I grew up on road trips. I drove from Nova Scotia to Alberta (9550 Kilometers round trip) many times as a child. The logistics of road trips get tricky. Especially when every seat of your seven passenger vehicle is full. I can remember being on one of the most beautiful roads in North America (Going to the Sun Road) with all my children. Unfortunately, one of my children was hiding under a blanket screaming-missing the whole view and making it really horrible for the rest of us. Family travel is important to me so over the past few years, I have developed a whole road trip system that has allowed us to enjoy so many new places. Here's some of my best.
1) Have a family meeting. Before the road trip have a brief family meeting to explain the trip, and most importantly, set boundaries. Consider things like, how much stuff can each child bring. Who gets to choose the music. Are children allowed personal devices and how will they charge? Who will sit where (and will that change at any point).
2) Create a visual map on the ceiling. Bring scissors and painters tape and paper. Cut the paper into small squares and have the children draw your home city on one, the cites you will stop at or pass (one per square) and a small vehicle (representing your car). Tape these on the roof of the car in the order you will pass them. Have the paper vehicle "move" along the journey as you pass these milestones. When you get in inevitable "are we there yet". Just point to the map.
3) Create a point or tally system for good behaviors. In the car your traditional fall back consequences may not work. You can't send kids to their room or ground them half way to Grandmas. So we use a points system. Cleaning up, helping each other, amusing themselves for large blocks of time earns points, and yelling, hitting, being rude, or being messy costs them points. They can cash in their points at any time for treats.
4) Treats. A road trip isn't complete without tasty snacks! I put them all into a clear plastic container and keep them at my feet so its easy to get when they want to cash in points. If you are not a fan of the point system, have them tell a joke, or do a good turn before they get their treat.
5) Each day of the trip there is a new 'team leader'. That person gets all the privileges that day. Pumping gas, choosing music and snacks first, pushing elevator buttons. Over the course of the trip each child gets a unique set of privileges, which is a fantastic way to teach the 'fair is not the same' principle.
6) Have each child create their own "Remember When" photo album. Buy cheap photo pocket books from the dollar store (one per child) Use an on-line service like Costco Photo Centre to create inexpensive 4 by 6 prints of happy memories or loved ones that have passed or live away (I print an image for every child, so 5 copies of Grandma and Grandpas farm, etc). Then every so often hand out a print and have them put it in their album. Tell your children the story of that image. Use this as a way to build a family narrative and touch on values and build self esteem. Examples of prints I have done are, baby photos, our wedding day, vacations, funny stories (remember when uncle sat on his peanut butter sandwich?) images of Christmas or Halloween of past years, deceased grandparents.
7) If traveling with an infant or young toddler, save all those annoyingly noisy toys people give you for the road trip. It's much better to listen to the toy than a screaming 2 year old.
8) Games. Many games are in travel format (just type in 'travel games) into Amazon. But you can also make your own bingo sheets. Don't forget a prize for the winner!
9) Each child gets a zippered binder. If their toys/activities don't fit in the binder, they can't bring it (boundary). Also this is where any craft/drawing supplies go. I always order new crayons and new colouring books from Amazon for long trips (if its really long, I get 2. One for the way there and one for the ways home). Head phones, spending money and fidget toys can also go in this binder.
10) Prep before each stop. 10 minutes before you are going to pull over, tell everyone to find their shoes and zip up their binders. Set rules of who gets out first, flips seats, empties garbages etc.
11) Audio books are a must!!! Before a movie can go on, we listen to some great literature. Check your library and ask about extended borrowing. Even if some of you have read the books before, listening to them as a family adds a whole new level. As an alternative to checking out audio books on actual CD's , you can download digital audio books to a device and play it over blue tooth if your car is newer, or buy a cheap Bluetooth speaker for the dash so you can play books off your phone (this works for your music library too).
Here are some stories we have enjoyed:
-Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
-Savvy by Ingrid Law
-Wonder by R.J. Palacio
-The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
-Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Lavine
-Midnight magic by Avi
-Magic Tree house Series by Mary Pope Osbourne
-Fablehaven by Brendon Mull
-The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer
-Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett
12) Geocaching. Need a break? There are geocaches everywhere. Gas stations, urban streets, middle of no where rest stops. Pay for the app called "Geocaching" the free one is kind of useless. Every where you go you have a scavenger hunt to complete. These do not have to take a lot of time. set a timer for 10 minutes, if you find it great, if not, back in the car.
13) Have a "supply bag of container" of odds and ends. Fill it with tape, scissors, Gravol, Tylenol (for all ages) zip lock bags (for car sickness among other things) wet wipes and lots of grocery bags for garbage. Add some fun things in as well. Stickers, bubbles (you can blow these with your vents), glow sticks (for night time travel), and extra headphones are what I always have with me.
14) In terms of clothing. I work with each child on their "laundry day" about a week before the trip. I give them a list of what they need (destination dependent) and they make the correct number of "clothes rolls". A clothes roll is one shirt, one bottom one underwear and one pair of socks all rolled up. Throw in some hoodies, swimsuit and PJ's and formal shoes if needed. They pack their "clothes rolls" in a drawstring mesh bag or pillowcase. 7 suitcases, don't fit in one car, but a pillowcase fits almost anywhere. I bring all the toiletries in my bag as well as formal clothes (if needed). They wear a pair of sneakers. Boots and winter or rain coats go in our roof rack carrier, which keeps mud and snow out of the passenger part of the car and makes for more room. We did a really muddy hike this past August and was so nice to just throw the boots up top.
All these ideas are a significant amount of work to set up. But they have allowed us to go from dreading the "getting there" part of our trip to craving that time in the car together. In fact, when life starts spinning out of control in the way life does and I feel like our busy schedule is causing me to grow a little distant from my kids, I'll look at my husband and say "time for a road trip".