Lessons from a road trip

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  July 6, 2009 09:40 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

As a child, my parents used to back my brothers and me into the station wagon and drive from New Jersey to Montreal, and while I remember enjoying the first and last hour or so of the ride, the rest of it was not so fun: umpteen games of "I Spy" punctuated by my brothers playing with the windows and my dad threatening to turn the car around, my mom struggling with maps, our luggage flying off the roof to be lost forever somewhere in upstate New York, never-ending squabbles over who got to stretch out in the "way back." I was reluctant to cram our five kids into a car to recreate that kind of a journey.

But we took a deep breath and did it last week. We've just gotten back from a road trip to Washington, D.C., and while I was expecting chaos, it was surprisingly manageable.
Sure, we heard our fair share of “I want to get out!” from those strapped into car seats and “This is not my idea of fun” from sulky teens, and it goes without saying that all of the kids, from teen to toddler, asked "Are we there yet?" at least a couple times. But, unlike in the 1970s, we had technology on our side. Here’s how we kept the chorus of complaints at bay this time:


1.) Plenty of room.
Smaller cars are more fuel efficient, but I’m willing to give up a few gallons of gas in order to have a more peaceful ride (also: you can't fit five kids and two adults in a Prius). We drove my husband’s gigantic Suburban. I balked, for a moment, until I realized that the price of diesel is about the same as the price of regular gas right now, and the truck’s diesel engine gets more miles per the gallon than does my Honda minivan. Pre-Suburban, we’ve actually rented a larger vehicle to let the kids have enough room to ride comfortably.

2.) Plenty of snacks. Pack individual lunchboxes for each child (a full meal plus a snack or two and an extra drink). It seems like a lot of extra work, but the moment one of your kids says she's hungry and then gets herself a snack without disturbing you or anyone else, it'll be worthwhile. Don’t forget the ice pack, and keep some treats (lollipops and fake fruit gummy things, in my case) hidden for doling out as bribes or rewards. (I know, there's plenty of options on the road, but I'm one of those who is reluctant to stray from the route and, with kids and food allergies to consider, I'm not a fan of fast food.)

3.) Some cool apps for your iPhone or iPod Touch.
My husband is a NPR junkie, and the minute we cross the border from Massachusetts into Connecticut and he loses his favorite station, he starts twiddling with the radio, looking for his fix as the stations fade in and out. This trip, we hit the dead radio zone and I pulled up a great little live-streaming public radio app on my iPhone. Best of all: It was free.

4.) A portable DVD player and a bunch of DVDs. Not everyone will agree with me on this, and my parents certainly didn't hook up the Videodisc player in the car when we drove from New Jersey to Canada, but I let my kids watch videos on long car trips. I got my dual-screen DVD player at Target; the screens strap to the backs of the front seats, and they’re connected to each other so that two kids can watch the same movie. Important detail: Each screen has its own headphone jack, allowing my preschoolers to watch “The Wiggles” while my nearly 16-year-old listens to her iPod behind them without going crazy from the yummy yumminess.

5.) A power inverter. This handy contraption plugs into your car’s power source (formerly known as the cigarette lighter) and allows you to plug anything else into it using a regular plug. (Like my techno-speak?) The big reason for bringing one of these along is that you can recharge your cell phone or laptop or iPhone or whatever you don’t have a car adapter for.

6.) Non-electronic entertainment. Even with a power inverter, there’s only so much battery-powered entertainment you want to deal with. Stash a few new (or new-to-you) age-appropriate books for your kids in the car, and pull them out when the whining starts. Also bring blank notebooks and pencils – they’ll come in handy for anything from writing a short, silly story (each person in the car contributes a sentence, one person reads it out loud) to a game of I Spy where the players have to write down (or draw pictures of) what they see. Other excellent car-ride choices include Water Wow books (paint with water, let dry, do it again), finger puppets, and magnet boards.

