to quiet the baby by shaking the same stuffed toy at them for two hours. More bothersome than kicking toddlers or whiny eight year olds in the seat behind me? The parents who either endlessly yell at or totally ignore their kids the whole journey.
I find traveling with kids is best when you are relaxed (as relaxed as you can be carrying a stroller and two carseats through security) and prepared — not just with the essentials — but ready to be your child’s chief entertainment for the duration. Hopefully, you will be so prepared that you won’t actually have to entertain them the whole trip, but let’s just assume you aren’t going to get too far in your new book on your upcoming flight or catch up on phone calls to old friends on your road trip.
RELAX: The adventure begins well before you reach your destination.
I usually check out the airports we are traveling through to see if they have a kids’ play area, art exhibit or fun restaurants. Might as well start the trip with some playtime, rather than just waiting to get where you are going. Act impatient, annoyed or stressed, and your kids will follow suit. Your vacation begins when you leave your house: enjoy it — or fake it!
Ditto the road trips. Since this Saturday “errands” (two long stories that aren’t important right now) stretched us across Connecticut from New York to Rhode Island, I had a few potential pit stops in mind – a kid’s museum and aquarium (tabled for another trip), a landmark pizza joint (Ryan chose a bagel instead) and a candy factory just minutes off the highway.
I kept the PEZ factory a secret, though Ryan and I played 20 questions to see if he could figure out where we were going. Since he probably never thought about where his beloved PEZ come from, it is no wonder he couldn’t guess it. He did offer to trade me “a ticket” if I would tell him where we were headed, which brings me to my second tool in my traveling fanny pack…
PREPARE: Surprises, rewards and goodies, oh my!
Over the summer, I tested out some printable travel “tickets” from the blog Mom’s Minivan. For our frequent 3 hour rides to New Hampshire, I gave each of my boys six or seven tickets, one redeemable every thirty minutes (or thirty miles) for a surprise of my choosing (a snack, a movie, a book read aloud). The tickets kept everyone busy and happy and helped the kids track our journey. They are still floating around my car and the boys continue to try to use them as currency for a snack or – as Ryan did this weekend – to get the mystery destination out of me.
To give my kids a bit more decision-making power for our upcoming travels, I made our own set of Travel Tickets, which include most of the categories of activities I can think of for keeping my kids busy while seated.
Here’s what I am envisioning:
- Screen Time: An easy favorite but worth limiting the movies, games and books on our various digital devices.
- Story Time: We will bring along a few new/used books and some old favorites. Also will be ready to tell stories, make up some new ones and build-a-story with each of us adding on bits of silliness.
- Snack Time: Fruit, trail mix with chocolate chips, plus a few treats they don’t see a lot (Oreos, Apple Jacks, fruit snacks).
- Tunes Time: A good time to upload some new songs on digital devices, print out some lyrics of fun songs and be ready for a sing-a-long (may be better suited for a road trip). My oldest loves the Kidz Bop tracks (and Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire); they both like singing the SpongeBob theme song.
- Meal Time: Pack ahead or be flexible!
- Rest Time: I may hold onto these and distribute them when I deem necessary.
- Mystery Time: Dollar store toys, switching seats, jokes, whatever else you can think of.
- Art Time: See my Spring Break Post on art in the friendly skies. Make a travel journal, bring a roll of aluminum foil for sculpture. Play “police sketch artist” by having one person describe a person and the other draw/color it.
- Game Time: If you’re desperate, you can use the screen – presumably the vacation ahead will likely have much less screen-time. Or try 20 questions, I Spy, charades, cards and more. I picked up a few school-like workbooks (mazes, phonics, math) recently and my kids have loved working through them. Rest stop news stands now have some pretty good selections, much improved from the Invisible Ink of my childhood.
- Memory Time: While you’ve got time, share some stories of other trips you’ve taken, of the people you are traveling with or visiting (extra points for silly or gross stories).
You can print these tickets (and some blank tickets) here: LTM Travel Ticket Set.
How do you keep your kids busy while traveling? Let me know!
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