Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Road Trip Survival Guide

We have traveled many a mile by car and by air with our children since our oldest was six weeks old. Things have really changed since that first five-hundred mile road trip with our baby boy. Instead of those newborn cries to be held and fed and changed, we now hear things like, "Are we there yet?", "I need to go potty!", and "She's got my toy!"

Like most families, sometimes we hit a few "bumps" in the road when we travel, but in spite of those, we really do get excited about family road trips. Right now we're on vacation, and by the time we arrive home we will have traveled over 1,600 miles through six states. So far, we've had a lot of fun in the car, and everyone is still happy. :)

Over the years we've learned that it helps to have some tricks up our sleeve to keep our travelers content. Obviously the tricks have changed as the children have grown, but here are a few things that work well for us right now.

1. Music can lift even the grumpiest spirit.
Singing in the car is something I grew up doing on family vacations, so it seems natural to me for us to make music together while we ride down the road. And my sweet hubby who didn't grow up singing in the car joins in too. :) Sometimes we belt it out acapella, and other times we sing-along with the radio. I usually keep a variety of CD's in the van at all times, but on long trips I try to include some new selections with our regulars just to keep everyone interested. We listen to Veggietales, Wee Sing collections, Scripture Rock, Laurie Berkner, and for this trip I'm bringing along some sing-n-learn type CD's to learn States and Capitals, Presidents, etc. (We've also trained our children from day one to enjoy "grown-up" music too. This helps Mommy and Daddy to keep their sanity. :) We listen to classical, oldies, and Christian contemporary.)

2. Language Arts can happen on the road!
Books on Tape and audio stories have been lifesavers for us on long trips. A few faves that we own are Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Corduroy, Adventures in Odyssey, Your Story Hour, and all kinds of stories told by Jim Weiss.

3. Car games beat video games any day.
Back in the day before gameboys I remember the excitement of counting cows, looking for letters on billboards, and playing "Beetle!" Here is a list of old and new car games that have been hits for us:

-Road Sign ABC - Starting with "A" and going in order, try to find each letter of the alphabet on a billboard, road sign, store sign, or whatever. Because our children are still pretty young, we do this as a team, but with older children you could let everybody do it individually and see who gets to "Z" first!

-Colors of the Rainbow - Play just like "Road Sign" but instead of letters you're looking for colors. Make sure to find them in ROYGBIV order, and you're kids will have the colors of the rainbow memorized in no time. :)

-Counting Cars - Everybody chooses a different color and then counts cars only of their chosen color. First one to 10 wins. You'll need to help younger ones with this one - sometimes those cars whiz by too fast for little eyes to spot on their own.

-Counting Cows - O.K. I probably don't need to explain this one, but here are a couple of twists. Everyone choose a cow color - you know, brown, white, black, spotted, etc. and play it like "Counting Cars". Or...passengers on the left side of the car count cows on the left, and passengers on the right side count cows on the right. If you pass a cemetery you have to start over at zero!

-"I went on a trip and I took..." - Remember this classic? Here's our simplified version for youngers. Someone starts the game by saying, "I went on a trip and I brought a ________ with me", filling in the blank with something beginning with "A". The next person repeats the sentence but chooses to bring something beginning with "B", and so on. You go around the car taking turns until you've completed the whole alphabet. This one was a real hit with our passengers!

-I Spy - Our kids absolutely love this game, but of course in a moving car, you're pretty much limited to things inside the car or the green grass and blue sky outside the car. :)

-Twenty Questions, the Animal Version - Someone thinks of an animal and everyone takes turns asking a yes or no question in order to guess the animal. The yes or no question part is kind of a difficult concept for wee ones, but they can still ask questions like "What color is it?" or "What sound does it make?"

-Pop Quiz! - Because I don't do any testing in our homeschooling, it never occurred to me that my children might actually enjoy being quizzed, but amazingly enough, they sometimes do! The car is a great place to see what they can remember. I have a list of questions that I pull from to ask them all sorts of things -presidents, continents, cloud types, composers - really anything that we've read or learned about. Just to make it more interesting, I'm thinking of printing some questions out and cutting them into strips so that my travelers can draw them from a cup.

We're also trying out some other games this trip that require paper and crayon. I'll talk about those soon in a post about our travel notebooks.

4. Pack your bags!Our children love packing their own little backpack or tote bag with toys of their choosing to have handy in the car. I also try to bring along my own bag of goodies - some educational, some just plain fun - that I can dole out gradually if boredom sets in.

Some of the things I like to bring:
-pad of paper
-colored pipe cleaners (for twisting, tying, creating)
-aluminum foil (fun for crinkling and molding into any kind of sculpture!)
-Wiki Stix
-playdough or silly putty
-mini magnadoodle
-mini etch-a-sketch
-trading cards
-small books or magazines (We enjoy Our Big Backyard.)
-lacing cards

(By the way, I don't go out and buy all new stuff for their boxes. Most of these are things we already have that I've held back for awhile, and they've been forgotten.)

5. Stop and smell the roses.
O.K. Dads, this one requires you to add an hour or so to your ETA, but it's usually worth it. (Just try to think about what it would feel like to be buckled into a child's car seat for hours on end with no break. Personally, I'd go nuts!) We try to stop about every two hours for a potty and stretch break. Even little people in diapers need to get out and walk around a bit. If there's an interesting landmark or other unique sight to see, we try to take an extra couple of minutes and check it out. Just think, you might learn something that you can count as school.

6. Don't forget that special blankie, stuffed toy or whatever. No explanation needed!

7. When all else fails, feed them.
Let's face it, when things are looking desperate sometimes you just have to pull out the snacks! I think it's nice to throw in a treat or two in addition to the healthy fare. Here a few of our favorites for the road: trail mix, cheez-its, yogurt-covered raisins, apples, grapes, celery and carrot sticks, organic gummy bears, Cracklin' Oat Bran cereal, Caprisuns, and water bottles.

I hope that you've found something new here to try on your next road trip, and I'd really like to hear your favorite tips for happy travels!


  1. Shannon, this was to timely for me! We are getting ready to head north in 2 week on a 5 states road trip. Thanks for the ideas.

  2. Great post! I'll try this stuff for sure. It reminded me to post about our Vacation Notebooks that I make for the kids when we travel long distances. I'll do that next week. : ) Hope you are having a blast!

  3. Shannon,
    Hi! I am so glad you found our picnic table talk and joined us this week. What a great list you've put together. We just recently started checking out audio books and really have fun listening to them on all of our car trips. I too love music, but appreciate the break sometimes from the kid song voices...
    I will look forward to hearing more from you and your great blog in the future!

  4. A family without a DVD player in a car? Is it even possible in our day and age? I hope to follow your good example and use some of the good ideas you listed!

  5. Super cute blog!! Thanks for sharing these great ideas too!

  6. I just searched road trip survival guide with my 4 year old in mind!! I've only read this one post, but I've subscribed to your blog! Thanks for the advice!


I enjoy reading your comments and so appreciate them. It usually takes me a few days to reply, so thanks for your patience and for dropping by!