Comedian Ron Funches said, “Raising a child is like taking care of someone who’s on way too many shrooms, while you yourself are on a moderate amount of shrooms. I am not confident in my decisions, but I know you should not be eating a mousepad.” If parenting is a mental trip, parenting on a physical trip only magnifies it. The highs are higher (“Look! A big statue of a cow!”) and the lows are lower (“My butt hurts too but there’s nothing but cornfield so neither one of us is getting out of this car whether we like it or not!”) But there are some things I’ve learned, mostly the hard way, that make traveling with youngsters easier.
- Packing light does not count when it comes to diapers. ALWAYS bring more diapers than you think you’ll need unless you’re flying. (Does your destination have an easily accessible Target/Walmart? If so, save the suitcase space and buy a pack when you arrive.) For the flight though, and if you’re driving, always bring more than you think you’ll need.
- Ziploc bags are heaven sent. Referencing the above, I’ve changed a poop-filled diaper on the side of the road more than once and being able to seal it in an air-tight bag (or two) was FAR preferable to riding around with it stinking us out until the next location with a garbage. They’re also awesome for wet/dirty clothes & shoes, and make great barf bags. For older kids they’re excellent for this next one…
- Ration! Pretend it’s the Oregon Trail – do you go through all your good stuff on day 1? No, you ration! This goes for car snacks (so much better to have a snack sized bag of Goldfish dumped out into your backseat than the whole box) but it also applies to toys & games. On several car trips I loaded up a box in the front seat with portioned out bags of snacks, special toys, books, and games and I doled them out according to the length of the trip and the level of insanity erupting from the seat behind me. (I used plastic tubs instead of bags when my kids were of the age when eating or suffocating on the bag was a fear but still used the same concept.) For flights, don’t reveal all of your on-flight entertainment before you’ve left the ground – use this idea to draw out the fun.
- Plan lots of stops. It’s much easier to head off fatigue and boredom than to remedy it once they’re into tantrum mode. For road trips I like to ask friends and look on Roadside America to find interesting (but quick and cheap) diversions for the kids. Even just getting out to have their pictures taken in front of a giant ball of stamps can spice up a trip more than another SuperAmerica bathroom. When weather is not agreeable to outdoor stops (and you can’t bear the idea of a McD’s playplace) check out shopping centers – most have small indoor play areas – or stores like Petco/Petsmart where little legs can stretch and look at some fish/birds/gerbils for a few minutes without a zoo admission fee.
- Plan for puke. Having washed myself, a child, and our puke covered clothes in an airport bathroom, having scrubbed vomit out of the folds of a car seat, and having tossed beloved books that were in the wrong place at the wrong time, I have learned to plan for puke. Of course with younger kids who can’t always communicate their impending sickness, accidents are bound to occur but it’s important to have a few things on hand… A proper receptacle – forget the tiny airplane bags and go for a gallon ziplock or an ice cream pail. The bigger the target the better their chances of hitting it. Paper towels and wet wipes – handy for lots of things but essential for puke. A bottle of water – great for rinsing out mouths and your now-puke-filled bucket.
- Stock up on audiobooks. Most children’s music makes me want to gouge my ears out but children’s audiobooks are a different story. There is some great literature like the Harry Potter series, The Tale of Despereaux, even Dr. Seuss that can be fun for adults and kids alike. We all know that reading with our kids is important and listening together is the next best thing. Plus it gives you something to talk about during your rest stops.
- Take turns. Planning in advance to switch who gets to sit in which seat, who gets to choose the music, and who picks the game are ways to keep the no-fair whine-fests from starting. One way to set it up is to switch at each stop or at each county line (keeps them watching the road signs!)
- Let go of your fears. There will be some drama, there will be some crumbs and other mystery substances in your backseat, and you’ll probably stop a little more than you would on an adults-only trip but there will be lots of awesome too. If wandering is part of who you are then by all means share it with your kids!