Kids are naturally curious and tend to get excited about sports, musical instruments, and all sorts of group activities. While you may appreciate their enthusiasm, you also likely have to balance your budget. I’ve learned over the years that paying for extracurriculars without breaking the bank is possible.
Traveling with children may sometimes seem like a daunting task and it is if you expect them to sit in a car for hours on end with no entertainment whatsoever. By entertainment I am not referring to movies and video games (although they do come in handy on extremely long trips). There are many technology-free activities and ideas that can make your road trip an enjoyable one – for you and the children! Road trips are a great opportunity to spend some quality family time together.
When my daughters were only two, three and a half, and five and a half years old, our family went on an 11 hour road trip in a 7-seat mini van with one set of grandparents. There was not an empty spot in the van! We did not have a built in DVD player and our children did not own Nintendo DSs. Our two year old had a cast on her leg. Sounds like something not too many people would want to do doesn’t it? With minimal planning for an enjoyable road trip, the drive went off without a hitch – there and back! The children enjoyed it so much they were asking when we were going on our next long road trip. I came up with some of the ideas myself and found endless suggestions for games and activities and other entertainment ideas on the internet with search words like “car games” and “traveling with children”. Here is what we did.
Have Things to do While Traveling
We made sure to have a CD (at that time we did not have an MP3 player or an iPOD) with ALL of their favorite songs compiled onto one disc. We played this throughout the trip in the background for hours and had many, many family sing-a-longs. We packed a bag for each of our daughters as well, with their favorite things from home, that they kept by their seats on the floor of the van. This gave them the ability to self-entertain and gave us a break from constantly providing sources of entertainment.
Since we knew the drive was a long one, and even we were not that thrilled to be trapped in a vehicle for 11 hours, we made sure to try to hit the road early to make up some fast ground. This also provided us with the probability that the girls may sleep for a portion of the trip – another good way to kill some time. Our daughters have never been big sleepers, and although we were on the road before 6am, we did not get much sleeping out of them. If I remember correctly, our two year old fell asleep by nine and slept for about an hour or an hour and a half. Our three and a half year old slept for maybe 45 minutes shortly after lunch. That was it.
No one can sit in a vehicle for eleven hours without bathroom breaks and without getting out to stretch tired legs. With children, it is even more important to do this. We made sure to include breaks as part of our trip. We timed them with lunch, for instance, and also with museums or parks we wanted to visit. This allowed us to provide our children with a definite timeline so when they asked how much longer until we stop, we were able to give them an answer, which seemed to satisfy them.
We made sure to play games with our daughters too. These games not only passed time for them, but for us as well. We played the ever popular “I Spy” and we also had our girls on the lookout for as many blue cars as they could find, and how many trucks they could see, etc. We looked for the letters of the alphabet, in order, on highway signs, as well as numbers, in order. With older children you can improvise these games by giving them a word such as “elephant”. They must find all of the letters, in order, on the highway signs. The first person to spell the word wins. Have them write down the name of one of the cities or towns on one of the highway signs and see who can rearrange the letters to spell the most words. Older children may also enjoy trying to find license plates from all 50 of the United States and/or all 10 provinces and 3 territories of Canada.
We did bring along a couple of portable DVD players and the older girls did end up watching one movie each, during the final hours of the trip. However, the highlight of their road trip was the surprise bags they got every hour of the trip! Thanks to the Dollar Store, I was able to purchase some inexpensive toys and activities to surprise them with. It was really fun shopping for things I knew they would like and it did not cost me much when it came right down to it. Before we left on our trip, I labelled twenty-two paper bags for each daughter – eleven for the trip there and eleven for the way back. I filled three or four of them with a juice box and snacks they do not typically get to eat at home. That way I knew they would be getting a snack every couple of hours. I filled about three bags with toys or books or activities I already had at home that they had not used in a while. They were excited to see them when they opened the bags and enjoyed them just as much as the stuff I bought new from the Dollar Store. My two year old loved to play with socks so I actually put a couple of pairs of socks in one of her bags and she entertained herself by putting them on and off both her hands and her feet! I filled all but one of the rest of the bags with items I had purchased at the Dollar Store. One of the biggest hits was colored pipe cleaners! I bought one package of 20 – 40 pipe cleaners and divided them up between my three daughters. They had great fun twisting them into different creations such as candy canes, letters of the alphabet and butterflies!
I only purchased one brand new bigger, more potentially expensive, toy for each of my girls, which was a mini Littlest Pet Shop kit that folds up for travel. Luckily, I had gotten them on sale a few months earlier, knowing I was planning to buy them something for this road trip. They received them in one of the first few bags of the road trip and they played with them on the road trip there, at the house we were staying at, on all the little road trips once we reached our destination, and on the way back too. They still play with them now, two years later, so they were well worth the money.
Road trips with children can be very successful and rewarding with very little planning and very little money spent. I am speaking from experience.
What other tips do you have for traveling with children?