“How Much Farther?” Travelling adventures with children

By Sherry Duncankid

My (nearly grown children) children now 25, 22 and 17 consider themselves seasoned travelers and can travel for 7 or 8 hours with little or no complaining.  The common refrain that rings in many parents’ back seat “how much farther” was seldom heard in my ear.  With many families traveling by car over spring break or the upcoming summer holidays perhaps a few hints might be helpful in making your traveling adventures with your children a little more pleasant (or at least tolerable).

I recall strategically planning our first long drive with my children who were 9, 7 and 2 at the time.  (Cue music “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, we started driving south that night for a 9 hour trip!”)  We planned everything around our youngest sleeping through the night.  The vision; we leave at 9:00 p.m. and the kiddies would settle in with their blankets and pillows.  I would play soft music until they drifted off and then my confident driver (Captain of this doomed voyage) would trust me to share the navigation duties until we arrived in Saskatchewan at around 6:00 a.m.   Hubby wanted classic rock (not exactly “put the kids to sleep” music) and the youngest decided that if she were to sleep she might miss something.  The two eldest slept while the toddler remained alert until after 1:00 a.m.  At 2:00 a.m. we had to make an unscheduled stop at a bathroom along the route -which woke her up.  She remained awake until half an hour from reaching our destination.  The oldest two slept all night so by the time we arrived they were rested and ready to go.  My “better half” was off to bed and I was left to care for a cranky 2 year old and two children who needed to explore the new landmarks.   It took a couple days for everyone’s schedules to get caught up.  That is when I realized that I had to organize and schedule differently to make the journey a less stressful part of the trip.

To begin, I suggest that you think about the three basic travelling necessities for kids; food, entertainment and comfort.  Let’s begin with food.  Pack snacks that are healthy and easy to access.  I have a small soft cooler that fits between the driver and passenger seat.  It holds several small bottles of water and juice boxes.   I typically freeze a few juice boxes that melt as the trip goes along.  This keeps the bag cool and the kids sometimes have a bit of a juice slushy. I buy lots of fruits and veggies and split them into small bags so that they are easy to give one at a time to whomever wants one.  I also cut up small pieces of cheese, crackers and ham slices as well I pack buttered buns.  To add variety I include nuts, beef jerky and a few treats such as jelly candies and perhaps a few small candy bars, peppermints and gum.  This bit of effort is also more economical and healthy than what you would buy at the corner gas station. To keep the garbage off the floor I put a small garbage bag in the cooler.  Get the kids (and maybe your spouse) in the habit of passing anything forward they are done with or no longer want.

This leads us to the next necessity –entertainment. Each person in the car is allowed to bring one “car bag”.   Over the years, items have changed as kids’ interests grow.  Typically packs include books, electronics, movies, magazines etc.  In the “Magic Mom Bag” I usually pack a few treats.  This may include:  kinder surprises; a new magazine for each person; a new movie or game.  Sometimes I put in silly toys like “magnet moustache face” or “silly putty” that can be purchased at the dollar store.  Occasionally I put in a gift card for each person.  This will allow the kids to think about what they might buy with their $15.00 down the road.  iTunes cards to load up might be useful nowadays.  I usually put in a few scratch cards as treats for me!

Each person is also allowed one pillow (alas, comfort).  If the route is familiar I strongly encourage that you scope out the toilet facilities along the way.  A clean bathroom can make or break a 9 hour drive.  Don’t be afraid to use the side of the highway bathrooms.  They are (typically) clean enough to use in a roadside emergency. A stashed canister of Lysol wipes can come in handy for such a stop. You are reasonably safe stopping at any visitor station as well.   I think there is something to be said for teaching kids to use nature by the side of a dirt road on the odd occasion.  I remember one particular trip home from Fort Chipewyan last winter where this skill came in handy (….Gilligan would have been proud…)

As my kids became teenagers, I would look back and see their eyes focused on hand held games and personal “dvd machines” (remember those?).  Driving along I’d notice a spectacular valley, field of maturing grain or peculiar cloud and would encourage my entourage to look up, for even a few moments, to remind them to enjoy and notice the beauty of nature.  Games such as “Apples to Apples” can help pass the time or ask random questions such as “would you prefer to spend a month in a desert resort or a mountain resort?”  Google “Travel Bingo” and you will find another of our family favourites along with many other travel ideas.  “Stumble upon” is bound to be a great resource as well.  Anything that passes another few kilometers on a long trip is worth considering.

At some point your kids grow up, as mine did, and may want to make his/her first trip down the highway on their own.  As a parent, the decisions you model as a driver will become evident.  This includes driving habits such as your cruising speed, language, aggressiveness (or lack of) and passing habits.  Remember, your kids are watching and learning from you even when you don’t think they notice.

Bottom line, arriving at your destination both safe and sane is the best way to begin or end that drive down Highway 63 or any long stretch of pavement.