Balancing the Car

by sarah on September 21, 2010

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My family took our first major road trip this summer. We’ve taken smaller road trips before, but this year’s trip was to last 2 ½ weeks. My husband and I had been planning this trip for almost a year, and our whole family was looking forward to it!

Our final destination was over 1000 miles from our home, and while it is possible to drive it in two days, we decided not to do that. The kids, 8 and 5, had never been in a car for that long before, and to be honest, we wanted to make this easy on them. After all, this trip was for the entire family; we all have a right to enjoy ourselves! Therefore, we decided to take three days to drive to our destination, and three days driving back. This would mean less time in the car per day, and more opportunity to see sites along the way!

My main concern of the trip was how to entertain the kids in the car. Here are the things we kept in mind and thought about as we prepared:

To DVD or not: Our vehicle does have a DVD player, but to be honest, I’m not a fan of it. Each family must make the best decision regarding this for themselves, with their needs in mind. Our family has never used ours. We strictly limit screen time at home, and I don’t want to be plugging my kids into the DVD player on a car trip, which otherwise is perfect opportunity for family togetherness!

Be aware of your child’s limits: I didn’t expect my kids to sit and converse for the entire trip. I know their limits, I know their capabilities, and I know their ages! I did not expect them to suddenly act differently or suddenly age five years in the midst of a major road trip. Similar to the dog years rule, one adult hour in the car equals four kid hours! My kids usually get along spectacularly well, but I was aware that they’re normally not strapped into a car for an entire day on a regular basis, either! In abnormal circumstances, it’s entirely possible they could act abnormally.

Plan activity bags: For the few weeks prior to the trip, I packed special travel bags for the the kids. I included Mad Libs, activity books, colored pencils, regular pencils, and drawing paper. I printed off a bunch of webpages, such as information on each state that we would be traveling through, a map of the US where they can check off the all the different license plates we see, dot-to-dots for my youngest, and mazes and puzzles for my oldest. I kept back half the the items and activities, so that I could give them new items for the trip home. I also included little snacks in their bags, renewed every day, so that they could help themselves whenever they were feeling peckish instead of whining “I’m hungry!!”

Audiobooks: The last thing I did to prepare for the trip was to stock up on audiobooks. I checked them out for free from the local library. My original plan had been to read to the kids on the journey, but then I realized that I’m going to be facing forward with my seatbelt on, and it will be difficult for the kids in the back to hear me. So I settled on audiobooks. I got a broad variety of chapter length audiobooks; some the kids are familiar with, and also some new ones. I then printed off a list of all the audiobooks available, and included a copy in each kid’s activity bag.

It’s now been six weeks since we traveled, and I’m ecstatic to report that the trip was a success! We all loved our “car days”, as we called them. We loved talking and singing together, and being with each other for over two weeks! We all loved the audiobooks, and the kids enjoyed their activities. There were no quarrels, no whining, and no impatience. We discovered lots of playgrounds along the way, and saw lots of sites that the kids would never have seen otherwise. They learned things about each state we visited. They each kept a trip journal. They waded in two of the Great Lakes!

My husband and I are already making preliminary plans for our next road trip! We love being together in the car!

What are your tips for keeping kids occupied in the car?

photo credit: thomas pix


Sarah is the mother of two delightful children, and drives way more than she ought.

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sarah (35 Posts)

Sarah has been involved with API since 2002. She is the mother of two school-aged kids.


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