a couple of weeks ago, we packed up the five kiddos (oldest: age 9 and youngest age 1) and headed to disney world. orlando is a seven and a half hour drive (without stops) from our home and we were going to be gone for a week. packing five kids (four in either car seats or boosters) and all the luggage required a degree in engineering all on its own. keeping the kids happy on the trip was close to impossible. still, we managed to get there and back in good spirits so i thought i'd pass on what worked well for my clan.
if you are taking a road trip with your kids, here are my tips for survival:
- pack as many items as possible out of the way. we borrowed a travel metal grate that attached to our towing hitch. we used that to carry the big luggage and two strollers. we wrapped it all in a large tarp in case of rain and secured it with bungee cords. we looked like the "clampetts" but the kids had enough leg room to wiggle a little bit. we have previously made the mistake of packing the car so full that no one could move. this was miserable for our kids and miserable for us as we listened to their complaints. it is better to swallow our pride and look like a hillbilly than to have anyone suffering.
we may need a bigger car...
- dvd players are a gift from heaven. i am all for family bonding. i love playing the alphabet game and other road trip adventures. they really do create great family memories. i'm also for a couple of hours of peace and quiet while everyone watches a movie. if you have the means, invest in a dvd player for your car, especially for your younger kids. we had two separate players...one for the older kids and one for the younger. we had "mickey mouse clubhouse" and "narnia" playing at the same time and everyone was happy.
dvd players...strapped in and ready to roll
- buy headphones and other attachments in advance. for easter this year, each child found new headphones in their baskets. these gifts were really for me but the kids never figured it out. when you have more than one child watching more than one dvd, you want the sound isolated. head sets are a life saver. purchase other travel attachments as well. you can purchase a splitter so that two kids can watch the same dvd player at the same time when there is only one headphone jack. set this up and have it functioning properly days before your trip. if you need more power outlets, purchase adapters for this as well. our car is painfully short of power outlets so we lived by extra adapters. make sure all electronics have the proper car adapter as well before the trip begins.
a much needed car adapter...
everyone is happily in their own little world...
- pack each child a "car bag" before the trip. my kids actually helped me with this process to make it easier. each child had a new coloring book or puzzle book, sufficient crayons and pencils, a new book to read (also an easter basket treat), school work they needed to complete, and an electronic game like a nintendo ds or a leapster or leap pad. their games were also organized and divided by child so everyone had their own items to use on the trip. we also had no video games for a couple of weeks before the trip to make the game time a little more enticing. it might seem cruel but it did work well. having everything divided by child made them responsible for their own activities and ensured there would not be any fighting over items. it worked like a charm.
seats ready with bags, pillows and water bottles
- bring a pillow for each child and at least one blanket for the trip. this may seem excessive but one of them was always cold. there was also a brief, blissful moment when all of the kids fell asleep for about a half an hour. yes..even the nine year old. that is proof that miracles do happen.
- bring enough snacks and drinks to feed a small foreign country. our motto has always been, "when nothing else works, give them something to snack on." this proved especially the case with our one year old. he pretty much ate or threw food on the ground for the entire trip. we could have lived for days on the food remnants on our floor. still, it was worth it for the entertainment factor alone. when kids are bored, they often think they are hungry. they will ask for snacks. they will be grumpy if they are not fed. have more than enough food to feed them. you won't be sorry.
- plan your trip around stops you plan to make. it might sound crazy, but we planned to leave at a certain time so we could drive for a couple of hours before we stopped for lunch. meals always included a place to run and play (usually a fast food playground) in order to burn off some of the pent up energy. after lunch we planned on nap time for the little ones and figured we could go a couple more hours after they woke up. that put us at a good place for an out-of-the-car snack break (and another potty stop). then it was a couple more hours before dinner. you get the idea. you will have to stop for bathroom breaks and meals. we wanted to minimize those as much as we could and coordinate them with the kids normal schedules as well. we also planned specific times for activities. there was movie time but there was also reading time, school work time, game time, etc. keeping things to designated time kept the kids entertained and happy.
- most of all, remember your sense of humor and adventure. i'm going to be really honest. these tips may not work for you. you could plan like crazy and everything could fall apart in that car. it could be carmageddon. three years ago when we did this same trip, my now three year old spent the entire trip...all 7.5 hours of driving time...baaing like a lamb...loudly...without stopping. i can't tell you how many friends i called to have them listen. he didn't nap. he didn't want to play. he just made that sound, over and over again. it was the longest trip i have ever taken. if everything goes wrong, it's okay. it will not define your vacation...it's just a small part of the whole. keep a sense of humor and keep your chin up. with each mile that goes by, this too shall pass. you might as well make the most of it.
wherever your travels take you, i hope these suggestions help. my kids are all still alive and they remember the trip with happy memories so that has to count for something. if you have any other great suggestions, i'd love to hear them. if you see us traveling this summer or any other family with baggage strapped to every inch of their vehicle, smile and wave. we all just might need a life line. happy trails!