Road - tripping with kids!
For most parents, the prospect of getting stuck with cranky kids in a moving car is their worst nightmare come true. In fact, a lot of people, friends and acquaintances mainly, that I speak with rate this as their main reason for not going on roadtrips. A common refrain I get to hear is "you guys are lucky that your kids travel well, so you can go off on these 10 - 15 day jaunts in your car. My child gets bored too easily and then it's very difficult to manage her / him" or something along those lines. Utter Rubbish.
So let's look at what we've got right, and what not, over the years that we've been doing these road trips with our kids. Given that our first long road trip was when our daughter was 10 months and son 24 months, and the most recent, in April 2019 when they were 8 and 9 years old, respectively, we've had the experience of dealing with kids across a pretty wide range of ages. Hopefully, this helps you plan your trip better!
Keep them occupied
And I don't mean fling an iPad / smartphone or two at them. That I think is the worst thing we can do to our kids. Nothing gets my goat more than seeing little children at restaurants etc., staring at their parent's phone screen with an imbecilic expression on their faces, their eyes glazing over while their well - coiffed mother stuffs her face with whatever is the present diet fad and the quintessential maid shovels food down 'baba' or 'baby's' throat. They should probably make this form of 'parenting' a punishable offence!
We've found that getting our kids one of those 'magic slates' has been very effective. Right from when they were around 2 years old, and even today, that has been one of the most effective tools to keep children constructively occupied in the car. For hours on end they're either drawing or doodling or playing self - invented games on those slates. Sometimes we'd ask them to draw an interesting sight they would've seen earlier that day or the previous day. As our kids have grown older, we've replaced the magic slates with simple 18″x18″ whiteboards and markers - as effective, non - messy and makes them feel kinda important too!
Another hack I've found very effective is Leggo or building blocks. You'd be surprised how much space the backseat of a car, any car, has, when a child wants to play with her leggo blocks! Here again, the trick is to challenge them to do something new and different with the same blocks. Considering the bloody things cost as much as a small house, I figured it's not feasible to get a new set each time our kids had learnt to make whatever the existing leggo set is supposed to make. So on our road trips the challenge is for them to use the existing leggo sets and make something new with it - an exercise that keeps them gainfully employed and intellectually challenged for a couple of hours easily.
Play games. Any game that works for you as a family. For me, I just play any word game / associative game that my kids want to play. They have something called 'name, place, animal, thing', besides a few others which don't require me to either take my hands off the wheel, or divert attention whatsoever, but is a great tool to discover new places, animals or things for them! The best part is, bringing up a new place or thing leads to a conversation on what it is, and fosters learning while having fun, as the tyres eat the kilometres away! And since you have all the time on hand, you can discuss stuff threadbare - something I for one find difficult to do otherwise, what with the demands of our daily work lives.
While there are several things one can do to keep children constructively occupied while on the road, I find this is the best time to have conversations with them. Consider this: you are stuck with each other for a fairly long period of time, and the idea is to turn the disadvantage of being cooped in a vehicle to your biggest strength, where you get time to chat with your children, and more importantly, they get quality time with you! In our case, a typical day on the road involves 9 to 11 hours of driving (sometimes up to 14), giving plenty of opportunities to discuss anything under the sun. I've learnt more about my children chatting with them on our road trips, which is like 2 weeks in a whole year, than I would have in the balance 50 weeks of the year! The environment is relaxed, you have nowhere to go, nothing else to do, the countryside is passing outside your window, listening to your favourite music, with the people you love and it all just comes together to bring out conversations, thoughts, opinions, dreams and aspirations that no other setting can. And it throws up some surprises too - I bet you'd be zapped with the things your kids know, or are curious about! I sure was.
Take it in your stride
This is not to say that it's all been a bed of roses. It hasn't. Despite everything, our kids still get cranky sometimes. Hell, I get cranky sometimes, so can't blame them. But that's life, and it won't all be hunky dory. What I've shared will help make those bad days or moments fewer and further away from each other, with lots of great moments stuffed in between. The best thing is, innovate - you know your kids best, so do what works for you and your family the best.
Hope these hacks help in you guys make lovely memories on your road trips!