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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

Tips from a 4,169 mile road trip with 4 little kids

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Picture this: you have three little kids with a fourth one on the way and you get “orders” (military speak for getting the official paperwork that your soldier has a new assignment in a different state or country) to move from Washington state to North Carolina. The move date is just a short 3 weeks after the baby’s due date. And, to top things off this baby decides to come late….and is an unplanned C-section! Yikes!

This was our life almost three years ago and it turned out to be quite the epic trip with some incredible sightseeing accompanied by colossal meltdowns all along the way during the two week, cross country, postpartum trip.

While I could spend hours recounting all the highs (seeing Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon) and lows (my then 5-year-old spiking a 104 fever while in St. George, Utah, or arriving in Salt Lake City after spending all day in the car with screaming children only to realize you can’t purchase an ounce of alcohol here on Sundays), I will instead share with you some tips that helped us survive our 4,169.6 mile (not that we kept track or anything) journey.

Here’s the catch: our minivan is not equipped with a DVD player so we had to get creative with keeping our kids entertained. Also, we did allow time on electronics at the end of the day but I figure everyone already knows this "tip".

For the kids:

  1. Adventures in Odyssey and other children's audiobooks and podcasts: This is particularly helpful if you have kids who get car sick and can’t read or look at screens for very long. Our kids will literally listen to these for hours! Adventures in Odyssey are Christian based stories with good moral lessons learned by the characters. You can also get ones that recount actual Bible stories and other historical events. If this isn’t your thing, then you can get all kinds of kids books on CD from the library or purchase them through Amazon or iTunes. We are also big fans of downloading children's audiobooks through Audible (it's a subscription service through Amazon) and REALLY love the Disney Story Central Podcast. It's free and they retell favorite Disney stories. Our kids will listen to them over and over again.
  2. Surprise snack bags: I say “surprise” because I often put snacks in here that they normally don’t get otherwise. I also want them to eat fruit or veggies, though, so they don’t get their snack bag until they’ve eaten their fruit or veggie. Once I do give them the bag, I tell them those are their snacks for the day so space them out (they don't always listen).
  3. Playgrounds!!!!! This has become our lifesaver. There is absolutely nothing that compares to getting out of the car, stretching their legs, getting some fresh air, and exercise. It's great for us parents, too!

For the parents:

  1. Podcasts and Audiobooks: Oh my goodness! These make the drive go by so much faster. Have you heard Up and Vanished? I literally missed my exit once by several miles because I was so into it! These jewels are not just limited to traveling, though, I listen to them all the time when I’m driving the kids all over town. I simply download them onto my phone, put my earplugs in, and off we go. Now, the best way for this to work is to put the kids audiobooks on the car speakers at the same time so they’re quiet, too.
  2. Noise cancelling headphones: When all else fails and the kids won’t stop yelling and screaming, there’s no shame in putting on some noise cancelling headphones. I find that it keeps my temper from flaring all while keeping my eardrums from rupturing. Imagine that! Extra tip: these headphones also come out at home when the noise level from the kids gets a little out of hand.
  3. Play Across America’s free playground finder app: You know how I mentioned above that playgrounds are our lifesaver when traveling with four kids, well my husband and I created a free app for iPhones (and hopefully one day soon for Androids) that helps families find nearby playgrounds wherever they go! We also have a website and blog so that non-iPhone users can also find great playgrounds easily. With all of the traveling and moving we’ve done, and with the help of other families and playground equipment manufacturers, we’ve curated thousands of playgrounds all over the U.S. and parts of Canada as well as all along major interstates like I-95 and I-5. Every playground in the database has a picture so you can know exactly what to expect before you even go. Also, new playgrounds are shared by our users every single day, so wherever your travels take you, we hope to help you find a nearby playground.
  4. Take lots of pictures: I have to be honest that being only 3 weeks post C-section, exhausted, and having to wear compression stockings almost all the time made me want to avoid the camera like the plague. Also, our kids were having so many meltdowns, it was hard to catch them actually smiling at the camera. But, we took pictures anyway and now I have a great laugh at many of our less that picture perfect moments, like this one where it was so windy and miserable at Craters of the Moon that day. I did not want to be in the photo but hubby insisted. Now, this picture makes me laugh and actually appreciate how rough that trip was at times. I can smile at it all now.

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This summer, our travels will once again have us on a long road trip. This time, the Army has ordered us only halfway back across the U.S. to Fort Hood, Texas. And, I can guarantee we will be utilizing all the tips mentioned above, taking lots of photos of good and not-so-great moments, and sharing more playgrounds along the way to help make your own travels less stressful and more fun!

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