It’s easy to have the prospect of a family road trip conjure up images of fights in the backseat or incessant, never-ending inquiries like the classic: “Are we there yet?” To be sure, these are realities of the road when traveling with young children. You don’t, however, want to fall into the trap of foregoing the glory that is travel, or miss the chance to show your kids exactly how magnificent is the world in which they live, just because of a few minor irritants. With a little forethought, and the advice of those who embrace traveling with children, you too can brave the wilds of traveling with children. Please, enjoy the following rules for a great family road trip:
- Book a hotel/motel with a pool. It is a magic body of water that can rejuvenate children after a long day, but somehow also wear them out if they have too much energy left over. How it can do both, I’m sure I don’t know.
- For your own sanity, invest in headphones for electronic devices. There’s nothing that will make you want to drive headlong into opposing I-95 traffic than the 251st rendition of Baby Shark.
- Learn about crypto-monsters in the areas you are traveling. Every region has its own legends, learn them. Kids are fascinated by stories of Jersey Devils, Champs, Mothmans, thunderbirds, Nessies, Chessies, and Ogopogos. It will, at the very least, get them looking out the window.
- Go to restaurants with crap on the walls. On our last vacation, we ate with a complete 1970’s era Corvette hanging on the wall beside us. Kids don’t forget stuff like that. (The same restaurant had a hot wing challenge Dad had to sign a release form to eat. If you’re brave enough to eat wings that require you to wear latex gloves to handle them, I guarantee your tears will be worth having your kids engaged with the dinner conversation.)
- Find things to collect besides the countries, states, towns and cities themselves. These collections need not be expensive or space consuming souvenirs. We bought inexpensive National Park Passports that the boys look forward to stamping for free at each park we hit. Another cheap souvenir we collect are pennies smashed in penny presses ($.51 a piece). Each is unique and they are usually found in unique places.
- Make a binder filled with games and activities. You know the old games: auto-bingo, alphabet games, searching to see how many different state license plates you can find in one trip. Print out sheets and laminate them for repeated use. Add a journal page so kids can record new foods they’ve tried or new animals and wildlife they’ve never seen by the roadside (dead or alive). Put a map on the front of the binder that kids can color-in as they achieve new states and territories. They can keep them for life and look back on them when they’re grown. I wish I had something like that from my travels as a kid.
- Don’t do only the things you, as an adult, want to do. When your planning your routes let your own inner-kid come out and do a mapsearch of kid-friendly sites. Search: River-tubing, bike rentals, state fairs, renaissance fairs carnivals, and hotels with waterparks attached. Think outside the box: Don’t take a bridge, if you can take a ferry. Don’t go to a movie theatre, if there’s a Drive-In handy. If you must do history (like I must), at least make sure it’s a battlefield with some cannons or earthenworks for them to climb on.
- Pick a vacation song and play it once every morning as you get back on the road. Two great ones for kids are Vacation, by the Go-Go’s, and Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham. Music has the ability to tie moments together and instantly evoke memories, and memories are why we travel.
- Kids are gonna jump on hotel beds. It’s their job. It’s what they do. Don’t try to stop them, but do try to reserve a room on the first floor. Also, let them help find the hotel ice-machine and push the elevator buttons. Use your leftover change from the day to get them something in the hotel vending machine, but look for things you don’t find at home (It’s fun for kids to watch the machines go from Dr. Pepper to Mr. Pibb, or Mountain Dew to Mellow Yellow as you move across the country).
- Buy lots of wine to take back to the hotel room
Traveling with children, as opposed to without them, takes greater effort. But, as is usual, the more effort you put into something the greater is the reward. Someone, somewhere, made you fall in love with travel, for your kids make sure that someone is you. As, adults, they will be forever grateful.
Please, leave your tips for traveling with children in the comment section. I’d love to hear about them!