Each Wednesday the JP Patch Moms' Council offers advice on a parenting topic. Today they tackle road trips with the kids. Ask them your own questions or give your own advice in the comment section.
: On trips, when my children aren't complaining, they're singing—very loudly.
The majority of my travel with my children is on foot or via public transportation. When we're on public transportation, the majority of my time is spent telling them that they can't sing as loudly as they are, that they need to stay in their seat and that they can't lie down on multiple seats. Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I do this at least four times per week.
As trying as that can be, it's much better than being in the car. The last few times I got a ZipCar, both of my sons complained about being carsick. Of course, they also wanted to know if "we were there yet." When they're not complaining, they're singing—very loudly.
Last year, we traveled to Philadelphia for my sister's wedding via Amtrak. That was about seven hours of my life I'm never going to get back. I'd like to thank everyone on the train for having such a great sense of humor about the two little boys who were running up and down the aisles. It's probably because they weren't singing loudly.
Even with all of that, I still resist the idea of giving them a handheld device to occupy them, either through a video or a game. One of the great things about being out is being stimulated by your environment.
In a way, I'm glad they're so excited by their surroundings and with age, I know they'll be a little calmer (right?!?). Besides, if I gave them a handheld, I'm sure they'd just find something else to sing.
: Our daughter fell asleep during the JP Bikes Spring Roll two years in a row.
We have been hoping that travel with our daughter would get easier as she got older, but so far, it's still tricky. She's that child that always falls asleep in the car or the stroller or even in the bike seat and then won't take a nap later if she falls asleep at all while in motion.
Sometimes, this has been fantastic. Especially for long trips that can be planned during nap times. We are probably the only ones in New England that enjoy the Bourne Bridge traffic that allows our daughter to extend that nap a little longer on our way to the Cape. She fell asleep during the JP Bikes Spring Roll two years in a row. The good thing is that we can always plan our return trips from cookouts and weekends away during bedtime because she will transfer her sleepy self straight into bed. But the rest of the time, we have to decide if we really need to make that quick trip to City Feed and risk losing the precious afternoon nap if she falls asleep on the way.
We've found that she falls asleep a bit less often on the bike (if we keep the trips short), so we do most of our traveling by bike these days and stick pretty close to JP. That's always where we want to be anyway, so it's not too much of a sacrifice.
: Parents, don’t worry. It gets easier.
Before our first was 4 years old, we managed to take a 24-hour car ride, a 26-hour train ride, and several plane rides. There were 2 of us and one of him and like most first-time parents our complete attention was on trying to make it as easy for everyone by addressing and dealing with our child’s needs as fast as possible.
We had a brilliant idea for our car trip to Chicago. Our 3 year old loved sleeping in the car. So we decided to leave at bedtime and drive all night and arrive in Niagara Falls. Our plan was that one of us would sleep while the other entertained our child at the hotel pool. By the time we got on the road that night it was 10pm. The car loaded, our cooler filled and we hit the road. Within an hour we had a whining child begging for some companionship in the back seat. We took turns driving and Sam was up all night long (every time I got in the driver’s seat he would begin to cry). It was a long night of driving and when we arrived in Niagara Falls we stopped for breakfast and decided the night time driving didn’t work and that we should just take turns driving and get there. We continued on our way to Chicago arriving at midnight. It was a very long tiring trip that we swore we wouldn’t do again (it was record heat w/o air conditioning in the car and he hated the air on his face.)
The train ride to Chicago was much better but there was a lot of entertaining to do and distracting – we took turns keeping him busy walking to the snack car between reading, eating, playing with lap style toys and puzzles and trying to sleep.
On plane rides (we went to Europe one summer), I always packed a bag of tricks: new toys that were multidimensional with as many uses as possible or ones that used some thinking, several collections of stories (Richard Scarry was a favorite, with elaborate illustrations to work through). Most often I sat in the seat next to our child and my husband sat next to the stranger across the aisle. When Sam was an infant and baby, I offered my breast the minute he made a peep, that seemed to get me a few minutes if not a bit more time, snacks on hand, spare diapers, and I would hand toys as though I were the surgical nurse and when he showed any sign that he was going to get out of control I found something new in my bag he hadn’t seen yet (so hold on to one good item for the bitter end and use it as a reward for being well mannered or listening).
Traveling is fun with kids but a lot more work than sitting at home watching them build blocks while you try and take a nap on the couch. You need your bag of tricks (old favorites and some new complex, multi-functional toys or books), favorite snacks and food, all the usual stuff you need. If they are old enough, give them their own bag that they can carry and control, they will feel like they have some control (until they want you to carry it). Make sure to pack extra patience and focus on your child, be willing to read them books – don’t expect to read that book you’ve wanted to, let go of that idea - until they are well asleep (which is perfect time to rest up yourself for the next round of activity)
Later on car rides (we drove 12 hours to the Grand Canyon from Colorado) we had books on tape which were fun to listen to that we checked out of the library (Tom Sawyer). We had the old standby- Mad-Libs which brought us hours of laughs. You should schedule time with them on the trip though, when they are old enough (3 years old) to have quiet time and time for self entertaining: “I’m going to read my book, while you read yours. You play with your toys while I rest my eyes.” Give them a half hour of solid attention with the idea that you will have some time to yourself after. As long as you communicate the “agenda” they can work with it, typically. You may have to remind them, “Remember, I said I would read you the 4 books and then you were going to read some to yourself while I read to myself”
So parents, don’t worry, it gets easier. Just make sure you pack a kids travel kit that reflects their age and you will have a much easier time, navigating the trip with your offspring. Really the key is to be ready, willing and able to interface with your child for the trip- with your attention you won’t see so much in way of “acting out”.
