Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Travelling With Kids (And Saving Your Sanity)
By my calculations, this year we have logged more than 80 hours of extended travel with our kids (some of it was just me and the kids) by plane and car. And we're looking at probably 50 more before the year is finished (starting next week!). So I'm starting to feel like I've got this down, more or less.
My kids are in the 2-5 range, so I'm sure it would be a different story and a different game plan with a baby or with older kids, but here are some things that have worked for us!
We start out with a few foundation items: a cooler with plenty of healthy snacks, a few not- so healthy ones, and drinks. Books, pillow/ blanky, and one or two beloved toys. Technology- some new tunes on an mp3 player- both kid songs and grown up music, a portable DVD player for the car, our favorite kid shows, Leap Pads, earphone splitter, and headphones.
We are usually in the car for 13-14 hours one way, so we need a LOT to keep our kids entertained and happy. I don't want them watching movies the whole time, and they aren't really into that either- usually 1-2 movies only for a trip that length. I do encourage them to nap, and sometimes they will for a short time, but the majority of the time they are kept happiest when they have a variety of activities to choose from. We alternate the basics above with activities from the bag of tricks below.
The Activity Rotation
We rotate through our bag of tricks, each activity lasting on average from 15-30 minutes, repeating our favorites multiple times. (Your kids might have longer attention spans, depending on their personalities and ages, the times I list below are just to give a general idea) Here are some of our favorites (no endorsements for particular brands, this is just what we have):
Good old pencil and paper for drawing, name writing, and letter/ number/ shape practice. This one probably only lasts 10-15 minutes at a time.
Magnadoodles. We would do this activity maybe after a movie, not drawing in notebooks. Probably another 10-15 minute activity for my boys.
Silly putty is a great fine motor activity and there are sooo many variations on this activity. Sculpting, twisting, stretching, ink printing, stamping, impression making, bubble blowing etc. We are happy with this activity for at least 30 minutes.
A memory game of some type is good; there are also tons of free printables you can find on Pinterest that are travel memory games or scavenger hunts. This is a 10-15 minute activity for us, but I think as they get older, and if I had more variations of it, they would play longer.
Scratch art. This is a fun activity for older kids and maybe grown ups too! You use the wooden stylus to scratch off the black coating and underneath is brightly colored plastic when you hold it up to the light. This is a 25-30 minute activity for my kids, but they need a little encouragement.
Dry erase activities. We pack a couple different colors of dry erase pens, and just use tissue to erase. For whatever reason, my boys both love using dry erase markers over any other type of writing implement. My only warning is that dry erase pen is VERY hard to get out of clothing... My kids will play with this activity for about 25 minutes.
Magnatab. This is somewhat similar to the magnadoodle in that you use a magnetic stylus, but it works by pulling up a little metal ball that lodges in a groove near the top of the surface. You can't draw anything very detailed, but it makes a satisfying sound and it is somewhat of a novelty. My kids will probably spend about 20 minutes on this.
Stringing beads and shapes. This is actually an activity that I inherited from my mom, and it is kind of nostalgic because Marissa and I played with this in the car 20+ years ago! My mom actually had us help her make salt dough shapes, which we let dry and then painted together. My mom cut out a bunch of felt shapes and punched holes in them, and everything got strung on shoelaces. We used to have all kinds of neon colored laces; this is what is left two decades later! Haha. We add random empty spools, beads, etc. for stringing. My kids will play with this for 20 minutes usually.
Felt board with story puppets and shapes. Here's another one I played with as a child, which my mom gave back to me. (My mom is super creative, as you may be able to tell. She made all of the puppets herself.) The kids play with this usually about 15 minutes, then throw the shapes all around the car for another 10. I guess we take what we can get. Haha.
Eye Spy Books. We have a couple of these books along with some magnifying glasses. That combo seems to last us about 30 minutes if we have enough books to search through.
Dollar Store games. We have a few little things like this that we have found at the dollar store or saved from kid's meals which will entertain the kids for 5-10 minutes on average. Not very long, but it does the trick to distract them sometimes when they are starting to get whiny or have a meltdown.
WikkiStix. This is another activity that is fun for kids and adults alike. These "sticks" are actually pieces of yarn coated in some kind of wax that sticks to itself and other nonporous surfaces, but leaves your hands mess- free... win! This awesome fine motor activity lasts us a good 30 minutes.
Here's another blast from my past! As you can tell, these also belonged to Marissa and I as kids. Now my kids love coloring on the chalkboards. I will probably have to give Marissa hers soon as her daughter gets old enough to use it. :) We just use colored chalk and tissue for erasers. These have also stood the test of time for 20+ years! This is a 20 minute activity.
Every once in a while, we get a really good kids meal toy. We got several sets of these connector things from Wendy's a few months ago, and I save two sets for our next car trip. My kids will play with these for 30 minutes.
Magnet story board. This is a new toy that I haven't showed my kids yet. It is a metal box with three sheets of punch-out magnet animals that you can mix and match to make silly looking animals. I'm hoping this one will give us at least 30 minutes of creativity.
Sculpting foam. We love this stuff! As long as your kids are old enough to not throw it around, it is super easy to clean up, and it sticks to itself only- not your hands, so totally mess- free! Woohoo! This is a 20+ minute activity.
Window Crayons and mirrors. Ok, I'm going to warn you- this can get messy, so skip it if your kids will draw on seats, themselves, etc. The crayons are almost a dry lipstick consistency, but it does wipe off very easily with wet wipes. We do this activity for 15 minutes- any longer, and my kids will start drawing a mural on their carseats.
Mess- free markers. If the previous activity made you shudder, then maybe this one will float your boat. These markers don't actually use ink; they only work on specially treated paper. So it is impossible to make a mess with these. My kids are interested in this for about 15 minutes.
Various car doo-dads. Dancing giraffes, bendy blocks (made that name up), kaleidoscopes, and marble mazes that I sewed based on tutorials around the web. Each of these activities is good for 5 minutes, give or take.
**I forgot to take a picture of our favorite crayons for road trips- they are triangular instead of round barrels- so they don't roll. I think a few companies make them now; ours are Melissa and Doug. We also have some clipboards that help a lot with coloring and many of the above activities just to provide a hard surface to work on.
For the grownups: For car trips, we bring our favorite healthy snacks, a couple treats, protein bars or drinks, our caffeine of choice (almost always Dr. Pepper), a book to read from, and an audiobook that is as exciting as possible. One of our last trips we listened to Ender's Game and it kept all the drowsiness away for both of us, which is super important if you drive at all during the night.
Between all the different activities, eating, potty breaks, movies, naps, and the mandatory looking out the window minutes between activities, that pretty much takes up our whole trip. We have modified this to work on airplanes too. It's always a good idea to have at least a couple new things that your kids haven't seen before. On one trip, we wrapped everything in wrapping paper, and it was really fun for the kids to open their "presents". We never get these toys and activities out at any other time than travelling, so they are extremely desirable and the kids are excited to play with them.
Oh- before I forget- I got these toys from a variety of sources. Amazon, ToysRUs, some were gifts or we made them, Walmart, and a whimsy, magical toy store in the southwest Portland metro-ish area of Oregon called Mudpuddles. Favorite toystore ever! (I would link to them, but they don't appear to have a working website. Dang. We are going to visit soon and do some Christmas shopping!)
Hopefully there were some good ideas for you. Happy travels!
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