Nothing bonds a family more than a road trip. However, traveling can be so frustrating. Most of the time parents or caregivers just aren’t prepared enough before the trip to know how to curb family travel stress. Keeping children happy shouldn’t be so hard. As the family that “vacations for a living,” we think family time should always be fun and easy, especially with proper planning.
Here are some suggestions we offer for amazing trips around the country:
Plan two – four activities within a one hour drive time of each other. For example, you can keep everybody happy by starting your morning hiking or walking nature or garden paths, then over to the Children’s Museum, followed by a historical museum. Top off the evening going to an amusement center or taking in a dinner theater production. Or, base your choices on the season of year. In winter, stay in warm factories or go to a special holiday event. In spring, go to food festivals and outdoor hikes at state parks and nature parks. When the hot days of summer appear, do things like boat tours, water parks and shady historical villages. As the leaves change, try foliage train rides and apple or pumpkin festivals. Know directions and parking information before you leave (log onto the attraction’s website for maps).
Make reservations for tours. Look for unique tours of candy and dairy factories, or fruit farms—yummy and fun. Know what to wear. When in doubt, dress down, dress in layers and wear closed-toe shoes (sneakers).
Pack snacks and beverages for the road, (water bottles, clear juice boxes, apples, grapes, carrots and homemade trail mix are great). Instead of buying fatty French fries at each meal, pack some baked chips or pretzels to make your own combo meal. Be sure to keep a pack of baby wipes on board for cleanup and sticky fingers. Their powder scent freshens the stale vehicle air, too. Wear slip-on shoes for easy in/out of vehicle at stops. And, pack toys—games designed especially for travel like Auto Bingo, Invisible Ink books, travel mystery books, magnetic games, activity books and maybe a personal electronic device (iPod/iPad/Kindle) for the older kids. When my kids were young, I used to wrap little games and books in comic strip paper and pass them out as a prize for good behavior.
If your budget allows, have the vehicle equipped with a TV/DVD unit. Many portable units can fit in between front seats. Smaller children can learn time and distance by telling them “We’ll be there in one video.” You can certainly avoid all those cries of “Are we there yet?” when they know to wait until the video ends.
Plan picnics along the way. Allow time for the rural/scenic route to take advantage of free, clean picnic facilities. Two places you might consider are state parks and outdoor historical parks.
Choose family friendly lodging. Two things to look for are indoor pools (rain or shine, you have an activity to do) and possibly a free continental breakfast or room kitchenette (so everyone can eat when they want in the morning). Many such hotels also offer discounts to local attractions. ASK! Also, along with your toothbrush, pack baby powder. It works wonders to freshen sneakers overnight.
History is easy, if you sneak it in! Living history sites and festivals are history lessons (mostly hands-on) on a vacation. Mix them into the trip, one every day or so. The kids won’t know they’re learning, but you will.
Gravitate to hands-on museums. Parents, the boring museums we used to visit on field trips just don’t cut it today. Kids seem most engaged by multiple action stations, not just pushing buttons.
Souvenirs are fun for kids to pick out and keep as a memory of your visit of favorite places. They can even be practical, too! For example: pens, pencils, cups, magnets or pencil sharpeners. Kids easily reminisce when they use these souvenirs in everyday life.
After you create family memories, make a family treasure chest and scrapbook to preserve those memories. Use a beginner’s scrapbook like “Kids Love Travel Memories” for school-aged kids to create their own book. Save empty popcorn tins for safekeeping the larger, dimensional souvenirs. During the “blahs” of wintertime, take these items out, pop some popcorn, and reminisce!
For more information on the “Kids Love” book series and the latest travel updates, log on to www.kidslovetravel.com.