My family takes a good bit of vacations, local and long distance. We spend a good portion of our summer visiting relatives we don't get the chance to see during the school year, and take at least two trips each year with just the five of us. There's something about being somewhere that isn't your house that makes the memories feel extra special.
I'm not saying it's easy. I can't always participate in some of the things I'd like to do. I can't always take time to myself while on vacation. One thing I can do is have lasting memories, and that is much more valuable than the vineyard tour I missed out on. (Give me 16 years I'll be back for that complimentary wine glass.)
The hardest part about any vacation with my kids is the car ride. The oldest gets sick anytime she even thinks we are going on a trip, the middle gets grumpy, and the youngest needs to stop at every bathroom we pass. An already lengthy car ride can get doubled pretty easily if we're not correctly prepared. Good thing I have somewhat mastered the art of making the ride enjoyable. Well, enjoyable is a strong word, let's go with tolerable instead.
- Bring snacks
This might just be the golden rule when it comes to traveling. Did you know kids like to eat every day? It's true. Especially at the strangest of times. You can offer them food a hundred times throughout the day and they aren't hungry, but the minute you're busy - in this case driving - they ask for a snack. I like to make sure I pack a bag with the juice boxes, gummies and granola bars put it within arm's reach of the oldest. It makes life a little easier when she can grab everything and pass it to her sisters without having to pull over, take off seat belts and search for the treasured items.
- Forget limiting screen time
When it comes to rules I use at home for balancing between screen time and creative play, the car is an exception. Once we get strapped in, my husband and I surrender our cell phones to the queens of boredom in the back seat. We start a movie and release the tablets from their cases. Sure, 30 minutes later they're complaining they have nothing to do, but 30 minutes is a long time in terms of family travel.
- Play games
Remember the car games your family distracted you with as a child? Find all the letters of the alphabet on road signs. Find a license plate from every state. Count the number of wreaths on doors. Now it's your turn to utilize the classic road trip tool. Our family either works together or in teams by splitting up both sides of the car to make it more fun. The greatest part about it is the fact that everyone ends up laughing and enjoying themselves before we give up on the game. Us girls at least, My husband will continue to shout out signs with the next letter of the alphabet at random times until we get there.
- Pillows and blankets
This is usually a hit or miss. I always hope the kids will take a nap at some point, especially if the destination is really far off. Sometimes they won't, even if we leave in the middle of the night for the sheer purpose of getting them to sleep on the way. If they start to yawn though I come prepared. I keep pillows and blankets between their car seats for them to pull out when they are ready to dream. The ride can get uncomfortable, so they usually get pulled out even if it isn't for sleep.
- Make everyone try
Planning out stops to use the bathroom isn't always easy, and hardly ever works out, but it is a good plan to have. I like to make sure I know of stops that are easy to get to that way I don't get lost searching for the way back to the highway. (I get lost going to my neighbors house) Before we even leave the house, I line everyone up and make them try to use the bathroom, even if they insist they don't have to. When the time comes to make a stop, or someone is screaming about peeing their pants out of the blue, I get everyone out to try again in hopes to limit the number of stops.
- Have an emergency plan
Thankfully I've never had to use the emergency plan, but I always am sure to explain it to the kids and husband. They answer with eye-rolls as I explain what to do in case there were to be an accident, and repeat it back to me so I know they actually listened. Having an emergency kit available and a first aid kit just in case. It might also come in handy if your kids decide to make a wrestling ring out of the back seat after bumping elbows.
Though parenting means you might not get to live a gypsy lifestyle, traveling from place to place as you please without a care in the world, it doesn't have to be hard either. Finding ways to keep the kids busy and limit stops will make the process easier. At least a little bit.