7.) Pillows and light blankets. The air conditioning can make the car a little too chilly to nap, but if the car is warm, it can get too cozy to drive. A small pillow keeps kids comfortable in their car seats, and can be used for lumbar support if grownups need it.

Moms and dads, please share your tips and tricks before we hit the road again this summer: How do you make long car rides go more smoothly?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

6 comments so far...
  1. We drive 12 hours each way to the Outer Banks every summer, and have since our eldest was 18 months old (he's now 9.5).

    Bring a frisbee or beach ball and encourage the kids to run around for a few minutes when you stop at a rest area that has a safe place to run and play.

    If you have preschoolers, bring a potty and plastic bags in the car - they often can't hold it until you find a rest area or gas station.

    Books on tape are great, and can be borrowed from the library. You can either put one on that the whole family can enjoy, or give earphones to the little ones so they can listen to their favorite books.

    CDs the whole family can enjoy, as well as iPods loaded with the grating kid music that make mom and dad want to gnaw off their ears.

    Posted by akmom July 6, 09 10:34 AM
  1. Our family prefers books on tape or CD to DVDs. There are some really interesting stories out there that have not been made into movies (or that were made into really awful movies). Because we are all listening together, it becomes a source of discussion and togetherness, instead of us all being in our separate little electronic worlds.

    Mad Libs are another fun thing to have. Keeps us occupied for miles.

    Posted by BMS July 6, 09 11:02 AM
  1. A trip to the library for books on CD can be your salvation. Although reading works well for some, not all of my children can read without getting motion sick. Many books can last longer than your trip.

    PS Do not hesitate to interrupt for traffic updates. Traveling through the NYC area without listening to the 1010 WINS update a few times could cost you extra hours.

    Posted by drive safely July 6, 09 11:55 AM
  1. Don't forget the possibility of leaving at O' Dark Hundred. When we leave at night, at bedtime and drive until the adults can't - or leave WAY before wake-up time, we get a few hours of driving done with the kids asleep.

    Posted by Lizzie July 6, 09 11:16 PM
  1. All of Lyla's suggestions are fantastic, and I think the biggest hurdle is the parents' mental burden of dreading the worst. Get over it, pack the car, and get ready for all of the fun that goes along with a bit of whining and a few headaches. When you think about it, are they really any worse than regular day to day kid drama? And travel is so interesting and stimulating for people of all ages. It's really worth it. The more often you do it, the easier it gets!

    We invested in small dvd players that our kids can hold on their laps so they do not have to watch the same thing. Headphones for them make it so that my husband and I can listen to an audiobook at the same time, break for traffic updates or news, and not disturb anyone. My kids are still young enough to be entertained by felt boards and magnet books, reuseable sticker books and magnadoodles for a good 150 miles. They share a basket of books between them. Puzzles that require you to "untwist" the parts but never actually COME apart are wonderful past ages 5 and 6. We always have an Old McDonald singalong - strange animals such as Tyrannosaurus Rex and Ostriches have invaded our farm.

    I always suggest to people that you add A Vomit Kit. Gross to think about, but happens all the time. A huge zip lock bag (way bigger than gallon size) containing lysol, an extra pack of wipes, extra plastic bags, and a spare change of clothes for each kid should be the first thing you can grab when you open the trunk. You never want to have to unpack the car to get your supplies - or everyone else will be sick in a flash! Then, if you do have a sick kid, give them a blanket to cover themselves with after they get all cleaned up. If they vomit again, they're going to do so on the blanket and it's a MUCH easier clean up.

    Posted by RH July 7, 09 11:11 AM
  1. Not a big fan of in-car movies. To me, the beauty of a road trip is actually seeing the country you are traveling through. This is where audio books come in handy. There are plenty of good audio books that appeal to kids, teens and adults alike. I too, was dreading our first long road trip and I thank JK Rowling and Jim Dale with all my heart for keeping us thoroughly entertained - the kids were more than happy to get back in the car and by listening together, it was quality family time. Other great audio books that appeal to all ages are Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Because of Winn Dixie, the City of Ember series.... We also buy candy and dole it out at unexpected moments.

