We are headed on vacation soon. I wish I could say when or where, but unfortunately there are too many weirdo's on the internet these days and I'd like my house to be intact when we get back.
I was talking with my sister-in-law about the stress of planning vacations. She has several little ones. Although mine are a bit older now (with the exception of Amelia), I understand her stress. You need a vacation, but they cost money, which you have to work to get. It's like a vicious cycle. Of course, throwing kids into the mix (especially little ones) only adds to the stress. Travel is always more difficult with little ones, and airplane travel just isn't fun anymore for anyone especially parents with small children.
Lots of people have written articles about how to travel with small children, so I will only include things we have actually done. To preface this information, keep in mind that we live at the southern end of Florida and our closest family lives at least a 10 hour drive away. We make the trek a minimum of once a year, sometimes twice. We aren't talking about a two hour jaunt.
First, I have noticed that having a dvd player in our van is a lifesaver. I limit my children's daily TV watching for the most part, so being allowed to watch movies all day is a treat for them.
The second biggest thing that helps is planning ahead for a picnic lunch at a park. Play places at a fast food restaurant are okay, but sometimes they are too limiting. Depending on when you go they may be over crowded, and often they have age or height restrictions. Everyone who has been sitting in a car for a while needs the stretch their legs and this includes mom and dad. We have gone a few miles out of the way at times to find a good park. There's something about letting kids run for an hour that quiets them for the remainder of the trip. This will be our first trip with a teenager, and I plan on forcing "Mr. Cool" to run around some, even though he may not personally plan on it.
Following much of the advice I've read I have made activity packs for the kids as well. Or son isn't naturally artistic, so he doesn't like typical activity books you buy in a store. I can usually print coloring pages for the girls, but these just don't hold his attention. In the past I've made a book of puzzles for him to work on. He's old enough now to be entertained by video games, but I still like making him a booklet. I include personalized word searches, mazes and crosswords, find-the-picture puzzles, and (our favorite) a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt includes things to find along the highway, as well as things to find while we're visiting, and even on the way back home. I also include fun facts about the places we are going and the activities we have planned.
For me, the girls have always been much easier to entertain. I've found some really nice durable magnetic paper dolls. I've also found Dover Little Activity books to be a lot of fun. If you plan ahead, you can buy a ton of these on clearance for under a dollar. I usually have a stack of these in my closet for any occasion. On our last trip, my husband found these scratch off books that were a lot of fun. And of course, there's always the invisible ink books.
The final thing we do to keep everyone happy is have everyone take a turn entertaining the youngest. Right now she is two, so watching movies and coloring for 10 hours isn't good enough. If everyone takes an hour to do something with her, play with figurines, or have a finger puppet show, or read a book, or just listen to her talk, she stays entertained much longer. It also teaches everyone to be less self-centered, and during the non-entertained moments I work with her on how to entertain herself.
So that's it... those are my secrets for surviving a long car trip with my children. feel free to share your own experiences.