Roadtripping with Children

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As I started to plan our family’s big summer road trip yesterday, I recognised a giddy sensation I hadn’t felt in a while: it was the happy feeling I get whenever travel plans begin to take shape. Budget constraints mean this year’s trip will involve driving rather than flying – but with the spectacular Pacific Northwest in our backyard, this is no hardship. Our family includes two children, aged 6 and 3, plus dog and cat (both of whom will thankfully be staying behind).

Roadtripping has become a bit of a theme in our family. Multiply the cost of a flight times four bodies and a good old fashioned road trip begins to look very appealing, even with rising fuel prices. Today I thought I’d share a bit of wisdom I’ve learned from several years of traveling long distances by car: namely, how to do it with two small children (without losing your sanity.)

1. Be prepared with activities. You really can’t expect small kids to sit quietly in the car and admire the scenery for five hours: they are just not wired to do this. Activity books, magnadoodles, a few new dollar store toys, books on CD, lots of kids music – the kind you’ll both enjoy. We really like the Barenaked Ladies Snacktime album. Even with all your prep, be prepared for them to still tell you they’re bored.

2. Bring along a cooler of healthy snacks, and lots of variety. Cut up fresh fruit and veggies, cheese, crackers, yoghurt tubes, buns and peanut butter, trail mix, oatmeal cookies. There’s nothing worse than relying on gas stations to fuel both your car and your kids up. The kids and you will feel so much better if they’re not full of fast food garbage. Plus, if you’ve got all the fixings for lunch in the car, you can enjoy picnics at a provincial park along the way instead of a less attractive roadside stop.

3. All healthy talk aside, DO keep a secret stash of chocolate in the glove box – for you. And a couple lollypops to bribe the kids with if things start to fall apart as you near your destination.

4. I’m going to go against the grain and say DON’T bring along a portable DVD player. I know it’s an easy fix, but I’m not a fan of plugging in and tuning out, and know that if I brought one along, I’d let my kids watch way too much TV – in which case, we may as well just be at home!

5. Stop often. Let the kids get out, run around, explore. If they’re having fun, don’t rush them back into the car after 10 minutes. Have a bag in the trunk that’s easy to grab and dedicated to these spontaneous stops: it should hold things like a couple frisbees, a mini soccer ball, towels and bathing suits. Anything to get them moving and quell the restless car legs.

6. Get the kids excited about what they’re seeing. Waterfalls (even tiny ones), bridges, wildlife sightings, mountains, valleys, coastline. This is my favourite part of traveling with my children: seeing the world through their eyes makes everything I’ve seen before seem fresh and new.

7. Consider hostelling along the way. This type of travel with kids deserves a blog post of its own, but I’ll just mention here that hostelling beats a motel any day and gives the kids a lot more variety than your standard hotel room.

8. Don’t forget, this is an ADVENTURE! Treat it as such. Be spontaneous. Make the odd detour. Don’t worry about making it to your destination by a certain time – the memories you’re making are far more important.
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