There are approximately a 2,334,432 blog posts out there on car travel with kids, so why write another one? I’ve learned since having kids that all parents have tricks, and the tricks are different. It helps me immensely to hear what others are doing because it gives me ideas.
So today’s post are some of the things that have worked for us on longer road trips with kids. The boys were four and two on these trips and in rear facing car seats, meaning we couldn’t see their faces. I would love it if you could join in the conversation in the comments section with your tips on how to manage car travel with kids.
This is basically the only piece of advice necessary to navigate all marriage and children-related dilemmas. Expectations determine your experiences, and for something that involves small children locked into a seat for indefinite amounts of time, I’ve found that keeping my expectations next to nothing goes along way. My goals are lofty, like, Get there. With no car accidents. Amen.
Know Your Kids
I have one son who is extremely sensory, as in his favourite thing ever is to jump into a ball pit or something textured and just roll his body all over it. My other son is off the charts auditory, wants to talk all the time and loves listening to music and stories. My sensory child needs something to hold and touch when he is traveling. He has shorts with zippered cargo pockets, I put some rocks or other things in those pockets, he opened the zippers, took the rocks out, put them back in, it was a sensory dream that cost nothing. My other son needs good music and audio books (more on that further down), he needs reassuring words from me, my tone of voice is so important when I communicate with him.
Both our kids will still sleep in the car, and because their sleep was so off with the moving around, often they slept even more in the car than they normally would. We tried to plan our driving to maximize nap time. It was also the only time we could listen to something other than Psalty the Singing Songbook. Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah. More on that later.
Remove Time Pressure
I’m not against wanting to arrive at a certain place by a certain time, but if I want to have a relaxed drive where I am not going to resent my kids or drive for hours with unrelenting screaming in my ears, I will have to relax my attitude on time. If something is supposed to take four hours, with our kids, it will probably take six or seven hours. This way we know that when we arrive at our destination, our kids feel loved, they’ve had a good trip, and we have had a tour of the truck stops of Germany. For our drive from Sweden to Germany (via Denmark), we had two ferry crossings on two separate days, we booked the crossings in advance with flexible timing, but we still had a vague idea of needing to be at a certain place at a certain time. We over-budgeted by about two hours, and that way when we did arrive at the ferries, we were not stressed, and the boys were overjoyed to see a boat.
No Sensory Overload
Travel is a sensory overload on its own, there is no need for me to stress my kids out further by expensive toys for the road, lights and unnecessary loud noises. They are entertained and interested in the most mundane of things, often the travel itself. The ferries were a huge hit and came at the end of long drives, so it was the entertainment for the duration of the boat trip. We like to keep the trip as calm and normal as possible.
No Screens (sort of)
I am not into parent shaming, and I have nothing against the use of screens at all. I happily hand our one iPad mini to the boys to give me time to get dinner together or to stave off temper tantrum hour or to let me catch my breath for 30 minutes. Or an hour. Or. Nevermind. My kids watch untold hours of movies on airplanes, but we have found that on car trips keeping the screens off is better for them. They are more easily worn out by car travel, their patience is thinner, and their attitudes are more grumpy than gracious. Screen time makes fatigue and attitudes that much worse. I prefer to use screen time when my kids are well rested and in a good mood. It has worked much better for us to have a big supply of books on hand and to keep passing books to them. We also had an etch-a-sketch that worked for Little Bear.
Music and Audio Books
We hit the jackpot with a friend’s gift to us of a Finding Nemo audio CD, it was our first foray into the world of audio books, and it was such a hit with both our sons. We will definitely invest in more radio plays and audio books for future car trips. I also pulled out a kids CD we hadn’t listened to in a long time, and it became their favourite CD, so much so that it is all they wanted to listen to for about five hours on end. Husband says Psalty’s Little Praisers CD is now his favourite CD, and while I think that is definitely stretching it, I have never been more thankful for the blue Singing Songbook or for the chance to hear my kids singing, Jesus loves me this I know, softly from the backseat.
Again, I am not into parent shaming, so please feed your kids whatever you think is best. Apple chips, dried mango and other fruits, nuts, lots of water, rice crackers, and other crackers have all gone down very, very well with the boys. And I do think that the food they eat helps to keep their mood a bit more even. This may seem obvious to you – I am not always the most prepared parent out there – but packing many snacks was a necessity. We can always use the snacks we didn’t use, so nothing went to waste. We tried to stop for meals, which ended up being French fries, French friends, and also some French fries, so as I mentioned before, I am really not into parent shaming. Do what you have to do.
Rest Stops and Running Breaks
Every time we stopped, we made sure to get the kids to run around a bit. Even if it was just in a simple patch of grass or concrete. I even ran up and down with them once to get them into it. If your rest stops have playgrounds, even better. Most of ours did, but one or two did not, but kids can still get movement in without a playground.
Now it’s your turn: What are your parenting tricks for car survival with little ones? And car survival for yourself?