What if airlines charged a person based on how much they weigh? Really, that’s the real expense of transporting someone, right? How much fuel will it take to haul you and your tiny pack of peanuts from point A to point B? If the airlines did that, then maybe we could’ve stomached buying airfare for our two little men who combined don’t even weigh 100 pounds or take up an entire seat.
But alas, they do not, so instead of spending a-kajillion dollars to fly our family of four to Atlanta for a high school graduation celebration, we decided to drive … and drive … and … drive.
It took two days, 16 hours, seven states, five movies and Mommy losing her shit once to get there. Not bad, I’d say, and I also have this nifty “Long Road Trip Badge” to show for it. (OK, so I totally made that up, but wouldn’t it be cool if we all got sashes and could flaunt the badges we’ve earned? “This one right here I earned when I opened the door to my son’s bedroom to find him covered in his own shit — head-to-toe — including a little poo Hitler mustache. I call it my ‘Didn’t Throw Up In My Own Mouth’ badge.”) So, dear friends, gather round and let me share with you some car-trip tips and activities.
If you are going to be in several states, this is a great way to break-up the trip with your kids. Whenever you cross into a new state — of course you cheer and do a celebratory, friendly two-beep honk to announce your arrival (what? you don’t do that?) — then you pull out a large envelope you’ve created specifically for that state. Here are some ideas for things to include.
(The Apples 4 the Teacher website is an excellent resource for a lot of these materials like maps, state graphics and trivia.)
- Magnetic state map puzzle: Print a basic map of the state and adhere it to a magnetic sheet, or print it directly onto a magnet sheet using something like Staples Inkjet Magnetic Sheets. Cut it into puzzle pieces. Take along a cookie sheet so the pieces can stick to it and the kids can easily assemble the puzzle in the car. Afterward, the kids can color the puzzle. Make it easier by hot-glue gunning little magnet pieces onto each crayon so the crayons stay handy as well. You can also create magnetic puzzles out of the state birds and flowers or famous people from that state.
- State playlist: Create a music playlist or burn a CD based on the state. Depending on where you are, you could create one based on style of music, or famous musicians who hail from a certain area. This website provides the top ten artists from each of the 50 states. Groovy.
- State adjectives: Include a sheet that features the state name spelled vertically down the page. As you experience/drive through the state, have each kid provide a descriptor that starts with each letter of the state.
- State trivia: This is one for older kids and even adults. Create a list of trivia with either open-ended questions (ooooo, that’s hard), or multiple choice answers. Keep score and the winner gets a prize, bragging rights, or gets to select the next restaurant.
Apps for the road
Sure, having Angry Birds loaded on your smart phone can help pass the time, but how about putting technology to work for you in the real world? Before hitting the road, load some of these helpful travel apps.
- Google Maps: In addition to getting directions, GPS tracking, and street views, the Google Map app can also help you when you are indoors. You know, when you are in an unfamiliar mall and all you need to do is for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy find a store with kids’ clothes because your youngest is crying in the van, stripped down to his underwear because he just puked-up cheese sticks, a chili dog, and a chocolate shake from that ’50s-themed diner you thought would be so cute to check out — yeah, there’s an app for that.
- Afar: Upload photos and descriptions of your amazing travel experiences, or browse what others have uploaded. Don’t look for Omaha. It’s not at all inspiring. Maybe we need to change that … .
- World Explorer: More than 350,000 locations; identifies places and monuments nearby; and a convenient search function.
- GasBuddy: Provides location of local gas stations and current prices.
- Lonely Planet: Loaded with lots of city guides, audio walking tours and attractions for travel in the U.S. or abroad.
- Around Me: Search for nearest gas stations, restaurants, banks, hotels, hospitals, etc.
- iExit, iExit Food, iExit Hotels and iExit Lite: like the name implies, the iExit series provides information on gas stations, restaurants and hotels for exits along interstate highways.
Obviously it’s much cheaper to pack your own snacks. Just make sure you think of things that can withstand a hot car and stash them so they are easily accessible while driving. We have a minivan and placing a small box on the floor between the front and second-row seats works great for us. We also invested in these drink box holders. They eliminate worries when passing them from the front seats to the back seats and make it so the kids can rest them between their legs when they are snacking.
We haven’t quite made the move to invest in a plug-in cooler, but after our fourth fast-food meal (erp!), the idea of packing some sandwiches and fruit sounds like a good idea. (Our eldest son has a dairy allergy, so admittedly our restaurant choices are at times limited.)
“I HAVE TO PEE! NOW!” It’s so much easier to get the kids quickly out of the car if they wear slip-on shoes like Crocs instead of shoes and socks or sandals with straps.
I hate a messy car, so I carry mini packs of small trash bags with me at all times. (The bag also comes in handy if someone gets car sick.)
Put the kids in charge of what they bring
Before the trip, I give the boys a basket they can fill with whatever toys they want to take. If it doesn’t fit, it stays home. The basket sets between their two seats so they can easily grab what they want.
Make sure you dictate time with no electronics. You can try to plan ahead and make it when you are approaching a city or crossing a state line. Just make sure their noses aren’t in a video game or they aren’t staring slack-jawed at the tv screen the entire time.
Always Be Prepared kit
In addition to your typical vehicle safety items like flares, flashlights and blankets, a small plastic shoe-boxed size container with a lid is perfect for stashing things like extra batteries for electronics, a first-aid kit, an extra $20 cash, baby wipes, extra underwear, a bed sheet and bottles of water.
Our youngest enjoying a double-decker carousel at a mall in St. Louis. We timed our stop to grab dinner, stretch our legs and avoid rush-hour traffic.
Even after both boys were potty trained, I still carried overnight diapers in the car. They are great for when you can’t get to a bathroom, or the bathrooms are just too disgusting. It might sound gross, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Open up the diaper and hold it against your kid for him/her to pee into. Another option is a travel toilet that collapses and can easily be stored in the car. (Obviously this is for the younger kids. Your husband pooping into a diaper is best left for one of those strange obsession/addiction shows on TLC.)
Think like a kid
My husband and I acknowledge we would travel differently without kids — less stops, driving straight through, staying at the cheapest hotel. But with kids, we want to make sure it’s not just about the destination. Take the time to see the sites along the way. Go swimming in the hotel pool. Find a local park. Stop along the way to see the world’s largest ball of twine. Enjoy the journey.