When was the last time you were stuck in traffic with your toddler or preschool child, when he just did not want to be in his car seat any more? Maybe you had a head-ache, or weren’t feeling great yourself. Maybe it was getting hot inside, and the air conditioner wasn’t working properly. Or maybe the opposite was true – it was the middle of winter and the windows were too foggy to see out of? Nearly all of us can recall at least one time when we were sorry the automobile was ever invented.
Traveling with children doesn’t have to be synonymous with horrendous, grueling, pull-out-your-hair bad days. With a little planning and foresight, young children can learn to amuse themselves and be great traveling companions. So, it’s time to put plan “B” into action. Think ahead and plan for those “worst possible moments” so you’ll have an alternative to swallowing half a bottle of pain relievers with the cold dregs of this morning’s left-over coffee.
A Special Travel Bag Will Amuse a Cranky Child
Use a child-sized backpack in a bright, pretty color. It’s important to get something the child likes and recognizes, something the child could carry. Don’t get an adult backpack, and fill it with so much stuff that you need a dolly to carry it out to the car. Children are funny, in that more isn’t necessarily better. A few great toys will amuse a child longer than a hundred cheap toys, which are generally just dumped onto the floor and trampled on.
Your travel bag is ONLY for in the car. Do not use it for rainy days, sick days, doctor visits, or even in church. If you want, you can create separate “play bags” for each of those situations. But the trick to a successful travel bag is that it stays fresh. The more you use it, the less it will work for you. If you are only going to be in the car for ten minutes, then don’t even bother to get out the travel bag. The travel bag is for that half-hour commute, or when you will be running errands all morning.
Cheap Toys are Better for in the Car, In Case Pieces Get Lost
I’m not a big fan of fast food, but those silly little toys that come in kids meals stay in our car. I never bring them into the house. It doesn’t matter if the toy gets lost on the trip, because I would probably just throw it out anyway. This sounds like I’m contradicting myself, as I said above that a few good toys were better than a hundred cheap ones! But I won’t keep a hundred freebies from the fast-food chains, as we just don’t eat there that often.
Other toy suggestions include: Etch-a-sketch, Magna-Doodle, Colorforms (these stick to car windows, too!), magnetic puzzles, stringing beads. You can try crayons and coloring books, or get a stack of blank computer paper and a clip board. You can even pack your “junk” mail, and let your youngster tear it open, scribble it up, and rip it to shreds. We survived a lengthy traffic jam through Chicago one trip just ripping up junk mail. Sure, it made a mess, but it was harmless, and my granddaughter had so much fun doing it!
The car is about the only time I allow electronic toys. I don’t like such toys, I don’t buy them, and I don’t keep them in the house. But someone gave my granddaughter a “leap frog” learning toy. This has kept her entertained in her car seat or a half-hour or more, when she would otherwise have been bored. I don’t think she would play with it that long if she were in the house. The noises most electronic toys make can be quite annoying, but they aren’t as bad as listening to a screaming child.
Collect CDs of Children’s Songs
Pack a collection of children’s tapes or CDs, like Raffi, Sesame Street, or whatever your child enjoys. When the toys are no longer working, pop in a tape and sing along with your child.
Pack an Extra Dose of Patience and Some Imagination
Pack Nutritious Snacks and Skip the Drive-Through
Keep something available in your car that won’t spoil and isn’t pure sugar. Granola bars, G.O.R.P., raisins, pretzels, and animal crackers are good ideas. Keep a supply of snacks somewhere – in your house, your purse, your glove box, where ever. Then pop ONE into the child’s travel bag before the trip. You don’t want to stuff your child so that he won’t eat his next meal. You just want to take the edge off his hunger so you don’t feel compelled to go through a drive-through for some fast-food junk. You might want to keep bottles of plain water in the car, as well. Juice and soda are sticky when they spill. Water is the perfect travel beverage.
Always Carry Wipes or Paper Towels for Accidents
Keep a package of wet-ones (commercial or home-made) in the car at all times. You probably do already, but even if your child has outgrown the need for a diaper bag, he will never outgrow the ability to get dirty. I try to keep wet-ones, a plastic bag for soiled clothing, a change of clothes, and a sweater in the car. The trick is to put them back, once they get brought into the house!
At the end of any trip, have your child help you put everything back into the travel bag and zip it shut for the next trip. Don’t forget to restock it – if you used the change of clothes, or ate the snacks. Keep it ready, and keep it out of reach.
Safe, and happy traveling!
Tags: activites for car trips, amusing kids in the car, car trip, car trip for preschoolers, family vacations, keeping kids happy in the car, Preschool, sanity, toddlers, tots, traveling, traveling with children