When I was 8, my family of five piled into our VW Jetta and headed south on a 20-hour drive to the beach. My mom was six months pregnant with my youngest sister, and my brother was carseat-bound, nestled between my other sister and me. Mom had a cooler at her feet in the front, and we had two Sharon, Lois and Bram tapes and a couple of toys to get us through the trip. I think these days, most children would consider this a form of child abuse (“NO electronics?!”). But in reality, this now sounds even more like parental torture. I think my parents would agree, as our next family excursion involved a mammoth conversion van and at least two portable cassette players.
Fast forward a few years and I’m now the cruise director of my family’s travels. We have two little ones in the back seat who have logged their fair share of miles, and as some of you luckier than I hit the road to warmer temps this spring break, I thought I’d share the best of the best items and ideas I’ve found to make a road trip more bearable (besides DVDS, because, let’s be honest here, it’s going to come to that regardless).
For the under-2 set, still rear facing and likely to put things in their mouths
• Imaginarium Connect & Create Rings (available here) – These are always the first thing I recommend. My kids didn’t have anything like them at home and didn’t see them until our first BIG car ride. Both of them (ages 1 and 3 when we first got them) were really engaged, playing, sorting, sharing, building, and I didn’t have to worry about the little one choking or anything breaking. And when they were scattered all over the backseat, it was a simple cleanup. Several years later, these are still a hit and their go-to for a car ride.
• Lift-the-flap and board books. When they’re still little with short memories, not everything has to be bought new to seem new. You can tuck away books for a few months or weeks or better yet, keep an eye out and stash away a few Christmas or birthday book gifts. The dollar store tends to have a good selection of Sesame Street and Disney board books. Lift-the-flap books can be found relatively inexpensively (or borrowed from a friend whose kids have outgrown them). The “100 First” books are great because, well, 100 flaps to open and close!
For the not-yet-reading bigger kid
• New coloring books and crayons. It seems obvious, but I have some favorites here too. I hit the back-to-school sales one September and discovered Crayola Twistables (which are new and different and exciting and are only used by us for travel or restaurants or waiting rooms so they keep the novelty factor) and also triangle-shaped crayons (they won’t roll away!).
• Travel BINGO. So many options with this from Pinterest to Etsy printables to making your own, but these or these with the little sliding windows are my favorite. The icons are easy to read, they’re easy to mark and best of all, they can be used over and over.
• “DJ Mommy.” When we’re at the end of a trip and the troops are getting restless, it’s time to bust out the turntables. Or, in my case, an ancient iPod with an insane assortment of music. I play one for me, one for Daddy, one for the big kid and one for the little kid. No one knows what their song will be, but I do my best to make it a crowd-pleaser. I could just play a familiar mix of songs, but it’s a nice distraction for the little ones to guess what Mommy will pick as “their” songs. We have the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Disney, Fresh Beat Band, Sesame Street and the Muppets in heavy rotation. And, of course, “Everything is Awesome!”