    Posted by Cordelia July 9, 09 02:44 PM
 
6 comments so far...
  1. We drive 12 hours each way to the Outer Banks every summer, and have since our eldest was 18 months old (he's now 9.5).

    Bring a frisbee or beach ball and encourage the kids to run around for a few minutes when you stop at a rest area that has a safe place to run and play.

    If you have preschoolers, bring a potty and plastic bags in the car - they often can't hold it until you find a rest area or gas station.

    Books on tape are great, and can be borrowed from the library. You can either put one on that the whole family can enjoy, or give earphones to the little ones so they can listen to their favorite books.

    CDs the whole family can enjoy, as well as iPods loaded with the grating kid music that make mom and dad want to gnaw off their ears.

    Posted by akmom July 6, 09 10:34 AM
  1. Our family prefers books on tape or CD to DVDs. There are some really interesting stories out there that have not been made into movies (or that were made into really awful movies). Because we are all listening together, it becomes a source of discussion and togetherness, instead of us all being in our separate little electronic worlds.

    Mad Libs are another fun thing to have. Keeps us occupied for miles.

    Posted by BMS July 6, 09 11:02 AM
  1. A trip to the library for books on CD can be your salvation. Although reading works well for some, not all of my children can read without getting motion sick. Many books can last longer than your trip.

    PS Do not hesitate to interrupt for traffic updates. Traveling through the NYC area without listening to the 1010 WINS update a few times could cost you extra hours.

    Posted by drive safely July 6, 09 11:55 AM
  1. Don't forget the possibility of leaving at O' Dark Hundred. When we leave at night, at bedtime and drive until the adults can't - or leave WAY before wake-up time, we get a few hours of driving done with the kids asleep.

    Posted by Lizzie July 6, 09 11:16 PM
  1. All of Lyla's suggestions are fantastic, and I think the biggest hurdle is the parents' mental burden of dreading the worst. Get over it, pack the car, and get ready for all of the fun that goes along with a bit of whining and a few headaches. When you think about it, are they really any worse than regular day to day kid drama? And travel is so interesting and stimulating for people of all ages. It's really worth it. The more often you do it, the easier it gets!

    We invested in small dvd players that our kids can hold on their laps so they do not have to watch the same thing. Headphones for them make it so that my husband and I can listen to an audiobook at the same time, break for traffic updates or news, and not disturb anyone. My kids are still young enough to be entertained by felt boards and magnet books, reuseable sticker books and magnadoodles for a good 150 miles. They share a basket of books between them. Puzzles that require you to "untwist" the parts but never actually COME apart are wonderful past ages 5 and 6. We always have an Old McDonald singalong - strange animals such as Tyrannosaurus Rex and Ostriches have invaded our farm.

    I always suggest to people that you add A Vomit Kit. Gross to think about, but happens all the time. A huge zip lock bag (way bigger than gallon size) containing lysol, an extra pack of wipes, extra plastic bags, and a spare change of clothes for each kid should be the first thing you can grab when you open the trunk. You never want to have to unpack the car to get your supplies - or everyone else will be sick in a flash! Then, if you do have a sick kid, give them a blanket to cover themselves with after they get all cleaned up. If they vomit again, they're going to do so on the blanket and it's a MUCH easier clean up.

    Posted by RH July 7, 09 11:11 AM
  1. Not a big fan of in-car movies. To me, the beauty of a road trip is actually seeing the country you are traveling through. This is where audio books come in handy. There are plenty of good audio books that appeal to kids, teens and adults alike. I too, was dreading our first long road trip and I thank JK Rowling and Jim Dale with all my heart for keeping us thoroughly entertained - the kids were more than happy to get back in the car and by listening together, it was quality family time. Other great audio books that appeal to all ages are Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Because of Winn Dixie, the City of Ember series.... We also buy candy and dole it out at unexpected moments.

    Posted by Cordelia July 9, 09 02:44 PM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives