Are we there yet?
A vagabond mama cures the backseat blues
By Sara Bristol
Some mothers swear by it, but I just can’t buy into the idea of my kids watching movies in the car.
No, I’m not one of those anti-TV fanatics. My kids certainly watch more than their share of round-the-clock satellite programming in our three television household.
So I guess that’s why I draw the line at the driveway. When we’re on the road, the scenery should be different than that which we can watch from the sofa.
After all, the whole point of a road trip (or any vacation) is to do something that you don’t do everyday at home.
That said, long hours in little space can be uncomfortable and, yes, sometimes boring. Here are a few suggestions to keep your next road trip from veering off course:
MAP YOUR ROUTE
When children are in the car, driving straight through doesn’t make the trip go faster. It makes the kids whine.
* Schedule breaks. When MapQuest says the drive takes four hours, allow for five. Plan to get out of the car — at a rest area, park or roadside attraction — every couple of hours.
Do this religiously unless the kids are asleep, in which case our advice deviates: Drive, drive, drive until you’re running on fumes.
Hint: Kids love chicken nuggets and using public restrooms. The trip planner at mcdonalds.com can help you find every McDonald’s Playland between home and your destination.
EMERGENCY ROAD KIT
The question is inevitable: “Are we there yet?” Combat this by giving kids some tools:
* A map. Show the kids the route you’re traveling and encourage them to read road signs to note your progress. For very young children, try drawing a simple Dora-style map with major landmarks, i.e. “When we cross the river, we will be halfway there.”
* Audio books. Check them out from the library. If you choose a chapter book, listen for 30-minutes at a time when you need the gang to quiet down.
* Music. Sing-along CDs are corny good fun. The library has a good selection. If you’ll be using the car stereo, preview new tunes before you go to make sure they’re not too annoying. Or, choose “grown up” tunes everybody can enjoy; our kids go crazy for The Beach Boys.
Last Christmas, we bought simple MP3 players for about $10, paired them with $5 headphones and enjoyed the quietest drive to Grandma’s house in years.
* Travel games. The best car toys will pass the time without making a mess. Unfortunately, many games labeled “travel” are just smaller with lots of pieces — OK for the hotel, maybe, but not the car.
Instead, turn to the old faithfuls, including Etch A Sketch, Doodle Pro and auto bingo. (Find the classic Regal Travel Auto Bingo cards online at kidslovetravel.com; set of four is $5.95.)
Imaginetics makes a line of magnetic play boards and magnet stickers that are convenient for travel and fairly affordable at about $5-$10 each. My favorite is the Magnetic USA Map for its “puzzle factor,” which gives kids a job and helps keep them busy. Use caution when giving magnet toys to very small kids, however; magnets can be dangerous to children under age 3 or who might swallow them.
Activity books can be another good option for kids old enough to hold a pen. Crayola Color Wonder and other invisible ink products are perfect for messy preschoolers. Dover’s pocket-sized series of Little Activity Books include easy mazes and connect-the-dot puzzles that even non-reading youngsters can handle. (Hint: Tuck one in your purse for those when-is-our-food-gonna-get-here restaurant moments.) Older children enjoy crosswords, word search puzzles, Sudoko and Mad Libs.
PREPARE TO DETOUR
Even the best laid plans are likely to run into the occasional roadblock. Just when you think you’ve run out of tricks, reach into your bag and see if you can’t pull out another rabbit:
* Slug Bug. Even little kids can recognize a Volkswagen Beetle. This game’s pretty simple: When you spot one, call out “slug bug.” We play non-competitively and without slugging; everybody calls it when they see it. In our car, we also call the color: Green bean, true blue, bright white, etc. And, to mix things up, we also keep an eye out for PT Cruisers and Jeep Wranglers, which are each distinctive enough for a 3-year-old to identify.
* I Spy. You say, “I spy something blue,” and the other players guess what you see: The sky, dad’s sweater, a car, etc. Whoever guesses correctly starts the next round.
* 20 Questions. Think about anything; the other players have 20 questions to try and narrow down what it is. The first question is always, “Animal, vegetable or mineral?” Players then take turns asking pointed yes-or-no questions: Can it fly? Is it bigger than a car? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Only 16 more to go!
By age three, the Bristol kids had each been to at least five states and Canada. They’ll drive to Disneyland this summer.
Filed under Featured Stories, From the Mag, Travel