In 1960-something my parents owned a 4-door Peugot. It was not a spectacular looking car but it seemed to be reliable and had enough room for our family of 5. The only thing is I have no memories of seatbelts in the back. On one particularly unruly road trip my mom put masking tape on the back seat partitioning off each child’s allotted space. We were instructed to not even cross the line with a finger or our dad would have to pull over. We weren’t sure what would happen if Dad had to pull over but we were pretty sure it wouldn’t be good.
Traveling with kids in cars today is so much easier because not only are they belted in they are strapped in. Even still a child in the back screaming “Are we there yet?” can make a trip across town seem like an unending nightmare.
Here are my favorite top 5 tips for parents on how to avoid the “Are we there yet?” syndrome.
1) Start early
Make “Super Fun Summer Road Trips” part of your children’s earliest memories. Once they get it into their heads that this is just something that you do then the next road trip will be easier and easier.
2) Make the back seat a kid friendly zone
On one particularly long road trip, I gave my boys a roll of toilet paper and they threw TP all over the back seat. It was a bit of a mess when we got to our destination but inexpensive harmless fun. Another wonderful time waster is a roll of masking tape. Making masking tape balls got us to the next rest stop without any crying or whining.
If you are going to get tense about kids getting crumbs on your nice leather seats, then rent a car or get another car that is ok for kids to ride in. Kids are messy. Just count on it.
Randy Pausch wrote in The Last Lecture about a situation where his horrified sister starting yelling at her kids after they spilled something in the back of his car. His response was to spill something else in the back seat right in front of the kids and to let them know that it was only a car. They were what was most important.
3) No apple juice or chocolate milk
We know kids will make messes so the best thing to do is to avoid anything that will be sticky or icky to clean up if they do make a mess.
Additionally, chocolate milk can get warm and icky really quickly on a long road trip and in Murphy’s law of road trips your kids will drink the old warm chocolate milk just before you reach the stretch of the trip with the most winding roads. The resulting car sickness will not be pretty. Just avoid this unnecessary and avoidable situation from the start by being proactive. No chocolate milk. Avoid strawberry milk too – it’s just not worth it.
4) Don’t just plug them in
Kids will follow your cue. So make sure you are having fun too and make the trip an interactive experience. Of course you have to keep your eyes on the road but you can teach them new songs or new games like the license plate game or which one is my car game (play this by picking a number between 30 and 60 and then count cars coming in the opposite direction and when you reach that number that is “your” car.
Make going on a road trip a special time with Mom and Dad when there are no phones and no distractions – just fun.
Don’t just turn on the portable DVD player and have then tune out for the next 135 miles.
5) Let them know what to expect
In advance of your trip let them know about various landmarks you’ll pass along the way so that they can be looking for specific milestones. “We will cross a river and then go through a long valley and pass by three mountains” give them specific things to look for.
Giving them a map to color and mark down things they see along the way can be another way to help them understand how far you are going and what to expect the rest of the day.
Be prepared with stories of pioneers that traveled along these parts before there were even cars.
Those are the top tips for the kids.
Road trip tips for the driver:
- Make plenty of stops and get out and stretch. Don’t drive if you are tired.
- If listening to the Wiggles or Barney or some other musician who is your child’s favorite, for hours on end, is going to make you crazy then don’t even allow it to start in the first place. Sure it might make them happy for awhile but it will make you want to leap out of the car and that’s no good.
- Make sure everyone is buckled in securely
- Have a cell phone charger and a current AAA membership card to call in case of emergency.
- No Distracted Driving: Make sure you have a co-pilot who can read text messages and respond to them for you if it is really that important. Better yet just put your phone in the glove compartment while you’re driving and just check messages at the rest stops.
You have important cargo. Not only do you want to get to your destination with your sanity intact you also just want to get there.