: We bring triangular crayons on airplanes because they don't roll around.
When my daughter was about 1 we decided we wouldn't drive with her more than 4 hours. That was a little less than the time it took to drive from our house to my parent's house. Anything further than that was too long for us to drive, too long for her to sit, and warranted an airplane (as far as we were concerned). We're obviously not big on driving.
We used to leave at bedtime or naptime and drive straight through. She'd sleep the whole way. It was simple. Now that she's past her baby years, it's a little harder. We don't always want to leave at night or at naptime and now, she talks. Incessantly. And sings. Non-stop. It's funny, for the first 10-15 minutes and then it gets a bit tiresome. She also discovered McDonalds. I had to go to the bathroom and we were on 84. What could I do? Now we stop at Old MacDonalds on the way to Mee Ma & Pee Pa's house. We get a break driving. She gets a Happy Meal (with apples) - but really all she wants is the toy - and the trip takes about 45 minutes longer. We don't bring movies in the car so maybe it's our fault.
I took the train with my daughter 2 or 3 times when she was a baby and little toddler. I haven't done it since she became a preschooler. I love the train. I think she'd like it too but I don't think I could do it alone because she'd definitely want to walk around and I'm not sure I'd be able to leave everything and walk all over the place with her.
Flying is a dream. My daughter loves to fly. Part of this might have to do with the fact that we always fly Jet Blue. We check the carseat and use a cares harness which she's comfortable in. She gets unlimited snacks and unlimited TV. We got her a great pair of kids headphones that she only uses for the airplane. She gets excited when she sees them because she knows we're going somewhere fun. She doesn't really watch much TV at home so that's a treat for her too. She doesn't wander around the plane. We bring crayons (triangular ones are great because they don't roll around - it's hard to pick things up off an airplane floor) and a little notebook for her to draw in. She basically entertains herself waiting for snacks and more snacks. Granted, we have yet to take a really long flight. Our longest has been about 3-4 hours...hmmm....sounds familiar...
We have found that a key component to a smooth trip is that no one be touching anyone else.
Our day-to-day travel generally involves walking or public transit - once my youngest daughter was about 4.5, she became a champion walker like her older sisters (7 and 9), which has been fantastic for all of us. We do have two, three, or more pretty extreme car trips during the year, though, since my family is all in Michigan and my husband's relatives are in West Virginia in Chicago. Our annual summer vacation involves a 12-hour drive to my parents' house in eastern Michigan, where we stay for about a week before driving another (relatively short) 5.5 hours to the Chicago cousins.
I'm not sure if it's because I grew up doing insane car trips (Michigan to Oklahoma, anyone? that's 18 hours) or that we just wore our kids down by doing these trips from the time they were infants . . . but it goes pretty smoothly.
We have a Honda Pilot, and have found that a key component to a smooth trip is that no one be touching anyone else. My older girls ride in the third row with a basket of books and small toys between them. My youngest rides behind the driver and has her own critical items (usually several baby dolls) beside her, and her books are in a basket that's part of the driver's seat. Did I mention that we bring our dogs? They ride in the second row as well, behind the passenger seat. We pack extremely leanly - everything fits in the space behind the third row or on the floor of the second row.
The girls spend much of the trip reading, drawing, or talking. They occasionally fall asleep, but it's pretty rare and generally happens only if we're on the road late at night. We do a lot of reading aloud - I read most of the Narnia series a couple of summers ago, and we (meaning I) read the vast majority of Harry Potter books 5, 6, and 7 while in the car. In April, I actually read out loud for nine hours from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - no joke. But everyone was happy and the time flew. I lost my voice, but it was a small price to pay for such a smooth trip!
I imagine it helps that my girls don't seem to mind being in the car, that they love to read, and that they don't get carsick while reading. We don't really have any tricks for making it work well - we let them pack their own small bags so that they have the toys and books they want,and I usually get a new book, game, puzzle book, etc. We usually bring plenty of snacks and pack our lunch (and, sometimes, dinner), and we all get out (including the dogs) to stretch our legs whenever we have to stop for gas.
It may be slightly nutty, but I really like these trips. We're all together for a long stretch, no one's leaving to do her preferred activity or play with friends, and it's a great time to talk. My husband and I also learn an incredibly amount by eavesdropping on them . . . the three of them often talk as if we're not even in the car, and they say some pretty hilarious stuff. In fact, much of the material for my blog comes from comments I've overheard them make in the car.