Are We There Yet? Tips For Surviving Travel with Kids

With April vacation and Easter just around the corner the Moms' Council tackles the topic of traveling with children.

Tasha Schlake Festel
“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

“Um, no, and if you ask me again, I’m going to turn this car around and we will never get there!”

Sound familiar? Thanks to the wonders of technology, the creativity invited by white boards, the inquisitiveness encouraged by maps and the silencing power of unhealthy snacks, I don’t hear much of that in my car anymore. Phew!

We travel with the kids a lot. My parents live in Pennsylvania, my grandparents in upstate New York and my in-laws on the South Shore. Every summer, we vacation in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. And we drive everywhere we go. We fire up the old DVD player and make sure to have a new selection of movies and shows for any trip that lasts longer than an hour. The kids have worked out a schedule of picking/watching/controlling the remote so the bickering is fairly minimal.

The annual summer trip to OBX is a long one. It’s a good 16 hours in the car from Boston to Cape Hatteras. We split the drive into several days, and make many stops along the way. When the kids were little, I used to give them small prizes every few hours. No, I was not above bribery. Now at the wise and weathered ages of 5 and 7, they don’t need “the crap” anymore. They just need stops to run and blow off steam. We stop about every three hours, do something physical (other than using the bathroom) and grab a snack, preferably unhealthy, something I wouldn’t normally let them have. We also stay at hotels with pools so they can really work off some energy before collapsing into bed and doing it all over again the next day.

Last year, I had a stroke of genius. The draw of the “unlimited movies” was wearing off – I mean, 16 hours of movies gets pretty boring. I had to take it up a level. I came up with the idea of the “OBX BOX” for the trip. (I was particularly pleased with the cleverness of the name!) The boxes were small plastic storage bins that each had coloring books, crayons, markers, blank paper, flash cards, and an atlas of the US with our route highlighted. The kids were also allowed to fill their boxes with whatever crap treasures they wanted to pick up at each of our stops – a rock from the parking lot, business cards, fliers from the gas stations, etc. Basically, all the stuff I used to tell them was “trash” was now welcome. If they could fit it in the box, they could keep it, and it became a kind of scrapbook of our trip there and back.

I also gave the kids each their own small whiteboard and an assortment of dry erase markers. I have to say, this is a totally awesome travel tool. Drawing on paper is one thing, but drawing on a whiteboard? Man, that is awesome.

The most important thing you can pack to make your trips bearable, if not enjoyable, is your patience. Know that it will take you at least 1/3 longer to get anywhere than you think it should. Try to enjoy the time together, keeping in the back of your mind that these moments are fleeting. Each trip can be a wonderful memory or a reason for future therapy. You are often in control of which it is.

Oh, and if you have any room left in your suitcase, a bottle of tequila wouldn’t be a bad thing to pack as well.

Peggy Barresi
My family members are good travelers. We relax, get along, and generally go with the flow when on vacation. When my two girls were little, their favorite treat was staying at a hotel. They loved the pools (indoor or out), sleeping in the same room with Mom and Dad, and watching TV in bed, which is not allowed at home. They’d be all snuggled together asleep while my husband and I enjoyed a glass of wine on the room’s balcony. Then they started to grow.

Their cute little suitcases turned into giant duffle bags that can hold incredible amounts of hotel room-cluttering stuff. Let’s not even get into the toiletries. My poor husband didn’t stand a chance in those hotel bathrooms. The girls wanted to watch movies all night long, get expensive room service, and began complaining about sleeping on uncomfortable pull-out couches. We started getting on each other’s nerves.

Clearly, things had to change. Now we only travel when each side of the family (adults and teens) can have its own space. If you’re thinking ka-ching!, you’re right. We like  beach vacations, but who can afford two hotel rooms at a resort? Solution: Rent a place. Condos, villas, and homes are available for renting everywhere in the world. For the price of one hotel room per night, you can have two or three bedrooms, a full kitchen, living space, laundry facilities and other amenities. We rented a house in Vieques, Puerto Rico this summer that even has its own private pool.

Renting is a good idea, no matter your children’s ages. Some family resorts, like Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont, offer condos for rent. There are also many places available for rent around Disney World. Let’s not forget the Cape. We’ve rented there many, many times. Having the luxury of space is ideal, and so is being able to save major amounts of money by cooking some of your meals (this is a vacation, so let’s not get crazy and cook all the meals.) Think of all the extra activities in which you can partake by not paying for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Massage, anyone?

The internet is a wonderful tool for finding rentals. Some helpful sites:

Holly DeSouza
Before I became a mom, I was a professional traveler.  I traveled constantly for both work and fun and generally enjoyed it.

Having a child hurled me back to being an amateur tourist.  I only went places when she was an infant if I absolutely had to ~ the suspension on my car could not handle the weight of all the extras we needed to travel with a baby.  When she was a toddler it wasn’t much better.  Sure, she could sleep with me versus in a portable crib, but we needed to make sure we brought entertainment with us so she was not bored.  We still needed at least 3 changes of clothes per day just in case there were multiple accidents, diapers, etc.

