Thursday, March 17, 2011

Words of Wisdom: Traveling with Kids

I just spent 6 days traveling with my five youngest kids--fourteen hours from Mesa to Twin Falls, ID. Three hours from Twin to Salt Lake City. Multiple 40-minute drives from Salt Lake City to Provo and back. Whew. It's exhausting and nerve-wracking. We've traveled like this ever since Brad went to law school in Chicago and we had to drive home with two tiny kids--24 hours, non-stop.

I've learned a few things during those experiences. Here are a few of my favorite tips for traveling with kids:

Prepare for the worst.  Most of my kids, unfortunately, inherited Brad's tendency to get car sick.  So we keep an industrial-size bottle of Dramamine in the glove compartment.  First thing--a dose.  Also, every time I fly, I take the barf bags from the seat pocket.  I have a few in the console of the Suburban, and they're small and strong and designed for such emergencies.

Make things mobile.  I use these tubs to hold snacks.  They keep all the stuff corralled and protected from smashing; plus, if someone wants to move seats, it's easy to move the whole tub to another seat.
Movies.  I fought having movies in the car for many years.  I had memories of my family driving together and I wanted my kids to have similar memories.  But as a kid, we only had four hours to go, and there were only four of us.  I finally relented to movies in the car, and I must say it does make the time go faster. We have two portable DVD players and a built-in TV (which I would never buy, but it came with the car, and I've actually not minded having it).  We have such an age gap in our family that it's difficult to find a movie that will appeal to old and young, male and female.  It may seem like overkill, but it seems to work well.
My kids will select a few of their old favorites to bring, and I will buy one or two new ones each trip.  Ben actually downloaded "Inception" to is iPod, so he watched that.  Lily had finished reading Harry Potter 5, so she was allowed to watch that movie (and was disappointed, I might add, that the book was so much better).  Micah and Hyrum got a few episodes of "The Clone Wars," and all the kids, including Miss Evie, watched and laughed through "Megamind."

Storage and entertainment.  When Heidi and Tucker were little, I actually made pockets that tied to the headrests of the car for their toys and water and books and stuff.  I'm past having to prove my creativity in such a fashion.  I found these hanging canvas pockets at Wal-Mart for about $15 each, and they are perfect for the car.  Just zip-tie them to the headrests, and they are strong, easily cleaned and easily removed when the trip is over.  I also tie a grocery bag to each headrest for each kid to be responsible for their own trash.
Rest stops.  Brad and I have differing views of this.  Brad thinks getting out and running off some pent-up energy is a great idea.  My philosophy is "Get there and out of the car as fast as we can."  Notorious for speeding and a few tickets, I might add.  We do stop, but we try to make them as few and far between as possible, about once every three hours or so. I also try to limit how much they drink . . . obviously.

Food.  I have no real strict rules about eating in the car.  It's too hard and it's too far, and treats work too well.  I always bring tootsie pops.  Always.  They are life savers.  They are tasty, they are good, and they last  A LONG TIME.  I also let the kids pick out a treat at a gas stop once every trip.  Then they feel like they have a little control.

And my favorite traveling secret of all time . . .
I will never travel without a timer ever again.  THIS IS AN INVENTION FOR THE CAR.  You were unaware?  It's the best.  When we get in the car after a stop, I evaluate the time until we can get out again--usually about three or so hours.  I tell the kids I will set the timer for . . . say, 50 minutes . . . and when the timer goes off, we'll watch a movie. Or have a treat.  Or change seats.  Or whatever. But not until then.  This wonderful invention will automatically bring quiet and no more begging for as long as it's ticking. Plus, as an added bonus, Dramamine usually kicks in after about 30 minutes, so often the kids will fall asleep and extend the contention-free time.

Hope this helps.  Any other tips you use with your family?  I'd love to hear them.

Linking up to W with Jenny Matlock, then I'm catching up on all your blogs.  I've missed you!
Jenny Matlock


  1. p.s. movies are god's greatest road trip gift. except for the fact that brennan will not fall asleep to them. we once drove to arizona, leaving at 6pm. pulled in at 5:30am. brennan was still awake. he had watched movies the entire way and never fallen asleep. i think he would now that he is a little older, but i was shocked that he never fell asleep that trip. he was one!!!

  2. All rather excellent tips. Goodness knows you have time tested each of them. The only one that wouldn't so much work for me is the tootsie pop. My kids are freakshows and they bite through them within seconds and immediately want another. Other than that...ship shape.

  3. Great tips the timer idea. I have a good little long as he has his DS and movies...what more can you ask for?! He would have never survived back in the day when looking out the window was all you really had!

