Taking a long road trip with kids is challenging—at best. Depending on the age of your kids, though, there are plenty of ways to engage them. In some ways the younger they are the better, as they sleep so much the time actually flies. (One of my best friends also taught me how to breast-feed your baby in a rear facing child seat, which isn’t pretty–it involves lots of smushing–but is way better than the scream of the ravenous.
A four to five hour road trip with kids presents no big deal. A stop for lunch—even if it’s a picnic that you’ve packed–plus a bathroom break, and boom, you’ve arrived. It’s when the hours get into the double digits that whining, boredom, and general dissatisfaction start to rear their ugly head.
There is an easy way out—just give the kids unlimited access to media and you’ve maintained law and order. But that’s not how mindful parents aspire to roll. We want kids to be engaged in family time, involved in the trip, and at least occasionally taking in the landscape.
Look at the map
Nothing like travel to make geography relevant. I would go for a big foldable map, old school style, and start by having your child locate your hometown. Then have him find where you are going. You can talk about interesting places to stop along the way, and have your kids make a list of important mile markers, maybe one every hour, that he can look for to gauge progress.
Choose your provisions
Sharing the fun of shopping for healthy snacks, and making them, has a two-fold benefit. You’re spared the overly processed gas station food, and your kid can take ownership of the healthier snacks you’ve packed instead. Popcorn, dried apples, squeeze pouches of nut butters, turkey jerky, and toasted nori all make great road trip snacks.
This is one of my favorite road trip preparations—making a custom CD or playlist. Get everyone involved in picking their favorite tunes—and it will become quite the mix. “This Old Man” can segue to Bon Iver more seamlessly than you would think.
Stretch your legs
It’s amazing what a 10 or 20-minute walk does for everyone’s morale. Give your kids a few choices of where to stop—from toddlerhood on, the illusion of control is a balm to soothe the savage beast. Check out these ideas for making the most of a bathroom stop on road trips with kids.
Elizabeth Marglin, mother of Jordan and Oriah, is a professional writer who has been on a spiritual path since 1990. She lived in India studying meditation, yoga, and spirituality for eight years, steeping herself in the twin practices of awareness and devotion. Ambivalent about motherhood until the ripe age of thirty-five, it turns out that being a mother has become her most heart-opening practice. For the last decade, Elizabeth has been writing about natural health, travel, and conscious parenting for national magazines. She is the coauthor of The Mother’s Wisdom Deck (Sterling), a full-color guidebook plus a deck of 52 cards illuminating universal symbols of empowered motherhood. Elizabeth offers writing workshops devoted to expressing the rich inner life of motherhood.