Saturday, April 16, 2011

How to survive a long road trip with small children ... Or why there's no such thing as being too prepared!

I was a little worried before we set off on our road trip to Austria since it was, according to Google maps, a seven-hour drive -- and that's without traffic.  Long drives and small children?  You know how that is... With memories of not-so-pleasant journeys ("Mom, I'm bored!  There's nothing to DO!  How much longer till we're there?  Mom!  Kate touched me!"  "Mom!  Will's looking at me! Make him STOP!") echoing in my head,  I got to work preparing activities for the kids so we could have a peaceful, relaxing trip.  Busy kids are happy kids, right?  And happy (quiet) kids = happy parents.  

First up:  Each kid got an art binder with a brand new notepad, crayons, pencils and stickers.
Kate was so disappointed that hers wasn't pink.  But she got over it.

Lacing cards and lots of thick, fun yarn:

Sandpaper and yarn for creating fun designs:

Kate's favorite -- "Felt Land" -- just a sheet of felt for a background and then various shapes and objects cut out of felt. Apparently, felt sticks to felt so it's easy to design all kinds of scenes and designs. So simple but she loved it!

The castle was Will's idea.  He suggested a princess too but that was beyond my scissor skills.

And Will's favorite -- a map and list of all the countries in Europe for playing the license plate game.  Each time he saw a car from a new country, he'd locate the country on the map, write in its initials, then cross it off the list.  Entertaining and educational!
He spotted cars from 18 countries, and upon pulling onto our street actually saw a car from Andorra. Andorra?  What are the odds of that!
Each activity went into its own manila folder, all of which were neatly contained in a box to be seat-belted into the space between the two kids so no one could knock it to the ground if they both dove for the same activity at once.  Yes, it happens.
Toss in a couple of travel pillows, a few books and a huge bag of snacks, and you've got some very happy kids!

Just to be on the safe side we brought along just a bit of technology too:  an iPad, an iPod, two iPhones and a Nintendo DS (most of which was barely touched).  But in my mind* you can never be too prepared, especially when a "seven-hour" drives turn into nine hours... or longer**.  

And, how did it go?  I'm happy to report that the kids were happily engaged for the entire trip.  Roger and I even got to listen to This American Life podcasts the whole time.  The kids were so quiet I had to keep looking back to see if they were asleep (they weren't).  In fact, when we arrived in Austria they were actually disappointed because they hadn't had enough time playing with all their new activities.  Can you imagine?  After SEVEN hours in the car?  Silly kids...

Anyway, the travel box, as it's come to be known, was a huge success and I'm insisting, much to the kids' disappointment, that all the activities included are only to be used on road trips, never at home.  So the box has been relegated to the back of a closet patiently awaiting our next long drive...

* Roger thought I was crazy.  "Just put a couple of extra movies on the iPad and be done with it!" he told me.  Okay, that probably would've worked too... but it wouldn't have been as much fun for me.  For the kids?  Who knows.

** Yes, it took over nine hours to get back.  Despite the fact that we attempted to drive fast enough that those Germans didn't blow us off the road when they zoomed past at 150+ km an hour, we hit several spots of bad traffic.  


  1. wow! I thought the folders were it until I saw the box and thought what on earth .. but if you had kids complaining after 7 hours that they hadnt enough time then it was a huge success!!!

    well done! :D

    how was Austria? Its somewhere I'd love to go, I almost went au-pairing there when i was 19 but a job came up here at home so I didnt go in the end .. often wonder "what if?"

  2. Thank you for your great ideas! We are driving 24-26 hours from Utah to Minnesota next week, with four kids ages 4 to 12. We have the DS/cell phones/DVD players too, but they do far too much of that at home.

    I have never heard of the sandpaper and yarn activity - my smaller boys will love it! Also thanks for the idea of putting each activity into its own separate manila folder.I love it!!

  3. Wendi, thanks for your comment. Glad you liked the activities and I hope they're helpful. A 24-26 hour drive with four kids? Wow!!

  4. Indeed that's true! Being prepared is a must when there's a long road trip with kids on board. You have to make sure they're taken care of, while focusing on the road in front of you. It can be pretty hectic, but with planning and whatnot the trip would be fun and easy.n

  5. So true. I kind of like road trips now since it's much easier to keep the kids entertained than when they were toddlers.