  4. Words of wisdom. We just booked and paid for our summer vacation trip. Flying to San Diego and going to Disneyland. I've NEVER flown with all five of my kiddos, so this should be very interesting.
    I will have to give some of these a try. And I will be sure to swipe all the barf bags I can get my hands on from the flights. Haha. I have to get my moneys worth somehow.

  5. I love the timer idea! I keep benedryl in the car for motion sickness and it works like a charm!

  6. Great ideas, all!

    (I will ever be grateful that my kids were not of the car-sick variety.)


    (PS. I've missed you, too.)

  7. I will have to remember the timer. JD aniel and I have a long trip coming up.

  8. Great advice Jenny -- I am definitely trying the timer next road trip. We usually do one 12 hr trip and one 20 hour trip each year - my kids have grown up doing this, and I have to admit, shockingly it's usually seamless.

  9. We travel so much alike it's not even funny! Right down to the once upon a time home made organizers-been there, done that! I always used the clock to tell the kids when the movie could be played or the game had to switch hands, but love the timer idea so much more. It was so good to see you, come by more often!

  10. Ok, I think my favorite tip is the timer!! Oh, and swiping the barf bags from airplanes!! I will have to remember that one...if I ever get to fly somewhere again!!:)
    Glad you are all home safe and sound!
    Have a happy day

  11. Wonderful ideas Jen. Can't tell you how many "Are we there yet?" questions I've fielded over the years. I'll pass these on to my daughter.Thanks for sharing!~Ames

  12. You certainly do have this down to a science. We always liked to play word games when the kids were little.


  13. I love the timer idea!
    When our sons were small and we would drive from Calif to Arizona, I would tell them it was a long long ways. That really brought their expectations down so they were not asking how far continually.

    Back to the timer...I really think kids are better off it they can look forward to things..."in 30 minutes you will get a snack." So yes, next time I travel with my grandkids I will bring a timer!

  14. We have always been travelers and I have done many of the same things as you. Fortunately we do not need the barf bags - I feel for you there.
    Another thing I do on super long trips, that I've shared on my blog before is make a trip journal for each child. It has a map of where we are going - they love keeping track and I don't have to answer the question "how long until we get there?". They learn to look on their maps and look for signs. it is really great. If we are on multiple day trips I do one big map in the front and then a map page for each day with a spot for journaling and gluing in a postcard from the day.
    I like your timer idea that is awesome - Kids do well with timed activities!
    Glad you had a fun trip!!

    P.S. Sue told me you had Incompetant Cervix. I am going to have Brittany read about your experience with the cerclage, that is what she'll do in the future.

  15. And the aprplane motion sickness bags can double as hand puppets- provided they're still empty. I've found 1 positive about infertility and only having one kid- it's cheaper to fly.

  16. The timer is awesome. Yes, I never thought we would do movies in the car - but driving 26 hours from MN to CT warranted a stop at a 24hr wal-mart in Ohio for said player. LIFESAVER.

  17. What a lot of good ideas! I'll have to make sure Katie reads this post when she returns from Puerto Rico and BEFORE they make the trek all the way to Boston!

  18. Jen, those are some great words of wisdom! Love the timer!

  19. We just traveled 2 hours with 2 kids and I shouldve read this post before we left.
    It was a quiet trip but a with few mishaps here and there between my cranky wanted-to-get-out-of-their-dang-carseat toddlers.
    We will definitely be using these tips the next time we drive roadtrip.

  20. We do basically the same thing. and Baby wipes! I will never go anywhere without baby wipes. And for the littles, we sometimes buy little "prizes" that they get one at a time during the drives to keep them occupied.

    It was fun seeing you guys! Thanks for dinner!

  21. ever since the kiddos were babies we have been making the 16 hour drive t South carolina every spring....i bring LOTS of snacks, i try to find different snacks they don't have everyday and i try to keep them low sugar. Each kiddo has their own folder with lots of paper and print outs that i get word searches/puzzles/ and a map that they can color each state as we go...i find that we fall into a routinue of snack, activity, movie...repeat! and if we are traveling through the night i always get them in their pjs and turn off the movies so they know its sleep time!!!

  22. I'm always fascinated by your parenting tips. You should write a book.

  23. Funny how I remember the road trips of my youth much more fondly than my parents do. This was when cars only came with AM/FM radio. I think the folks were happy there were just two of us fighting in the back seat, though Mom could distract us with "I spy..."

  24. Yeah, yeah, now you tell me about the timer...sigh...

    That is absolutely brilliant.

    I miss travelling with my kids. We don't even get to do it much with the Grands but if we do I'm using some of these wonderful ideas!

    Thanks for linking.

    I always enjoy visiting you.