Published online at msn.ca's Travel section, June, 2010.
may be a highway, but when you’re on the road with cranky kids in
the back seat, the last thing parents want to do is ride it all night
why Tobie Smith has drawn up a road trip war plan with military-like
precision to help her and her husband get through a cross-country drive
that will span 8, 370 km, 11 states, and 26 days with their boys —
intact. Her strategy is impressive. It involves everything from cookie
sheets-turned-lap desks, zip-lock-bagged outfits for her boys
— seven-year-old Max, and five-year-old Sam
— and a cache of daily gifts for good behaviour as a pre-emptive strike
against backseat mutiny.
“I don’t usually believe in bribery and the reward system, but for 26 days, I’m making an exception,” said the 37-year-old Missouri.
flexible is one of the most important survival techniques to a
family road trip, experts say. Meltdowns can be avoided — or
at least reduced — if parents get their children involved in the
process from the get-go, says Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, co-founder of
WeJustGotBack.com, a family travel website. Get the kids invested in
the trip. Show them the route you’ll be taking on the map, for example,
and research roadside attractions along the way together, she says.
trips are a great opportunity to teach the kids that it’s about the
destination, not just the journey,” she said.
a strategy Smith, a high school guidance counsellor, has been employing
in the months leading up to her family’s summer road trip odyssey
from Missouri to California and Texas. Every day her boys attend
school” in their parents’ bedroom, where mom has hung up a large
U.S. map on the wall. The kids pick a different state to talk about
and have even penned songs for each of them. Smith will also provide
a printout of the U.S. map for the kids, so that they can colour in
each state as they pass through.
The map is just one element of her homemade car kits. Cookie sheets are used as a lap-top desk. It’s a natural canvas for magnetic toys and acts both as a writing desk and a food table. A file folder attached to the back of the sheet holds the kids’ colouring sheets and maps and the whole thing slides in nicely between the door and the seat.
Dry-erase markers also
adhere to the tray with magnetic tape so that mom and dad don’t have
to climb over the backseat to hunt down escapee markers along the way.
not everything has to be so elaborate. Toronto-based travel writer Kate
Pocock remembers a family road trip in which a simple tape recorder
and microphone occupied her three kids for hours, while en route to
see the grandparents in Gatineau, Que. It was all very impromptu,
she remembers, as the kids simulated a mock radio show. One was the
news anchor, another a reporter, and the youngest appointed the weather
girl. They took turns interviewing each other and made up segments like
science and headline news.
the end it was fun for the grandparents because they got to hear a play
by play of what they had seen during the trip,” said Pocock, author
of Fodor’s Around Toronto
Pearson, of www.travelsavvymom.com, swears by audio books as a no-fuss way
to entertain the family during long car rides.
can get them for free at the library and they keep the kids happier
and quieter than DVDs,” she said from California. “Harry Potter
and the Goblet of Fire was 17 hours of listening and everyone was
every family is different and some kids more tolerant of long rides
than others, experts also recommend making regular stops to let the
kids run around before they self-combust. One of Kelleher’s favourite
road trip tips is to stop at hotel chains off highway exits for bathroom
breaks rather than filthy gas stations.
while you may not be able to head off sibling squabbles, Smith has
a way to try and keep everyone happy for at least an hour a day.
will get one hour of being in charge — within reason,” she said.
example, they’ll get to choose what DVD movie they want to see, and
what music to play in the car. Everyone has a folder on the family iPod
of their music choices. And while no one else likes hip hop, come Max’s
turn, the family car will be blaring 50 Cent, Kanye West, and Run-D.M.C.
also recommends that parents create a wish list of things eachfamily
member wants to see or do during the trip. That way, everyone gets a
turn and you minimize the “it’s not fair’s.”
teaches the kids about democracy,” she said. “It’s teaching mutual
respect for each other’s choices.”
Here are a few mommy tips on how
to survive your family road trip this summer — and live to tell
-Bring an arsenal of simple toys
and diversions to keep the kids happy. They could include: A tape
pipe cleaners to make fun shapes, audio books, chalk for pavement
during bathroom breaks, new, unread books, small dollar store gifts
for good behaviour.
-Use hotel chain lobbies for bathroom
breaks instead of gas stations
-Try to plan roadside picnics at
parks along the way and minimize fast foods
-Make regular stops and try to
from being too destination and goal-oriented during the trip
-Try to start the trip either early
in the morning or late at night during bedtime hours so the kids can
sleep most of the way. This makes for a quiet, peaceful start to the
trip for mom and dad.