It’s much easier now that my daughter is nearing five years old.  She still needs toys to keep her occupied but it is manageable.  With far fewer accidents there are fewer changes of clothes to be packed, no more diapers, and she is content reading a few books and coloring on a lap desk.

Where we run into problems is with the sleeping arrangements.  , I have a non-sleeper and sleeping in “strange” environments sets us back months.  In order for my household to not suffer extreme insanity, we need to mimic the routine we have at home and that is extremely difficult to do in hotels or at the home of relatives or friends.  My husband and I let her sleep with us when we are away to maintain consistency and then suffer the consequences when we return home.  She can’t quite grasp why it’s okay to share a bed with mommy at the hotel but not now. 

If my child was a great sleeper, I would thoroughly enjoy traveling with her as the rest is easy.  My hope is she will outgrow the sleeping issues and she will enjoy vacations as much as my husband and I do.  Or did.  Stay tuned.

Regina Martine
We take quite a few long-ish road trips with our 3 kids in the summer and have discovered that the best way to make it bearable for everyone is to be prepared. Full disclosure — I hate car trips.  I freak out in highway traffic, whether I am the one driving or not, I grip the door every time we pass a truck (am I planning on jumping out? I don’t know) and employ the “drivers’ ed brake” during the entire trip.

My kids, however, are oblivious to my fears and get to ride in style. Our minivan has a DVD player, so that provides a fair amount of entertainment. I highly recommend picking which movies will be watched and in what order before you leave the house, as it is best to head off fights before they happen whenever possible. When they get sick of movies, I have a backup plan. I bought a cheapo canvas bag  for each kid and I fill them with special, secret  goodies before  each trip. No peeking until we are on the road!

Each kid gets a notebook or drawing pad, pencils, crayons, activity books (hidden picture, word games, Sudoku, etc.) and snacks.  I also print out list of state names to cross off as we see different license plates along the way, and a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt is my favorite because it can be customized for each kid and each trip.  The list is made up of familiar landmarks along the way such as the Welcome to New York sign, Red Art’s Service station in Connecticut (we also have to roll down the windows and scream “HI RED ART!!!”) or the Throgs Neck bridge (what the heck is a throg?) I also like to include less predictable items such as a camper pulling a car with bikes on the back, or a green Subaru with kayaks on top, or a barn with three cows next to it.  Each list has about 40 items, so this usually keeps them busy for a while.

Of course there are things you just can’t control or predict, like traffic, or in our case, carsickness. Again, we have learned the hard way to be prepared. We always bring gingersnaps, peppermint gum, cold drinks and of course, a bucket. Bring it. You won’t be sorry. It is far better to have to pull over and dump out a yucky bucket than clean up the consequences of not having it.  A package of baby wipes is also a good idea for cleaning up messes of all kinds.

Happy travels to all, and I hope these ideas buy you a little time before you have to hear the inevitable “when are we going to beeeeeeeeeee there?!?!?”

This site, Mom's Minivan, has a lot of printable car games, scavenger hunts (for readers and non readers) and lots of tips for making travelling with kids a lot easer.

Laurie Hunt
Keeping kids happy while traveling to your vacation destination requires creativity and advance planning.  How do I know this?  I am crazy enough to do long trips up and back in one day, such as to Storyland.  I also found out days before a planned trip to Disney World that I couldn’t fly due to an ear infection.  Our solution?  A 27+ hour train ride.  

When the kids were younger I always had a collection going of prizes – junky toys I’d pick up at the party story, clearance area of Target etc.  They were great to pack for a trip because they would be new and exciting.  Snacks… you have to have good snacks.  Movies, either on a car DVD player or on your laptop are a great way to entertain the kids.  So are portable video games, like a DS.  Consider asking another Mom if your kids can trade some movies and/or video games so you have some that are new and exciting.  I also find bringing some cozy fleece jackets and/or blankets are comforting and may even lead to a nap while watching a movie in the car.

I also make each of my girls a notebook for trips - this has worked from a very young age and continues to work with my ten-year-old.  I take a three ring binder and put in blank paper, lined paper and lots of worksheets, puzzles etc. that are age appropriate.  There is a great website that allows you to create your own word searches. Here is one where you can print out Mad Libs. I will also sneak in some math worksheets too.  Each child also gets a container with pencils, markers, crayons stickers etc.

Finally, don’t forget the most important thing – your own patience… Are we there yet???!!!

Erin Calvo-Bacci April 14, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Okay girls you're making me feel bad for not appreciating the Snuggie :)
Kaamna April 15, 2011 at 03:48 PM
nice one! i will have to check out the snuggie. i would love to recommend my site www.momaboard.com to parent travelers for more tips and advice. oh, and i hear you about the tequila!
Tasha Schlake Festel April 15, 2011 at 05:15 PM
Hey Kaamna. Thanks for the link to your site. It looks like a great resource for all kinds of travel! And consider pairing the Snuggie *and* the tequila. That's a heck of a combination! :)
Jillian Sallee April 15, 2011 at 06:44 PM
I have the leopard print snuggie too!!! Perfect when paired with Eclipse :) I'm definitely taking my kids snuggies on the next trip to the Cape! Mine too for that matter...
Regina Martine April 15, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Make that Snuggie *and* tequila *and* bucket.


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