Ah, the holidays! Fragrant trees; glowing candles; presents! Traveling to visit family and friends! Driving for hours, and hours, and hours…!
Traveling at the holidays can be tough, no matter how you go about it–plane, train, or automobile. It helps to have some tricks up your sleeve to keep the troops happy as you go. My family has almost always traveled by car. To my mind, this has distinct advantages: you can stop and stretch your legs/get a snack/go hide in a Cracker Barrel store for a while (hint: wear seasonal colors and you will blend right in with all the stuff!). But car travel has the distinct downside of taking A. Long. Time. Especially if it is around a big holiday. Round about hour 5 of a long trip, when it sinks in that there are still multiple hours to go, it seems there aren’t enough extra rows in the world to keep the peace.
In the interest of familial harmony, then, here are some tried-and-true tips for vehicular harmony (which can be used in other travel situations as well). ***If I link anything here, it isn’t because it makes me money–it’s just where I found things.***
Noise-cancelling headphones. Sweet sound of silence. After far too many trips in our far too-small car, with [insert maddening child-chosen music] blasting 11 inches behind me in the back seat, these finally became affordable. Look for “active noise cancelling”–these actually cancel outside noises by listening and then playing opposite frequencies (Better Living Through Technology). (P.S.–get yourself a pair and enjoy the silence!)
Audiobooks and music subscriptions. Your school library probably has access to ebooks and audiobooks. The local public library has a wide array of audiobook titles available also (check your local library website). And we have a family subscription to Spotify, which allows each family member to create their own playlists to listen to on those aforementioned lovely headphones.
Books. If you or your children can read in the car without barfing (#thatwouldnotbeme), by all means load up on fun reading. Need some reccys? Go to Brightly for great age-leveled book lists (or the NYTimes or The Guardian or here for lists at all ages). Free choice is the strong order of the day here. Stop by your school- or public library and let each person fill a bag with fun reads.
And don’t forget the Road Trip Box! There are as many versions of this idea as there are imaginations in the world, but essentially it is a container of fun stuff that you dole out over the course of your trip.
These days, thanks to Pinterest, Target Dollar Spot, Dollar Tree, etc. there are many options to keep the back-seaters in line. I like the idea of a new game/activity/amusement/snack for each hour of the trip. That way, all the fun isn’t over right away, and you can choose which things to reveal when (tip: save the best things for late in the trip, when everyone is *done*).
My Top 10 Road-Trip Box Items, in no particular order:
- Dry-erase markers and wipe-off games like Hangman and Mad-Libs (make your own with document-sealing sheets, or use plastic page protector sleeves [Dollar Tree often carries protector sleeves and dry-erase markers]).
- Car Games: For example, the Animal Guessing Game – one person chooses an animal. The other(s) ask questions to try and guess what it is (mammal? reptile? bigger than a loaf of bread? lives in the zoo?) More ideas for games here.
- Fidget toys: from good old Silly Putty, to Tangle Jr. and Wixy Stix (I loooooove them!), there are so many great fiddly things to mess with! (Check age recommendations for each toy, please.)
- Coloring books and colored pencils (for teens too!) Available on Amazon, of course, but check local stores such as Barnes & Noble, Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Marshalls, etc.
- Magazines and Comics: go to Barnes & Noble or someplace with a big selection and find something new
- Candy – small packets of individual things like Jelly Bellys or Skittles
- Goofy sunglasses and/or hats (I love a good road-trip theme!) Disney! Skiing! Beaches! Gnomes! Area 51! Lots of photo-ops with goofy accessories in the car and along the way.
- Coupons for treats along the way. Connect these to places you often stop or plan to stop, or to car privileges. Examples: #onefreecandyofyourchoice #goodforonestopatwafflehouse #chooseasouveniratsouthoftheborder Or how about #onehourinthefrontseat or #choosethenextdvd ?
- Fun hand sanitizers for pit stops (Bath & Body Works, of course). Tropical for a beach trip; pine for skiing; sparkly for Disney; etc.
- Screen time. Of course there will be time on individual devices. Just try to string it out; otherwise they will binge the first 3 hours, and then won’t be able to concentrate on anything else. Puzzle games seem particularly good. And there are plenty of offline games for kids to play on phones or iPads. Check your app store for something new to try. Three Caveats: 1) Check the age recommendations. 2) check the game to see that it works well on your device before you leave, and 3) ALWAYS TURN OFF IN-APP PURCHASES when you download a new game! iPad games (check prices before downloading).
Hope you have a great time traveling over the holidays–see you in 2020!