The most important thing to a long car trip with young children is NO VIDEOS! What!? How can I say no videos? Doesn't everyone have a DVD player in the car to keep the kids occupied? Isn't that the only way to do it?
In my experience, no- it breads misbehavior, unrest, and irritation. One time we went on a long trip and Dad borrowed a portable DVD player from work. We didn't pull it out until the last half of the first leg and boy did it backfire! Up until that point, the children were happy. Then they couldn't agree which video. After the video ended they were bored. They could no longer amuse themselves and they wanted more movies but not the ones we had available... needless to say, it was the worst car trip we have ever taken!
So, if no videos, then what!?
I love audiobooks. I bought several Sansa Clips for about $30 from Amazon. I then loaded them up with books specific to each child. I also had a collection of audiobooks we all might like on my ipod. I got the books from Story Nory, Librivox, and the library.
I also make a bag of activities. I always pack some colored pencils for each child, an eraser, pencil sharpener with case, paper, some activity books, etc. One summer I got 4 Polly Pocket dolls and some clothes from a friend. I put them in a little Tupperware. Those 4 dolls kept my 4 and 6 year old occupied for hours. I also always get a couple of games (usually with magnetic pieces) to keep them occupied. The ones I like are like this:
I also love games like Rush Hour and Chocolate Fix from ThinkFun.
In addition to these toys, we bring books. Plenty of good books. Thankfully my kids can all read in the car- which is something I have never been able to do!
What about the littlest- for the under 3s, it is a little more difficult. I station a child that can help the little one. I bring a couple of new toys (not expensive), a couple favorite toys, as well as a couple new books and a couple favorite books. It seems to work. With a 2+, I might even bring some paper and something to color with. Magna Doodles are a favorite as well.
So now that I have them occupied, how do I handle food, water, and fighting?
Food and drink: I bring a cup for each child. This cup is NOT for drinking from though. Since most car seats have cup holders these days, it makes a clean place to put a few snacks. For snacks I bring non-messy ones. Dad doesn't like any food in the car and I don't like crumbs/sticky all over the car so I do my best. Some favorites are banana chips, freeze dried fruit, crackers (crumbs that can be vacuumed!), and apple slices. Apple slices can be a mess if you don't cut them up small enough. For water, ever child has a stainless steel water bottle that I refill as needed at stops. I keep a gallon or two of water extra in the trunk.
I do bring a couple special snacks that are for a park stop like applesauce or granola bars. I might also bring a couple juice boxes for the park as a treat. Lunch is usually eaten at a park somewhere but occasionally we will stop at somewhere like Baja Fresh.
Potty time- with 4 children, especially one who is under 4, I can't just drive and stop every 2 hrs for a potty break. Sometimes on the routes I take there is no bathroom to be had. I have a solution! I have a tiny baby bjorn potty that I keep in my car at all times. I then use plastic diaper bags to line it with. I usually buy them at Target. There is a dispenser you can also get, but I just use the bags and tear them off. Then I tie the bags off and dispose of them appropriately.
Fighting is bound to happen when there are 5 people locked in a very small space. I have zero tolerance for it. The moment someone starts fighting, I find a safe place to pull over. I then sit quietly and wait. I sometimes start reading a book.The first couple of times I did this, one of the older ones would ask why we were stopped. I calmly explained that because there was fighting I could not drive. Fighting in the car is unsafe because I can't concentrate on the road. Now I just wait until the children are quiet and calm and remind them that I won't drive if they are fighting. If necessary, I point out the time lost fighting. Sometimes they get quiet and I am reading a book. I will finish reading my chapter before I continue. Now if I even begin to pull over, they stop and will apologize and ask me not to pull over. I made it 1000 miles pulling over once last summer! I even do the pull over routine at home.
Other things I bring and do:
I also take my ipod touch so I can find parks/ restaurants, etc if needed. I bring my Science Center membership so I can get the family into museums we have never been to. There is almost always at least one or two we want to hit somewhere on our route.
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