When my husband, Jordan was in graduate school we lived about a 10 hour drive from our families. Our first trip back we had one child, a 15 month old son. If you saw our car after I packed it, I'm sure you would have thought we were either moving back home, or we had 10 kids. The entire back seat was filled with toys, books, snacks, coloring books, blankets, stuffed animals, and somewhere in there a car seat.
Two hours into the drive, crayons had been dropped everywhere, toys had lost their thrill, books were all read, and 2 of the 3 of us in the car (I'll let you guess who) were on the verge of tears, but we still had 8 hours left! We made it 2 1/2 more hours before we called it a day and found a hotel. I spent an hour that night cleaning out the car and prepping it for one more disastrous day of traveling with a toddler.
After that trip I swore I would never do another road trip with kids, but somehow 4 months later I found myself prepping for another drive home. This time, pregnant with full blown morning sickness attached.
I had to do something different. I wanted to travel in a clean car, with a happy child, and most importantly I wanted this to be a FUN experience for our little family. As I was buying Ziploc bags to put in the car in case I threw up while on the freeway, I had an idea. And the Ziploc Travel Method was born. Here we are 4 kids later, too many road trips under our belt to count, and we've used this method every single time since creating it. We've adapted for newborns, toddlers, preschoolers, grade-schoolers and now even teenagers.
Here's how it works:
First Step: Figure out how many hours total you are going to be in the car roundtrip and subtract 4 (taking 2 hours off each way). I'll explain why in a sec.
Second Step: Take that new number (10-4=6 so 6 is your new number) and plan that many activities. One for every hour. The challenge? Each activity with everything needed to complete it must fit it in a Ziploc bag.
Third Step: Number the Ziploc bags and make corresponding numbered cards. Put the numbered cards in a small container and place both the cards and the activity bags in a tote that will fit comfortably in the front seat with you.
When you are traveling let the kids take turns choosing the numbers from the container to decide what activity you are going to do, (not going to lie, sometimes I just give them the activity I feel is best for the moment, and ignore the number. BUT the numbers are great even if you don't follow them because it adds excitement and TIME...enjoyably passing time is key!).
When the activity is complete gather all the supplies and trash and place back in the Ziploc bag. This is how your car stays clean while you travel.
Now why I subtract 4. When we first started using this method I planned an activity for every hour we would be in the car, but always came home with several unused. If my kids are happy without anything I try to make that last as long as possible, so I don't pull out an activity right away. We are used to driving around for everyday things without activities, so I knew they could start a road trip without being bored right away, despite what they say ;). We choose a city or landmark 45min-1hr away from our starting point as the first place we pull out a bag. And I've found when you get about an hour away from your destination, the excitement of being almost there is enough. Therefore, I subtract 4 hours worth of activities.
Finally, here is a list of activities and things I have put in my Ziploc bags:
I first go to the dollar store to see if there is anything there that could work. There always is ;).
If we are traveling close to any holidays, I like to find things that relate. For Thanksgiving we made thankful turkeys. I cut out the shape of a turkey and a bunch of feathers and facial features. They assembled the turkeys with glue sticks and wrote or said things they were grateful for with every feather. One December they colored Santa and with a glue stick made a beard with cotton balls, we also made snowmen with marshmallows, pretzels and chocolate chips. We traveled on Valentine's one year and I bought those instant balloons from the dollar store that you hit and they pop out of the bag. I cut a small whole in the bag and slid my numbered cards in there. Then to choose an activity they had to pop one of the balloons. One New Years Eve we were in the car and we planned a full on party and made our own crowns and noise makers. Oh and one year we traveled on our sons 11th bday. I decorated the car with streamers and we had a party on the road.
I usually always include some kind of activity books, either from Melissa and Doug, Little Dover Books, or sticker books.
We always play bingo! Just print out boards from Pinterest and use stickers to mark the spots and play until blackout. I'll get little prizes from the dollar store for winners.
Toy instrument from the dollar store, or make your own with ribbon and bells and then sing along to your favorite songs.
Glow sticks if you will be driving at night.
Black paper and chalk.
Create your own "Would you Rather" on popsicle sticks.
Draw or print pictures of animals and take turns choosing a card and giving everyone a chance to ask questions and guess what it is.
Window markers or window clings.
Make a list of jokes or riddles to tell (thank you google).
Wrap some dollar store toys in layer after layer of wrapping paper or saranwrap so it takes awhile to open (again...enjoyably passing time).
Suckers - they take awhile to eat (the Smartie brand ones are amazing for younger kids. They don't get sticky!!).
Podcasts- for older kids. There are some great ones! My 10 and 12 year old have a few YouTube stars they love. I found some podcast interviews with them, and those boys were in heaven!
I'm in no way against using screens on road trips, I just don't like my kids using them the entire drive, so I have even put there tablets with a new game or show downloaded in a bag to use for one of the activities. If all the kids are watching a movie together I will still make it an activity and put some pop corn or candy in a bag.
I hope you love this method as much as we do, but before I say goodbye and let you travel for once in peace, I have just a few more tips on how to enjoyably pass time :)
-Eat in the car.
-If you are nursing, pump in the car and then feed the baby the bottle while driving.
-Plan around sleep and figure out the best time to leave. Whether that be nap time, bed time, or our personal favorite 4 am. Yes, I said AM. Seriously though, it's amazing. The kids fall right back asleep, I drive while hubby sleeps and it's the most peaceful drive watching the sunrise. And thankfully, because of the Ziploc Method it can stay peaceful even when they wake up.
-The Psycho Parents