Summer means sleeping in, staying up late, and running through sprinklers. It is also the time for ROAD TRIPS! Living in Portland means that we are close enough to head North to Seattle and Canada, or travel south to California. We have road tripped since my daughter was just a baby and after six years of practice, we've developed a system and a plan of attack. (Although sometimes, it's fun to just pack up and take a spur of the moment trip and just get in the car and drive, like on those amazingly hot Willamette Valley days where the whole Metro area decides to escape to the foggy coast.)
Here are some ways to make your car trip easy to manage and full of fun:
1. Lists, lists, lists! It is helpful to have a list of what you've packed so that everything returns home with you (especially when you have several children and all their clothes, toys, and ephemera). I usually make a list of exactly what items my daughter packs in her backpack, so when we're gathering up our belongings from Grandpa's house, we don't leave anything special behind. (Trust me, I've had to get off the freeway and go back for beloved stuffed animals before.) If your child can read/write, they can be in charge of their own packing/list.
2. Pack a small cooler to keep on the back seat. Kids can self-serve sandwiches, carrot sticks, and drinks, which can cut down on the requests for restaurant stops. Bring your child to the grocery store and have them pick out special snacks for travel day. Squeezable apple sauce, cut up fruit, and muffins are staples for our travels. Hang a trash/recycling bag from the back of the driver/passenger seat for easy clean-up. Pack wet wipes to clean those messy hands!
3. Hit the library a few days before you leave. You can find books on tape with follow along books, Preschool Book in a Bag (themed books and games), movies (for portable DVD players), and audiobooks (to load as mp3s or play in-dash). A compelling audiobook can soothe cranky kids who persist in asking, "When are we going to get there?"
4. Leave before sunrise. My godfather had a tradition with his kids when they were small that I always admired. He would load the sleeping kids into the car in their pajamas and hit the road around 3:00 a.m. The kids would snooze for a good four hours, oblivious, and the parents would have some quiet travel time. This is especially helpful when you are traveling in a hot climate. Pack changes of clothes for daytime. (It's a good idea to have always have something in the way of extra clothes in case juice spills or anyone gets carsick.)
5. Travel treats! We have a sweet tradition in our family. The night before we leave for a trip, I sneak several special things in my daughter's backpack. I have done this since she was quite small. For younger children, you could include sticker books, finger puppets, or animal crackers. Older children may appreciate Mad Libs, a packet of activity sheets you've compiled and printed out from the internet, or magnetic paper dolls.
6. Embrace the portable game system or the iPod. Really. Your child isn't going to rot his or her brain during the timespan of a road trip. If you've sung "I've been working on the railroad" until you think your eyeballs are going to explode, and you have wriggling kids in the back seat, an episode of a PBS Kids show is a total lifesaver!
With small kids, it's hard not to pack along your whole house, but it is possible to come up with a sort of "Entertainment Emergency Kit" that doesn't take up too much room. I save these last-resort items in a bag in the trunk for meltdowns. Sometimes I whip out an enormous lollipop (it can bring about an amazing amount of silence!), small paper lunch bags for making puppets, or small stuffed animal to cuddle. Wherever your family is headed this summer, pack wisely and have a great time!
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