Last year, my husband and I moved to a new city, a fourteen hours’ drive away from our families. Since then, we’ve made that drive over half a dozen times with our daughters (now ages three and one). With each trip, I’ve gathered snacks, toys, and ideas to keep the girls busy on the road—and learned better how to prepare for the next trip. Here are a few things that worked for us.
Before each trip, I buy the girls’ favourite snacks, including treats I wouldn’t usually buy. Cheese sticks, fruit-to-go snacks, cereals (such as Corn Bran, Cheerios and Shreddies), corn puffs, granola bars, Mandarin oranges, bananas, Baby MumMums, fish crackers, etc—the key is to have a large selection that is easy for mom to hand out. I found a reusable grocery bag behind my seat worked best, and I packed snack cups for dishing up the cereals and corn puffs. Leak-proof sippy cups or juice boxes are also a must. Include a plastic bag for garbage and try to empty the vehicle of any wrappers/peels/etc when you stop for breaks.
Before your trip, swing past the dollar store or secondhand kids’ store for a few small new toys. You could also borrow toys from a friend or from a toy lending library. Pack a few favourite toys that are easy to play with in the car. Games that worked for our daughters included a Leapster or mini laptop (for our three-year-old), rattles, a Magna-Doodle or Etch-a-Sketch, a can of Play Doh, a few cars or My Little Ponies, a little notebook and a couple pens, a few board books, etc.
One of the best ways to keep the girls happy during the drive has been music. Our three-year-old likes Little People CDs and now asks for her “little girl singing song” as soon as we get into the vehicle. Other popular CDs include Fred Penner, Raffi, and Wee Sing. We started a rule that Daddy gets the radio for the news and then Sunshine can have her music (and Mommy gets country music if she’s driving and everyone else is sleeping). Sing along with the songs and do actions if you know them (or can make them up).
Often, all the girls wanted was some attention from Mommy or Daddy. Playing “peek-a-boo” over the seats, reading a book over your shoulder, singing along with the music, or just talking about the scenery (“Mommy sees some cows – can you find the cows?”) helped stave off temper tantrums.
If your child has a favourite blanket, soother, or stuffed animal, pack them and offer them when your child seems tired or in need of something comforting. If you are up for it, drive late at night or early in the morning (or during naptimes) so that children sleep while you’re on the road.
We tried to stop about every three hours to get gas, refill coffees, use potties and change diapers. If the girls were happy, that stop was only fifteen or twenty minutes. If they were not so happy, we made it a longer stop at a McDonald’s PlayPlace, city park, or hiking trail, where we could let the girls run around for an hour before getting back into the car. If you stop because a child needs to go potty, grab coffees and gas (even if the tank is only half-full) so that, if the children are happy in the vehicle, you can continue down the road rather than having to stop in another hour for gas (and perhaps wake a sleeping child).
Finally, chat with other parents about what works for them, or visit parenting websites such as Today’s Parent and search “travel” for more ideas. Happy driving!