Last year, a study found that families were expecting to cover about 600 miles for their combined holiday travels (Thanksgiving through New Years). For the upcoming holidays, travel expectations could be similar. For families who plan to drive to their destinations, though, the trip might be a stressful trek.
While flying has its own share of stressors, road trips with kids might require parents to plan ahead to ensure their children don’t get bored and cranky during the journey. Wondering how to survive long trips during holiday travel? Try these activities and tips to help make the trip enjoyable for everyone and help parents preserve their sanity, too:
- Make a list of ‘car rules’ and stick by them
- Pack portable devices like handheld game systems, tablets, etc.
- Pack plenty of charging cords for devices
- Require headphones for devices and any entertainment systems
- Play games in the car to mix up the entertainment
- Pack snacks and drinks
- Bring books and reading materials
- Plan plenty of pit stops
- Consider stopping at landmarks to break up the trip
- Overestimate the travel time
Tip #1: Make a List of Car Rules and Stick to These Rules
Every family has their own set of rules at home, but there also should be guidelines that help children understand how to behave in the car, too.
Obviously, all children need to be in a safety seat or in their own seat (and buckled). However, parents also can stipulate that yelling is prohibited and that children must keep hands, feet and objects to themselves.
Parents also could have car rules guiding food and drink. Some parents only allow clear liquids to ensure that upholstery doesn’t get stained. Others might limit certain foods.
Before hitting the road, make a list of car rules and place that list in the back seat. Parents might hold onto a copy, too. Set consequences for children who break the rules.
Tip #2: Remember to Pack Portable Devices
Keeping kids entertained during a long car ride might require lots of variety. Handheld game systems let children play their favorite games on-the-go. Smartphones and tablets let children watch videos, play games, chat with friends and listen to music.
Parents might assume that just packing a smartphone or a tablet will suffice. Don’t make this novice mistake! Pack multiple portable options and assume that kids will grow tired of one or the other.
Kids can alternate between playing video games on their game system and engaging on a smartphone or tablet. More options give children variety and help mix up the entertainment. Tablets or smartphones also could offer kids access to streaming services.
Tip #3: Bring Plenty of Charging Cords for Devices
Many modern cars feature USB ports that allow devices to be charged in the vehicle. When parents are packing smartphones, handheld game systems and tablets, they also need to remember charging cords for these devices.
Without charging cables or cords, those devices might be useless after a few hours of playing. Don’t get stuck in the car with devices that have lost their battery power. Pack enough charging cords to ensure all devices are fully charged and ready to use. Parents also shouldn’t forget cords for their own phones.
Tip #4: Headphones are Must
Whether children have classic over-the-ear headphones or earphones that fit inside the ear, make sure that these accessories are packed for the journey. Parents probably don’t want to hear the sounds from games or their child’s music playlist.
Headphones and earphones ensure that everyone can enjoy their favorite games, music or videos without disturbing others in the car. Pack headphones/earphones for everyone.
Tip #5: Play ‘I Spy’ and Other Games
Children won’t always be entertained by their devices. Eventually, they might lose interest. Parents need a backup plan, and fun on-the-go games in the car can ensure everyone has fun and enjoys the ride.
Play road trip games like “I Spy.” Parents also could download road trip bingo games that encourage children to look out their car window to find objects to mark off their card. The Travel Channel offers free Road Trip Bingo cards that parents can print out for the long holiday journey.
Get creative with car trip games. There are many card games and other games that are designed for road trips. Some are available for free online (like Bingo games), but others might need to be ordered or purchased.
Tip #6: Pack Snacks and Drinks
While trips to rest stops and gas stations will be inevitable, some parents might not want to stop every time their child needs a drink or a snack. Plus these little travel ‘extras’ can add to the cost of the journey.
Parents can pack a small cooler with drinks and a variety of snacks. Again, some parents might prefer clear liquids to ensure that colorful drink stains don’t ruin car upholstery. Let children pick out their favorite snacks to pack during the journey; parents and children might even plan a special shopping trip beforehand to purchase road trip snacks and drinks.
Tip #7: Bring books and Reading Materials
Parents might not want their children to stare at screens for the entire duration of the car trip. Books, magazines and other reading materials can provide an alternative to screen time.
Shop for books or magazines before the trip to ensure children have something new to enjoy. Parents also could encourage children to bring books they are currently reading.
Tip #8: Plan Plenty of Pit Stops
Most parents have likely heard the desperate plea from the backseat: “I have to go to the bathroom!” Bathroom breaks are a part of the journey, and parents should build these stops into the trip.
Instead of waiting for the plea from the back, parents might schedule these stops ahead of time. While some unplanned bathroom stops will be unavoidable, planning stops can encourage children to stretch their legs and use the restroom (whether they think they need to or not).
Tip #9: Consider Visiting Landmarks to Break Up the Trip
Stops during the journey don’t need to be limited to rest areas or gas stations. Instead, parents might schedule visits to area landmarks during their journey.
Maybe the holiday trek will take the family near a historic battlefield or a unique town. Plot out points of interest along the way, and, weather permitting, plan to make a stop at these cool sites.
Roadside attractions also can be a fun deviation from the journey. These attractions could be wacky and wild and provide a fun backdrop for a family photo op.
Tip #10: Overestimate the Travel Time
Parents might assume that they can make it to their destination in a specific timeframe. Unfortunately, traffic issues, accidents, more stops for bathroom breaks or other unplanned issues could delay the trip and lengthen the journey. When planning a trip, overestimate the travel time.
Overestimating ensures that parents aren’t cutting the trip too close (if they need to arrive at a particular time). Plus, adding on extra travel time lets families enjoy a more leisurely journey.
Holiday travel might lead to a road trip that requires many hours in the car. When parents are traveling with children, patience could be limited. Instead of worrying about the trip suddenly turning stressful, parents can plan ahead to ensure that children have plenty of entertainment options during the journey. Pack portable devices, print out game cards for Road Trip Bingo, bring snacks and consider making stops to fun roadside attractions to break up the trip.
With a little extra planning, the family road trip for the holidays can be a relaxing, fun bonding experience that children and parents remember forever.