We love to pack up the car and head out for the day or weekend. Laura and I have done it since we’ve known each other and we have continued it with our children. Almost since Ethan and Autumn’s first month of life, we were driving 2 to 4 hours to visit family. Our travels include visiting Oregon every other month (4 hour drive), driving to California from Portland, camping in eastern Oregon, and many many day trips in whatever area we live. In addition to car trips, Ethan has been on four (to and from California) and Autumn on two (to and from Chicago) airplane trips. Through it all our children have done extremely well. We thought we’d share what we learned from our experience to make your journey with your children more enjoyable.
- Don’t think of a vacation or any time in the car with children as a pain or nuisance. The kids will sense it and your off on the wrong foot. I believe that a parent has to set the tone of the trip and it happens even before you’re in the car.
- Begin discussing your trip days or weeks in advance (depending on where you are going) so they can begin to anticipate it. Talk about what you may see and how it will be fun.
- Buy a few special items before the trip. This could be some food items or a toy (we’ve done this for airplane rides). We’ve even put an old toy away for a few weeks before the trip and pulled it out for the trip. It’s like new.
- Pack the books. Ethan loves his Richard Scarry books. They are full of pictures to keep him busy, offer a lot of conversation ideas for him, and they are easy for him to handle in the car.
- Think of car trips as opportunities to share whatever is in the moment. It could be the trees you drive by, people you see, or weather occurring that day.
- Music, music, music. We love music so we always have it going in the car. The music is an opportunity to sing as a family and create experiences.
- Take frequent breaks for the bathroom and see local sites as you drive.
- Leave around their nap schedule. We have tried to leave (car and airplane) when we know it will be nap time. We’ve also done a couple driving at night trips just so they could sleep.
- It’s not always about the destination, but rather it’s about the journey. We’ve taken all day to get from Seattle to Portland (3 hours) so we could stop at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and see the surrounding area. We taken three days to go from Oregon to California by camping and visiting sites along the way.
The one thing we do not do is use a movie player of any sort. Our reasons are simple. We want to encourage conversation, questions, singing, sleeping, and observing as we travel. We feel that by throwing a movie on, you’ve just eliminated most, if not all, of this. Since we’ve never brought a movie player on a trip, our children have never asked to watch one.