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Toronto, Canada

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Toronto, Ontario - M5V 1R2
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How To Survive A Long Car Ride With Your Kids

Written by Jennifer Traynor
road trip tips and tricks

Seriously, who is that parent who purposely plans long drives with their kids, like it’s a treat and not a hazard? If that parent exists, first—applause. Second—award. I am NOT that parent.

Obviously, family road trips CAN be exciting and memorable, and compared to airfare, driving is often a more affordable way to get where you’re going. When I was a child, road trips were something my family did a lot—mostly to visit relatives out of town, but sometimes just to set off and explore a new place. I have fond memories of those times, and now that I’m a mother, I really wanted to help create some road trip memories for my kids, too. But dreams had not become reality yet because, let’s be honest, I was terrified.

When a family wedding out of town came up, my husband and I were finally faced with our first long drive with our son and daughter. I learned a lot from this journey, and I wanted to pass on a few tips so maybe it can be a little less daunting for someone out there.

Make a Plan

We hear “are we there yet?” from our kids on even the shortest of drives, so I was a bit anxious anticipating how we’d keep the kids happy and entertained in the confines of a car for such a long period of time. What could my husband and I do to make this experience an enjoyable (rather than frustrating) one? We sat down to talk about ideas for the car ride and made a list of items we felt were important to have with us.

Chat About it

If you’ve never done a road trip with your children before, speak with them ahead of time to help them prepare for the long drive. We explained to our son and daughter that where we were going was far away from home and that we would be in the car for many hours. We assured them that we would make stops to eat lunch and for bathroom breaks. We also told them that we could pack things to snack on and keep them entertained.

Even if your kids don’t have the clearest concept of time, it helps to tell them approximately how long it will take to get to your destination and roughly what time you’ll arrive. Things like road trips can actually help develop their sense of time, and you may be surprised how well offering mile-markers like “we’ll be there around dinner time” actually staves off the “how much longer?” questions. (To be fair, our benchmark of less than one “how much longer?” per minute is a pretty low one, but any improvement is worth it, right?)

Mr. Dressup’s Tickle Trunk(-ish)

Many of the toys my kids love just aren’t car-friendly (looking at you, Play-Dough and Lego), and while my husband and I agreed that we would bring our tablets to let them watch a show or movie, I really didn’t want them staring at screens for hours and hours. After chatting with some other moms and browsing online for ideas, I decided to put together a little car kit for the kids.

I went to the dollar store and found some small containers with lids and filled them with a variety of items. I got some grab-and-go play packs with mini colouring books and crayons for both kids. For my daughter I got some small, simple puzzles, and for my son a couple of little activity books that had connect-the-dots, word searches, and mazes. For both kids I also got some storybooks and search-and-find picture books they could share.

One important tip: don’t give them everything all at once.

One important tip: don’t give them everything all at once. Ration it out to make sure they don’t just zoom through everything and get bored again. Another item I picked up for each of them was a plastic serving tray with edges. This gave them a flat surface to do their colouring or solve the puzzles without worrying about crayons or puzzle pieces falling on the floor. I was pleased to find the idea of putting the car kit together for the kids worked out great – they both really enjoyed it!

There are also ways for the entire family to stay entertained without actually using gadgets or toys. Play a game of I Spy, create a road trip playlist and sing some favourite songs (literally have the Trolls soundtrack on lockdown now, #nobraggies), or take turns making up silly stories about places you drive past. No matter what you pick, the goal is to help pass the time and make the drive fun!

The Snacks

My husband decided ahead of time that investing in a small cooler was going to be helpful for this trip so that we could keep some cold drinks in the car with us, instead of a big cooler in the trunk. No need to have to pull over every time someone is thirsty! Having younger children, we kept some empty sippy cups handy, to avoid possible spills. We also packed small containers with snacks, such as crackers or Cheerios, as well as some granola bars, bananas, and grapes; easy things to eat on the go and not too messy in the car. We found this worked out very well for all of us during the long car ride. While we did have to stop to buy lunch, having our own snacks and drinks saved us some money. P.S. Don’t forget the most important weapon in a parent’s arsenal—wet wipes!

What Memories are Made of

All in all I would say our recent road trip was a success. Yes, there were times that were a bit painful, like when the kids got cranky and fought a bit. When we reached our destination we were all pretty tired, but I tried to remember that a lot of the best family memories aren’t perfectly happy. The ones we continue to share into the future are the ones where we laugh at that one (or six) disastrous thing(s) that happened.

I tried to remember that a lot of the best family memories aren’t perfectly happy.

As we drove home I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. Memories from my childhood flooded my brain and I thought about those road trips with my parents and older brother. It made me smile; not just because it’s nice to remember those days from my youth, but also because now I get to create new wonderful memories with my son and daughter. Maybe one day they will think back to these times and smile too.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.